By Conner Farrell —
With the release of the 2018-19 men’s basketball schedule last week, let’s take a look at some intriguing matchups on the non-conference slate. Next week, we’ll return with a breakdown of the important conference matchups.
Just three games after the regular season begins, U of L will venture to the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn to take part in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament. This is the first time the men’s basketball program has participated in a major season-opening tourney since the Battle 4 Atlantis in the 2016-17.
Louisville’s first opponent is the University of Tennessee. The Cards have yet to face the Volunteers since their tilt in the Sweet 16 in 2008 (U of L won the matchup then lost to UNC in the Elite Eight).
The Vols are returning from their best season in close to ten years. Veteran head coach Rick Barns led his team to a 26-9 record, sufficient for a three-seed in last year’s NCAA tournament.
UT brings back all five of their top scorers for a squad that’s sure to put up a fight for the SEC title. They’ll be the first of many ranked teams that the Cardinals face throughout the year.
Regardless of the outcome in the first round, Louisville will move on to play the Kansas Jayhawks or the Marquette Golden Eagles.
Kansas is a bona fide blue blood program and perennial contender. Funnily enough, the Jayhawks have only played the Cardinals once in their history: The 1967 NCAA tournament. The programs are ranked two and ten, respectively, in the all-time wins list for college basketball.
KU is set to be a top-five team this year with the addition of forwards K. J. and Dedric Lawson. The talented brothers transferred from Memphis and join returning guard Lagerald Vick and big man Udoka Azubuike.
This tournament could be the stage for the first Kansas/Louisville bout in over 50 years.
If U of L were to play Marquette, it would be the first time the programs link since the Cards’ departure from the Big East in 2013.
The history between Louisville and Marquette is filled with memorable moments, from Jerry Smith’s game-winning buzzer beater in 2007 to the “Miracle on Market” in 2011.
Marquette should be in line for a much improved 2018-19 season with three of their top-four scorers returning. Sophomore guard Markus Howard carries the potential for an All-Big East selection.
Within four days of the Tip-Off in Brooklyn, Louisville will return to the friendly confines of the KFC Yum! Center to square off with Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
The two schools have matched up three times in the last six years: Twice in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and once during the 2015 NCAA tournament.
This will be the first time Michigan State has traveled to Louisville to play the Cardinals. The Spartans return three of their top-four scorers from a 30-win season. They’ll certainly remain contenders on the national stage throughout the coming year.
Another date to circle on your calendar is Dec. 8 when the Cards travel to Bloomington to play the Indiana Hoosiers. This will be the first time since the 1986-87 season that U of L plays at Assembly Hall.
Indiana is returning from a lackluster 16-15 campaign under new head coach Archie Miller. However, the Hoosiers will be much improved with the addition of local five-star recruit Romeo Langford, who joins All-Big Ten candidate Juwan Morgan.
Any time Louisville encounters neighboring schools with large fanbases, it’s a big win for both programs.
Add former Big East foe Seton Hall and the yearly battle with Kentucky and the non-conference slate becomes one of the toughest in recent memory. The Cardinals’ strength of schedule will be a good litmus test before the team dives into ACC play.
You can follow the Louisville Cardinal on Twitter @thecardsports.
Photo by Taris Smith / The Louisville Cardinal