With starters Juan Palacios and David Padgett still on the mend, it will be interesting to see how Rick Pitino uses freshmen Brian Johnson and Jonathan Huffman and sophomore Terrance Farley in their absence. You'd expect Farley to block shots, Johnson to grab rebounds, and Huffman to stretch defenses with his outside shooting. But pay close attention to the other things these players bring to the table tonight. Will Johnson flash his inside-out offensive game? Will Huffman do more than just launch jump shots? Is Farley stronger in the post than he was last season as a freshman? The answers to those questions will provide insight into how deep the Cardinals will be in the frontcourt this season.
4. Freshman Wings
Francisco Garcia and Larry O'Bannon provided plenty of offense for the Cardinals last season on the wing, combining for more than 30 points per game. While Taquan Dean figures to pick up much of the scoring slack in Garcia and O'Bannon's absence, two freshmen, 6-4 guard Bryan Harvey and 6-5 small forward Terrence Williams were recruited to fill the void on the wing. In Harvey, the Cardinals have a shooter with comparable range that Garcia brought to the table. In Williams, Louisville has someone – at least physically – that is bigger, stronger and more explosive than O'Bannon. But while the rookies may be able to take some of the scoring load, the big question is whether or not they'll provide the intangibles Garcia and O'Bannon did? Watch and see if Williams, a gifted passer, can create scoring opportunities for himself and others as Garcia did or if Harvey can score going to the basket like O'Bannon. The answers to those questions will be vital for the Cardinals perimeter game this season.
3. Andre McGee
Pitino hasn't had a guard equipped with McGee's skills since taking over the Louisville program four years ago. There's no doubt about this fact: Andre McGee is a true point – with a scorer's mentality. The Cardinals have lacked someone at the point guard position who could get into the lane, break down defenses, and create for others. McGee promises to do just that. But is he ready to play starters minutes, and run the team right away? Defensively, McGee appears a lockdown on-ball defender. Can he get it done defensively against bigger, quicker guards? More of a streaky shooter, can McGee provide the Cardinals another three-point shooting threat? And how about his physical conditioning and stamina? McGee has lost nearly 20 pounds since high school. Will we see a quicker, better conditioned McGee this evening?
Last year, the Cardinals were so limited because of lack of depth and size that they were forced to abandon Pitino's favored pressing man-to-man defensive style for a 2-3 zone. Now, Pitino figures to have the requisite size, athleticism and depth for a return to his frenetic defensive schemes. Will the newcomers be ready for the challenge? And how will Pitino elect to play defensively while awaiting the return of both Palacios and Padgett?
1. Taquan Dean
Dean is the undisputed leader of this young team, and figures to have an outstanding season. He'll not only be counted on to pick up the scoring load for Garcia and O'Bannon, but also looked to by the younger players when the game is on the line. With McGee running the point, watch how Dean and the freshman guard interact in the same backcourt together. Is McGee getting Dean the ball where he can do damage? Also, it will be interesting to see how a potential three-guard lineup of McGee, Dean and Brandon Jenkins pans out. Can Pitino get enough rebounding and defense from that trio to make it work?