University of Louisville

Scouting report: Chris Jones, Terry Rozier taking the reigns from Louisville's Russ Smith

Louisville guards Terry Rozier, left, and Chris Jones
Louisville guards Terry Rozier, left, and Chris Jones

Coach: Rick Pitino (341-117 entering 14th year at Louisville, 695-245 in 29 years overall)

Last season: 31-6, 15-3 American Athletic Conference; reached NCAA Sweet Sixteen.

What to watch: The Cardinals return a solid five who started at least 10 games last season, led by power forward Montrezl Harrell (14.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg). The others are forward/center Mangok Mathiang (3.6, 3.6), guard/forward Wayne Blackshear (8.2, 3.1) and guards Terry Rozier (7.0, 3.1) and Chris Jones (10.2, 3.0 assists).

■ Jones and Rozier, no longer in the shadow of Russ Smith, will give the backcourt a different feel.

"I think both Chris and Terry deferred to Russ, and rightfully so," Pitino said. "Russ was the first-team all-American. ... There are a lot of great backcourts in college basketball, and I won't say we're the best backcourt. But I don't think I would take anybody over these two guys. They're both terrific."

■ Pitino said he had a long talk with Blackshear over the summer. Coach told player how enjoyable it has been to coach him, "but right now that old adage that nice guys finish last is going to happen to you. Your hour glass of sand is running out, and you've just got to be aggressive."

Apparently the coach got his point across. Blackshear, from Chicago, spent the summer in Louisville to work on his shot and ball-handling, Pitino said, "and he's getting the fruits for his labor."

■ The loss of Smith and sharpshooter Luke Hancock highlight what could be U of L's biggest question mark — depth. Pitino said the Cardinals are seven deep for now, but will need to be able to go eight or nine.

"We want to rebuild in a month, not a season," Pitino said. "So we've got to rebuild our culture as well as rebuilding our fundamentals and our offenses and our defenses, because we have six, seven new players."

■ U of L will need to get significant help from some of its eight newcomers.

One, 6-10 Chinanu Onuaku, "is ready to play as a freshman," Pitino said.

Less certain inside is how much 7-footers Anas Mahmoud, from Egypt, and Matz Stockman, from Norway, can help right away.

Quentin Snider, Mr. Basketball in Kentucky last season, and 6-7 Shaqquan Aaron are the prime candidates to back up in the backcourt.

"I keep telling guys, we have no margin for error," Pitino said. "We're going to play probably 20 to 25 games this year where it's going to go down to the final two minutes of play. No doubt in my mind with that. ... So it's going to have to be a very smart team."

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