Three questions for Cardinals basketball after Onuaku decision

By on May 29, 2016

By Dalton Ray–

Louisville center Chinanu Onuaku chose to forego his junior season and make the jump to the 2016 NBA Draft. Onuaku is considered to be a late first round or early second round pick. His departure doesn’t leave a gaping hole for coach Rick Pitino, but it does add question marks to his front court.

Can Mangok Mathiang make the next step as a player?

During the 2014-2015 year, Mathiang and Onuaku combined for an average of five points and eight rebounds a game. The 2016-2017 team has the potential to have a similar problem. Pitino’s centers have to be the anchor of his defense and a floor general. Mathiang understands what Pitino wants defensively and will likely get the starting nod at the five spot to start the year. While the senior isn’t exactly a force on the interior like former centers Onuaku or Gorgui Dieng, he is vocal and will keep players in line with their rotations. Whether or not Mathiang can play consistent minutes and contribute is a huge question for the 2016 year. He will need to play at between 18 to 20 minutes a game, improve his hands for rebounding purposes and contribute offensively if the Cardinals are going to have success in March.

What kind of players will Anas Mahmoud and Matz Stockman be?

Mahmoud and Stockman both came to Louisville in the six-man 2014 recruiting class. The seven-foot duo came in under the radar and with a lot of uncertainty. Will the loss of another front court player to the NBA, minutes will be available for the pair of players. Mahmoud is an agile, offensive minded forward/center that runs very well for a big man. His weight, currently 215-pounds, is one of the reasons holding him back from developing into a full-time starter. Stockman is a traditional back-to-the-basket center. At seven-foot, 250-pounds he has the body to bang around in the post and create trouble because of his size. Playing with confidence and dexterity are some of Stockman’s biggest weaknesses. Mahmoud showed the potential player he could be in the win against Georgia Tech, scoring 15-points on six-for-nine shooting. While the game against the Yellowjackets was a career game for Mahmoud, that was the largest impact he made on a game during the season. For Stockman, his minutes picked up late in the year after Mathiang and Mahmoud both went down with injuries. Despite the uptick in minutes, there were only five games that Stockman played ten or more minutes. With both players entering their third year with the program, solid improvement will be expected. If Pitino is able to get quality minutes from his international bigs, U of L will be able to mask the loss of Onuaku much easier.

Will Pitino turn to small-ball?

NBA teams such as the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics are showing that the highest level teams can spread the floor, go with a smaller lineup and still be successful. Pitino won’t completely change his style of play for one year, but using a small-ball lineup in situations could pay off for the team. Louisville has the ingredients to run this style and with a potential problem at the center position, Pitino could use the smaller lineup to cover up that problem. Consider a lineup of Quentin Snider, Donovan Mitchell, VJ King, Deng Adel and Raymond Spalding. Not to mention graduate transfer Tony Hicks, Jaylen Johnson and Mahmoud could easily fit in this lineup. The Cardinals would be able to run up and down the court like Pitino prefers and spread the court with their shooters.  The problem would come in on the defensive end, whether or not the players will be able to rotate properly would be a potential issue. During Louisville’s back-to-back Final Four appearances and a national championship, Pitino used three guards very often. In 2011-2012, Peyton Siva, Russ Smith and either Kyle Kuric or Chris Smith were on the court at the same time. 2012-2013 saw Siva, Smith and Luke Hancock sharing the court together.

These are only a few questions that the loss of Onuaku creates. Louisville still has five front court players so playing time will not be easy come to by between the four and five spots. Also, what Pitino and his staff decide to do with the scholarship is very important because of the self-imposed sanctions.

File Photo / The Louisville Cardinal

About Dalton Ray

Sports editor (2016-2018) that is technically award winning.Email: dray@louisvillecardinal.com

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