Coach: Rick Pitino (275-106 entering 12th year at Louisville, 629-234 in 27 years overall)
Last season: 30-10 overall, 10-8 Big East; lost in NCAA Final Four
What to watch: Having ended last season with a Final Four loss to archrival Kentucky, the Cardinals have hopes of taking things a step further. Ranked No. 2 (behind Indiana) in most pre-season polls, U of L naturally is the Big East favorite.
Point guard Peyton Siva (9.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 5.5 apg) center Gorgui Dieng (9.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 3.2 bpg) and power forward Chane Behanan (9.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg) return to the starting lineup. Also back is guard Russ Smith (11.5 ppg, 87 steals), who made seven starts.
"They're obviously a very good defensive team. There aren't very many easy buckets around the rim," Pitino said after a recent scrimmage. "What we have to improve is cutting down on turnovers.
"Our weakness as a basketball team right now is fundamentals. We have two 'basketball players' in Peyton Siva and Luke Hancock, and we've got a lot of really good 'athletes' that have to learn the fundamentals of basketball — how to pivot, how to pass, how to ball fake. All those little things that are teachable fundamentals that will make us a much better basketball team."
Wayne Blackshear (shoulder) is finally healthy. Kevin Ware is in full swing after gaining eligibility in mid-December. Key pickups are Hancock and Montrezl Harrell.
Hancock, a 6-foot-6 junior transfer from George Mason, looks like a keeper after overcoming a serious shoulder injury. He filled in at point when Siva rolled an ankle during the early going of a Red-White scrimmage, totaling 29 points, five rebounds, six assists and two steals.
Harrell, a 6-8 freshman, has Behanan-like explosiveness inside. He had 20 points, seven boards and five steals in the Red-White scrimmage.
The U of L players seem exuberant about what is ahead, and so is Pitino.
"Everybody says, 'We're a family' and 'We love the players,' but I haven't always loved all my teams," Pitino said. "But I love this team. I love the guys as individuals, as people. And we are a family. We are really a close-knit team. And we have a great time together."