The Louisville Cardinals are the team to beat in the ACC

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 19: Head coach Rick Pitino of the Louisville Cardinals reacts as Quentin Snider
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 19: Head coach Rick Pitino of the Louisville Cardinals reacts as Quentin Snider /

When it comes to the ACC this season, Rick Pitino and his Louisville squad are the team to beat

Louisville has been in headlines throughout the entire offseason, mostly for reasons other than the upcoming college basketball season. From losing their best player to the draft, to the massive elephant in the room that is the Louisville escort scandal, it has been quite an offseason. The only exception to this was when they surprisingly received a late commitment from 5-star Brian Bowen.

Understandably, people have forgotten just how good this team is shaping up to be this season. When you look at the makeup of this 2017-18 Cardinals, the argument can very well be made that Louisville is the best team in the ACC — and maybe in the state of Kentucky. This is quite high praise, given that the respective competition for those titles include Duke, UNC and Kentucky.

The Cardinals lost stars Donovan Mitchell and Jaylen Johnson to the NBA Draft, as well as Mangok Mathiang to graduation, but the team has more than enough talent to compensate. Louisville returns senior guard Quinten Snider, two juniors who are poised for big years in Deng Adel and Ray Spalding, and a big-time sophomore in V.J King. That core four complimented by senior Anas Mahmoud and a top-10 recruiting class makes for a special blend of experience and youth in a rather deep squad.

The depth in Louisville’s squad will be the key to any ACC championship or Final Four run. Rick Pitino could opt for an all-returning starting five in Snider-King-Adel-Spalding-Mahmoud. This lineup would give them an elite 3-point shooting backcourt duo and plenty of experience to get through the ACC gauntlet. This lineup also gives them the entirety of their top 10 recruiting class coming off the bench. This features two five-star recruits including the sharpshooting wing, Brian Bowen, and dominant 7-footer, Malik Williams. Usually, even blue-blood programs have their star freshmen feature in the starting five, meaning that Louisville having that sort of talent off the bench is extraordinary. Their bench depth does not stop there, as the Cardinals added Steven Enoch, an experienced big who is transferring from UConn. Louisville will also have the elite-scoring freshman guard Darius Perry and four-star freshman wing Jordan Nwora.

Looking forward to their 2017-18 schedule, the Cardinals have a moderately difficult non-conference schedule. With teams such as Purdue, Seton Hall, Indiana, and Kentucky listed, they will be tested before ACC play begins.

It is important to note that once conference play begins, Pitino will be missing from Louisville’s sideline for the first five games, due to suspension. Luckily for the Cardinals, they start off with three lower-tier teams in Pitt, Clemson, and Florida State. Then they host Virginia Tech, followed by a trip to Notre Dame. All five of those games are winnable in Pitino’s absence. While their start to ACC play is light, the final five games of the season is a bit of a brutal stretch. This stretch features North Carolina at home, at Duke, at Virginia Tech, home against Virginia, and at NC State. This will be a key stretch that will test their depth at a crucial time before the conference tournament begins.

After finishing 24-8 last season, it is reasonable to expect that Louisville could very well improve on that. 25 and even 26 wins are both possible given the level of talent on this team. In terms of the ACC, expect them to be around 12-6 just as they were last year, though improvement is very possible as well.

Next: Duke lands five-star recruit Cam Reddish

The Louisville Cardinals’ exceptional blend of experience and high-quality freshmen is a rare sight as well as a major advantage. Despite the off-the-court headlines and Duke’s loaded freshman class, Louisville is the team to beat in the ACC. Look for them to nab their first ever ACC regular season conference championship in the 2017-18 season.