By Dalton Ray–
Heading into every season, fans circle big games on the schedule. With a tough slate ahead, Louisville will face many of the nation’s top players, including nine projected first-round draft picks. Here is the list of biggest foes the men’s team will face in 2016-2017.
1. Grayson Allen, Duke
This is a no-brainer, especially after last year’s tripping incident. Allen is the new Duke villain. Like most hated Duke players, Allen is a great player. Choosing to come back for his junior year, Allen is considered a Player of the Year candidate.
Last year, Allen and the Blue Devils prevailed against Louisville in Cameron Indoor. Allen dropped 19 points while going 4-for-6 behind the arc. In the first half, after missing a layup and hitting the deck, Allen tripped Cardinal Ray Spalding. Assessed with a flagrant foul, U of L fans couldn’t wait to get their revenge.
When Duke traveled to the KFC Yum! Center, fans got exactly that. Late in a tight game, Allen got a charging call and fouled out. Not a fan of the call, Allen argued the call and received a technical. Fans cheered as No. 3 was forced to sit the rest of the game.
2. Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina
It feels like Meeks has been at UNC since the late 2000’s. Recruited by Louisville, Meeks has stayed around Chapel Hill all four years and is finally ready to show his potential. Far from the chubby kid who first set foot on campus as a freshman, Meeks will give Louisville problems this year.
Meeks has yet to have a dominant statistical game against U of L. In four games against U of L, Meeks averages nine points and seven rebounds. If Meeks is able to get inside against Louisville, the Cardinals don’t have a rim protector to stop him.
3. London Perrantes, Virginia
Another year, another all-around solid basketball player rocking a Virginia jersey. Tony Bennett develops quality players year after year and Perrantes is the latest.
Virginia is 3-1 against Louisville over the past two years and the 6-foot-2 floor general is a big reason. Always playing at a calming pace, Perrantes controls the Cavaliers’ offense to a slow-down game. Similar to Louisville’s Quentin Snider, Perrantes is a true point guard that won’t blow anyone away physically but is a solid all-around player.
4. Malik Monk/De’Aaron Fox/Bam Adebayo, Kentucky
Kentucky adds new top talent every year, and not many can stop it. Headlining the 2016-2017 batch is the explosive 6-foot-3 guard Monk. Drawing comparisons of Derrick Rose at Memphis, this true-frosh is going to be a handful. A top-grade athlete, Monk will be considered a villain against Louisville.
Because of center Adebayo’s mobility and defensive presence, he could hurt U of L more than UNC’s Meeks. Adebayo owns great size for freshman, and while his post moves won’t do much damage, his physicality will give U of L problems.
A player Rick Pitino is familiar with, Fox is an athletic guard who has great speed and a high motor. This trio of freshmen will give fans headaches in December’s match-up.
5. Jaysum Tatum/Harry Giles/Marques Bolden, Duke
Usually, when the No. 1 and No. 3 basketball recruits play Louisville, they’re wearing a Kentucky jersey. This year, those players are coming from Duke. Tatum, Giles and Bolden might be the most talented front court Louisville faces all year.
Top-ranked Giles is the prototype of the new-age big man. At 6-foot-10 and 230 lbs., Giles is athletic, fluid and not afraid to put the ball on the deck.
Third-ranked Tatum is a more defined prospect. The skilled wing stands 6-foot-8 and can guard different positions. The Tatum-Deng Adel match-up will be an intriguing one.
Finally, we get to Bolden, another big-bodied center that will give U of L problems. At 6-foot-11 and 250 lbs., Bolden is great around the block and his 7-foot-6 wingspan is a huge advantage.
6. Xavier Rathan-Mayes/Dwayne Bacon, Florida State
FSU’s duo is an athletic one. Rathan-Mayes and Bacon are offensive-minded players able to light up the scoreboard. If the two of these players get hot, the Seminoles can be dangerous.
7. Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson
This name should sound familiar to Cardinal fans since Clemson beat Louisville last year and Blossomgame was a big reason why. Blossomgame led Clemson in points, rebounding, minutes per game and 3-point percentage last season. The future first-round draft pick averages 16 points and nine rebounds against U of L.
8. Joel Berry II, North Carolina
Coming off a hot end to 2016, Berry is now the man in Chapel Hill. A scoring first point guard, Berry shot 38 percent from the three last year. Berry has yet to have a big game against the Cardinals but is due for one.
9. Dennis Smith Jr, North Carolina State
Another freshman hits the list. Smith will be given the keys to run the Wolfpack’s offense and has weapons around him. Pegged as a top-three pick in the NBA draft, Smith is the typical attacking, athletic point guard that isn’t the best shooter.
10. Michael Young, Pittsburgh
Pitt’s leading scorer and rebounder, Young is one of three returning All-ACC members. The 6-foot-9 forward is a solid all-around player and is the heart and soul of the Panthers. In four games against U of L, Young averages 14 points and seven rebounds, which includes an 18-point outing last year.
Honorable mention: Maverick Rowan, NC State
During his high school recruitment, Rowan flirted with committing to U of L before choosing the Wolfpack. In year two, the sharpshooter should become more impactful.
Photo by Sanjeev Dasgupta / The Chronicle