By Dalton Ray–
Turnover is inevitable in college basketball. Between players transferring, graduating and leaving for the NBA Draft, it’s difficult to keep teams fully intact on a year-to-year basis. For elite programs, this program is an even bigger problem.
Of Louisville’s 15-man roster in 2016-2017, the Cardinals have lost eight players and could lose a ninth. That number of turnover is something only Kentucky is used to having.
Mangok Mathiang, Tony Hicks and David Levitch graduated. Matz Stockman, Jay Henderson and Tyler Sharp transferred. Donovan Mitchell has declared for the draft and signed an agent. Jaylen Johnson entered the drafted and said he still intends to sign an agent, but has not yet. Deng Adel has entered in the draft, but has not signed an agent.
There are two ways to look at this situation.
One is to say five of the eight had little to no impact on the team last season and there is no cause for worry. The second is just the opposite: Louisville is now forced to play certain players instead of having flexibility.
The biggest loss is Mitchell. The sophomore developed into a star and cashed in on his NBA stock while it was hot. With Mitchell returning, Louisville is a preseason top-five team. Without, U of L is likely a top 16 because of uncertainty.
The loss of Mathiang, Stockman and Johnson leaves the front court very thin on experience. Mathiang and Johnson were the two most physical players the Cardinals had and also led in rebounding.
The remainder of the losses hurt the back court, forcing both Dwayne Sutton and VJ King into a larger roles.
With the loss of the eight players, here is what the Cardinals have to replace: 3,127 minutes (46 percent), 1,252 points (48 percent), 190 assists (41 percent), 648 rebounds (48 percent), 128 steals (56 percent), 74 blocks (40 percent) and 103 blocks (40 percent).
The Cardinals add four freshmen in Malik Williams, Darius Perry, Jordan Nwora and Lance Thomas. Williams and Perry were expected to contribute heavily during their first season, but now will likely play even more minutes.
Coach Rick Pitino also is in the hunt for another graduate transfer. Former Wright State star Mark Alstork visits Louisville on May 17. He averaged 19 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists with the Raiders in 2016-2017.
The likely starting lineup at the start of next season is Quentin Snider, Adel, King, Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud.
Louisville fans shouldn’t be concerned about the program with eight players leaving in one year, but should be alarmed about next season. U of L depth is now in question and relies on unknowns.
Pressure is starting to build around the program, whether fans acknowledge it or not. Since the national championship in 2013, U of L has made one Elite 8 and two Sweet 16’s. With the collapse of in the 2017 NCAA tournament, memories of Louisville cutting down the nets drift farther and farther away.
In terms of deep tournament runs, Louisville is on the verge of being a flash in the pan or a consistent player and 2017-2018 will have a large say.
Photo by Laurel Slaughter / The Louisville Cardinal