Nine BIG EAST teams have been included among the nation's top 25 teams in early rankings by CBSSports.com, ESPN.com and FOXsports.com with Louisville ranked second, fifth and sixth, respectively, in those listings. Nine of the Cardinals' 13 possible non-conference opponents competed in post-season tournaments last season and the group collectively won an average of 21 games (274-154 combined record, .640 winning percentage).
"Last year we played one of the most difficult schedules in the nation," said U of L Coach Rick Pitino, whose team played the nation's fourth-toughest schedule by the ratings percentage index (RPI) last season. "This year could be the most difficult. We look forward to the challenge, not only in the BIG EAST, but in non-conference play. This type of competition only makes you better. Certainly, it will challenge our players to reach their potential at the highest level."
With four starters returning from last year's team that posted a 27-9 record and reached the NCAA Elite Eight for the third time in 11 years, the Cardinals will face their first outside competition in an exhibition game against Georgetown College on Nov. 1. The Tigers posted a 35-1 record last season, with their lone loss in the NAIA national semifinals. Northern Kentucky, which produced a 21-8 record and reached the NCAA Division II Tournament, will provide the opposition in U of L's second exhibition game on Nov. 8. That game, along with the U of L women's team facing the Norse in a doubleheader that evening, will be the first played in Northern Kentucky's new 9,400-seat Bank of Kentucky Center.
U of L will play six of its first seven games at home in Freedom Hall, beginning with the Billy Minardi Classic, an event named in memory of Pitino's brother-in-law who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The Cardinals will play Morehead State in its season opener on Nov. 22 and either South Alabama or Florida A&M on Nov. 23 in the event. The Cardinals will play its second intrastate foe in three games when U of L faces Western Kentucky on Nov. 30 at the Sommet Center in Nashville, Tenn.
U of L will then serve as host for the Marques Maybin Classic, a round-robin exempt tournament in Freedom Hall. The Cardinals open the event against Indiana State on Dec. 6, followed by games against Ohio University on Dec. 7 and Lamar on Dec. 8. The event is named for Maybin, the Cardinals' No. 12 all-time scorer who was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident on Aug. 5, 2003. He is currently enrolled at U of L to complete his degree requirements. A portion of the proceeds from the event will be earmarked for the Marques Maybin Medical Fund. Austin Peay makes it four straight at home for the Cards on Dec. 13.
U of L will make its first appearance in the SEC/BIG EAST Invitational on Dec. 18 when the Cardinals face Mississippi at Cincinnati's US Bank Arena. Cincinnati will also play Mississippi State in the doubleheader. The Cards then travel to Phoenix, Ariz. to play Minnesota in the 2008 Stadium Shootout, the first basketball game played at the University of Phoenix Stadium, which hosted Super Bowl XLII in 2008. Arizona State will play BYU in the second game of the doubleheader.
After Christmas, the Cardinals will have three home non-conference games remaining: Dec. 27 vs. UAB, Dec. 31 vs. UNLV, and Jan. 4 against intrastate rival Kentucky. U of L will have 14 national television appearances, including nine straight from Dec. 18 through Jan. 17.
The Cardinals will play four of its first six BIG EAST Conference games of the season on the road, starting at USF on Jan. 7. The Cards' 18-game league schedule includes two games each against Notre Dame, West Virginia and USF. Louisville closes the regular season at West Virginia on March 7, a game which will be the centerpiece for ESPN's Gameday telecast. The BIG EAST Conference Tournament will be staged at Madison Square Garden in New York on March 10-14, with all 16 teams participating for the first time.
Tipoff times and television arrangements for all games are incomplete and will be released at a later date.