Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan, a pair of McDonald's All-Americans, figure to be instant starters on a team that will open the 2011-12 season ranked in the Top 10. Blackshear's length, toughness and offensive firepower, and Behanan's versatility, brute strength and rebounding prowess will make Louisville a more talented team than the one that won 25 games last season. That's a scary thought for the rest of the Big East.
The other three members of Louisville's recruiting class – 6'4 guard Kevin Ware, 6'10 center Zach Price and 6'8 small forward Angel Nunez will provide depth next season and could become valuable contributors if they develop quickly. If Pitino's team hopes to reach its potential next season, Ware must become a reliable option at point guard behind Peyton Siva and Price has to be ready for a larger than expected role with the departure of Terrence Jennings. If Nunez, a lanky but skilled wing, is ready for the rigors of the Big East as a freshman, Louisville might be the deepest team in college basketball next season.
With so much of Louisville's success next season depending on the freshmen, the Cardinals trip to the Bahamas in August couldn't come at a more perfect time. More than a few exhibition games in the Caribbean, Pitino's rookies will benefit from the additional practice time while preparing for the trip. By the time practice officially starts in October, Pitino's heralded newcomers will be ahead of the curve because of the double-sessions in August. That should give the Cardinals a leg up on the competition this season.
Will Charlie Strong's team exceed preseason expectations? The preseason rags are starting to hit the newsstands and the consensus is that Charlie Strong's program is in for a rebuilding season. Both Athlon's and Phil Steele project Louisville to finish near the bottom of the Big East race because the Cardinals lost 27 seniors from the Beef O'Brady's bowl team.
Can Strong's young bunch overachieve? With just two recruiting classes under his belt, there's no question that Strong has already stocked Louisville's roster with more talent than he inherited from Steve Kragthorpe. Still, the Cardinals return the fewest starters in the Big East this season and will rely heavily on Strong's talented, but inexperienced youngsters. If Louisville exceeds expectations the newcomers will have to grow up fast.
For that reason, I'm expecting Louisville to experience some growing pains next season. Charlie Strong is putting the pieces together to win a Big East championship in the near future, but it's probably not going to happen this season. Still, it will be exciting to watch the development of future stars like Teddy Bridgewater, DeVante Parker, Gerod Holliman and B.J. Dubose. If the freshmen grow up sooner than expected, the Cardinals have the talent to make noise in a league devoid a dominant team.
Will Strong's defense dominate this season? It shouldn't come as a shock, but Charlie Strong is building a dominant defense at Louisville.
Strong put a few of the pieces together in his first year with youngsters B.J. Butler and Brandon Dunn on the defensive line, Deon Rogers and Preston Brown at linebacker and Hakeem Smith and Shenard Holton at safety.
During the spring, we witnessed the emergence of Marcus Smith at defensive end and Brandon Golson at linebacker. What those two lack in experience they more than make up for in size, athleticism and raw talent.
Last week, Strong welcomed a host of promising freshmen to campus. B.J. Dubose and Lorenzo Mauldin have the size, speed and athleticism to impact immediately at defensive end, while Jamon Brown could soon develop into a monster tackle in the middle.
But the reason Strong, and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, are so excited about this group of newcomers is because they'll significantly boost Louisville's talent in the secondary. Remember, the Cardinals signed one of the top defensive back classes in college football last February, and CB's Andrew Johnson, Charles Gaines and Terrell Floyd and safeties Gerod Holliman, Calvin Pryor and Jermaine Reve give the Strong the playmakers he needs in the secondary to construct a truly dominant defense.
Just like he did a Florida, Strong is building an attacking defense at Louisville that plays with confidence and smothers opponents in the secondary. It won't be long before Strong has the fastest, toughest and most athletic defense in the Big East. Could it be this season?
Will local stars learn from DaMarcus Smith's mistakes? Hopefully the mess DaMarcus Smith made of his recruitment, and possibly his future, will be a lesson for local high school stars in the future.
Smith's problem stemmed from not taking charge of his own recruitment, instead allowing those close to him, and a few outsiders who didn't have his best interests at heart, to steer him down a road that's probably not best for his future.
There's no question that Smith possesses the physical skills to play quarterback in Conference USA, but his decision making throughout the recruiting process makes one question if he possesses the intangible qualities to lead his teammates on the field, especially at crunch time when the chips are down.
While it now appears Smith will honor his LOI with UCF, we may not have heard the last about his suspicious recruitment – a recruitment that drew the interest of the New York Times and ESPN. UCF was on probation from 2008 to 2010 for football recruiting violations. If the NCAA, which has contacted UCF about the recent allegations involving Ken Caldwell and Brandon Bender, uncovers more dirt in Orlando, the Knights will face even stiffer penalties this time around.
Other Summer NotablesUS Army All-American safety Gerod Holliman, one of Louisville's top recruits, was one of three members of Charlie Strong's 2011 recruiting class who hasn't already enrolled at UofL. It appears the former Miami Southridge star is taking care of some last minute academic ‘stuff' before he's able to head north to join the Cardinals. Clint Hurtt, who recruited Holliman to Louisville, provided words of encouragement on Holliman's Facebook wall over the weekend. Holliman is expected to enroll at UofL next month.
What's going on with Tyler Gabbert, who visited Louisville after announcing his decision to transfer from Missouri? Since Gabbert's visit to Louisville late last month, the former four-star quarterback has gone under radar. There have been no reports of other visits, etc. For that reason, don't be shocked if/when reports emerge that Gabbert has surfaced at Louisville.
Zach Price and Sara Hammond will play in the Kentucky-Indiana All-Star Game Friday night at Bellarmine.