But the cupboard isn't bare for Louisville coach Rick Pitino. After winning both the Big East regular-season and tournament titles last season, the Cardinals have some important returnees from a team that went 16-2 in an extremely strong league that had three No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament and four teams that finished with better than 30 wins.
Sure, Louisville faces some key questions entering the season but so does every other Big East team. Pitino's biggest task will be replacing the production of forwards Terrence Williams and Earl Clark, who led Louisville in points and rebounds and were the major reason Louisville advanced to consecutive NCAA regional finals.
"It's kind of hard to figure out where they fit into the Big East puzzle going into the season," FoxSports Jeff Goodman said. "You know that Villanova and West Virginia are probably at the top along with Uconn. Louisville is a little bit harder to figure."
That's because the Cardinals have relatively unknowns stepping in for Clark and Williams, NBA Draft lottery selections.
"Two years in a row they've lost the guy that kind of makes the team go," Goodman said. "Last year it was how they would replace David Padgett and T-Will stepped up and did that and was a facilitator and made life easier for everybody else. I don't know who that's going to be this year. They've got some veteran guards none of which have ever really done it in the past."
Pitino has high hopes for senior guards Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith, who were both named team captains.
Smith started 35 games last season and ranked sixth in the Big East in three-point percentage (41 percent). The 6'2 guard will enter the season in the best shape of his career and appears poised for a big final season. Smith connected on 54 three's last season and ranks sixth in career three-pointers at UofL.
"The pressure is on Edgar Sosa," Goodman said. "He's been a disappointment since coming to Louisville. He's had his moments but overall it's been a disappointing three years."
Sosa will be pushed by Peyton Siva, a McDonald's All-American and the Washington Player of the Year in 2009.
"Peyton Siva is terrific but he's a freshman guard and he's small," Goodman said. "I think he'll fit in well in Pitino's style."
Though the Cardinals aren't a trendy pick to win the Big East, Samardo Samuels gives Louisville a chance to compete for the league title. Without Hasheem Thabeet or DeJuan Blair in the Big East, the 6'9, 255 pound sophomore center might be the best big man in the league other than Notre Dame's Luke Harangody. Samuels was named to the Big East All-Rookie team as a freshman, ranking seventh in the league in field goal percentage (57 percent), 11th in blocked shots (1.3) and his 11.8 scoring average was third among Big East freshmen.
"I think he'll have it much easier this year with guys like Hasheem Thabeet and DeJuan Blair gone," said Goodman. "He's got a year under his belt and the Big East is weaker. I think he'll be one of the top players in the league."
Goodman is also interested to see how Terrence Jennings will build on a strong finish as a freshman. The 6'10, 240 pound sophomore took some time adjusting to Louisville's system but emerged as one of the top shot blockers in the Big East. In league games, Jennings was third in blocked shots (2.2) despite playing only 15 minutes a game.
"Terrence Jennings after an up and down year came on fairly strong at the end. He could be an x-factor this year because he's got all the ability to be an impact player," Goodman said. "I have just never seen him be real consistent with his effort and that's going to be key for him."
While Goodman has questions about Louisville, he also likes the Cardinals potential. How good can Louisville become this season? Could this be another championship team or will this be a rebuilding season for Louisville?
"I think they're going to be solid," said Goodman. "I think they're going to be on the verge of the Top 25 or in it somewhere from that 10 to 25 range. I don't think they're one of the elite teams in the country but you could make a case they're as good as anybody in the Top 20 range.
"I just think they have question marks, the biggest one being point guard play. I'm more worried if Sosa can be consistent and keep his head in the game and whether Peyton Siva is ready to be an impact guy as a freshman than I am about who will play at small forward. "I think they've got good guards but none of them are All-Big East guards so their best player is Samardo (Samuels) down low. Who's going to get him the ball where he needs it? He can get stuff off the glass but he still needs somebody to get him the ball in the post where he can covert easy baskets. I don't know if they have a guy that can do that right now."
Cards Will Stage Red-White Basketball Scrimmage Oct. 25
University of Louisville men's basketball fans will have an opportunity for a preseason look at the 2009-10 Cardinals when the team plays a Red-White intrasquad scrimmage on Sunday, Oct. 25 at 3 p.m. in Freedom Hall.
Tickets for the event are $5 and will go on sale beginning at 9 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 2 at both U of L Ticket Offices, located on the third floor of the Swain Student Activities Center or in the new location across the street from Papa John's Cardinal Stadium at 2799 South Floyd Street. Both locations are open weekdays from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tickets will also be sold before and during the Cardinals' next two home football games against Pittsburgh on Oct. 2 and Southern Mississippi on Oct. 10.
Cardinal fans may also purchase tickets by visiting www.ticketmaster.com online, calling (502) 361-3100 or by visiting any Ticketmaster Ticket Center, including statewide Kroger locations. Convenience fees are applied with Ticketmaster orders. Further information can be obtained by calling the U of L ticket office at (502) 852-5863.
U of L Men's Basketball Tipoff Luncheon Oct. 8
University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino will be the featured speaker at the annual U of L Basketball Tipoff Luncheon on Thursday, Oct. 8 at noon in the Grand Ballroom of the Marriott Louisville Downtown. Tickets for the event are $35 each and may be purchased by calling the U of L special events office at (502) 852-2015.