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ACC Basketball Previews: Louisville

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Rick Pitino lost a lot off of last year's squad, including leading scorer and assist-man Russ Smith. But he returns Montrezl Harrell, one of the top players in the ACC. A number of guys will combine to step into Smith's shoes, including a freshman PG with a lot of talent. If the youngsters develop, Louisville could be a dangerous ACC team.

Montrezl Harrell came back to school to win a championship.
Montrezl Harrell came back to school to win a championship.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Last year: 31-6 (15-3 in the American Athletic Conference), KenPom #1, RPI #19

Projected Starters:
Chris Jones, G - 5'10" 175, Senior
Terry Rozier, G - 6'1" 190, Sophomore
Montrezl Harrell, F - 6'8" 240, Junior
Wayne Blackshear, F - 6'5" 215, Junior
Mangok Mathiang, C - 6'10" 220, Sophomore

Other contributors:
Akoy Agau, F - 6'8" 230, Sophomore
Chinanu Onuaku, C - 6'10" 240, Freshman
Jaylen Johnson, F - 6'9" 215, Freshman
Shaqquan Aaron, G - 6'7" 170, Freshman
Quenton Snider, G - 6'2" 180, Freshman

The addition of Louisville to ACC basketball, after of last year's additions of Pitt, Syracuse and Notre Dame, have made the ACC ridiculously good at basketball. Louisville was Ken Pomeroy's #1 team last year. They ended the season ranked 9th in the final Coaches Poll, and they opened this year ranked 9th in the preseason Coaches Poll.

Louisville is led by Harrell, who most thought would turn pro after last season. He even told Rick Pitino that he was leaving, before changing his mind. He seems intent on getting into the top 10 or so of the draft, but most draft prognosticators still have him at the tail end of the lottery. (NBA lottery is 14 teams.) A big year could vault him up on draft boards.

Gone from last year's squad is Russ Smith, who led the team in scoring and assists. Also gone is Luke Hancock, the team's top shooter. Those are two big losses that are going to be difficult to overcome. Chris Jones steps into Smith's shoes as the lead guard, and while he looked good in stretches last year, he has trouble finishing on the interior, something that Smith was very good at. Blackshear is a very good shooter and should be able to replace Hancock's scoring, if not his overall contributions.

Rick Pitino has also brought in a big recruiting class. There are some question marks surrounding this class though, as Aaron hasn't yet qualified, Johnson was a late qualifier and apparently isn't ready. Plus two of the recruits are international big men who aren't likely to provide much help this season. Snider is one guy who should contribute as the backup PG. He is good enough that he may surpass Jones by the time ACC season rolls around, unless Jones picks up his game. Onuaku should also contribute on the interior, mostly as a defensive presence and rebounder. He the younger brother of former Syracuse big man Arinze Onuaku, who averaged roughly 10 points and 8 rebounds per game for most of his career. Chinanu is a bit more skilled than his brother was, although not as big.

Louisville may be in for a rude awakening in the ACC, after running through the AAC last season. Early on, this team will have to adjust to the loss of Russ Smith, who dominated the ball as much as anybody in the country. Harrell should lead this team in scoring, but he's a far different player than Smith was.

By the time March rolls around, Louisville should be humming along, and they have the talent to make another run in the NCAAs.