I have scoured the internet (not capitalized anymore) for every early 2016-17 college basketball top 25 compiled and posted by any human being anywhere, and the good news is that all of them have Louisville ranked somewhere. Most have the Cardinals in the top 15, which is even more cool.
Now these are all likely to look insanely different in a matter of weeks, so take them for what they're worth ... not much ... except mine.
Let's be real: This ranking is a huge guess. It hinges on two big unknowns. The first: Whether Chinanu Onuaku, one of the nation's best offensive rebounders, interior finishers, and rim protectors returns from this spring's draft fact-finding expedition or stays in the process after May. The second: Whether, and when, the NCAA hammers Louisville for the strippers-in-the-dorms-scandal. Was this season's self-imposed postseason ban enough to sate the committee on infractions? Will the investigation end in the next 12 months? If Onuaku is back, and Louisville isn't debilitated by sanctions, this team (which also adds volume scorer Tony Hicks, a grad transfer from Penn, to its backcourt) will be a force. Stay tuned.
The Cardinals just have an embarrassment of size, even if the 6-10 Onauku decides to jump into the NBA Draft â Mahmoud, Mathiang, Spalding and Johnson are all at least 6-9, and 7-footer Matz Stockman will be in the mix next year, too. Mitchell, Snider and Mahmoud could all develop into stars, and graduate transfer Tony Hicks is a 6-2 guard who topped the 1,000-point plateau in his three years at Penn. He can handle the point when necessary, and he's solid beyond the 3-point arc. Oh, and wing V.J. King is a five-star recruit who can score in bunches.
The Cardinals are another team that is going to be better than I realized next season. They lose Damion Lee, but expect Mitchell, Adel, Spalding and Mahmoud to all take significant steps forward.
Louisville's top two scorers last season â
Damion Leeand Trey Lewisâ were transfers, and they're both gone to graduation. Just about every other key player is back, though, and another transfer â former Penn standout Tony Hicksâ figures to add needed offense. The only player that could leave for the NBA is big man Chinau Onauku (9.9 ppg, 8.5 rpg), who developed nicely last season. If he returns, coach Rick Pitinowill have a lot of size. Look for players like Quentin Snider, Donovan Mitchelland Mangok Mathiang to develop into more star-like roles.
► Recruiting grade: B-. This was going to be a relatively small class anyway and the scandal seemingly would make it harder to recruit, but the Cardinals got a gem in McDonald's All American V.J. King. The 6-7 King is ranked as the No. 26 player overall by ESPN and is versatile.
Louisville loses its two leading scorers in graduate transfers Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, but should return everyone else unless big man Chinanu Onuaku makes the decision to bolt. U of L is already bringing in McDonald's All-American V.J. King as well as graduate transfer Tony Hicks from Pennsylvania, and is still looking to add one more player for 2016-17. Unless the NCAA hits the program with some harsh penalties (assuming its investigation comes to a close before the start of next season), the Cardinals figure to be right back in the national championship mix a year after self-imposing a postseason ban.
The lingering question hovering over the Louisville basketball program is whether the NCAA will be satisfied with its self-imposed 2015-16 postseason ban or levy further punishment next season. A nine-game suspension for Rick Pitino for failure to monitor his program seems inevitable and scholarship reductions are certainly a possibility, however, the Cardinals have team that can play deep into March next season if its allowed to participate in the NCAA tournament. Whether Onuaku stays in the draft or not, Louisville has an array of big men capable of altering shots around the rim and attacking the glass at both ends. The key for the Cardinals will be whether they can replace the scoring of Lee and Lewis. Snider is a good offensive point guard, Mitchell and Adel are both candidates for breakout sophomore seasons and incoming McDonald's All-American King should also be able to make an immediate impact.
Rick Pitino shopped in the transfer market last offseason and found enough to help him create a top-25 team. Odds are, he'll do it again.
What a difference a year makes for Louisville. The Cardinals missed out on the Big Dance due to a self-imposed NCAA Tournament ban in 2016, but could contend for a national title next season.
Chinanu Onuaku (9.9 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.0 bpg) and Mangok Mathiang (7.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg) lead the way up front, and Anas Mahmoud and Matz Stockman still pack potential. Sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell brings insane athleticism and Quentin Snider will run the show.
Elite recruit V.J. King will be counted on from day one, as will Penn transfer Tony Hicks.
Why They're Here: Head coach Rick Pitino was once considered one of the most innovative offensive minds in college basketball. These days, he's as good as it gets at putting together an elite defense.
The Cardinals return a roster full of athleticism (hello, Donovan Mitchell) and plenty of length. Even if Chinanu Onuaku stays in the draft, Pitino has an army of big men who can play a similar role.
Will Change If... Onuaku staying in school would help the cause. He's the program's leading returning scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker. Don't be surprised if Pitino hits the grad-transfer market again for some perimeter scoring.
He only signed one high school player in 5-star small forward V.J. King and already has a grad transfer coming in with the addition of former Penn guard Tony Hicks. While King and Hicks will help the offense, the Cards could always use some more shooting.
4. Louisville: The top-two scorers are gone (Damion Lee and Trey Lewis), but everyone else returns for a blue blood that should be out for blood following the self-imposed postseason ban.
15. Louisville (23-8, Banned From NCAA Tournament): This could be an interesting offseason for Rick Pitino, but for now, let's focus on the returning players. Frontcourt players Chinanu Onuaku (9.9 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2 bpg) and Mangok Mathiang (6.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg) are back to provide size, the only question is how good the guard play will be. Quentin Snider is their best (only?) returning 3-point shooter (40%) and he led them in assists, too (3.5). Guard Donovan Mitchell had a solid freshman season and should slide into the starting lineup. Incoming freshman V.J. King is a Top 25 recruit. Transfer Tony Hicks, who led Penn in scoring for two straight years (but was also suspended four times), will provide scoring.
11. Louisville Cardinals
Opinions on Louisville are all over the map, but we like their ability to bounce back despite losing their two top scorers. This is a team built with plenty of size, and Penn transfer Tony Hicks should step into a much bigger role next season. The question of sanctions continues to be a bit of a dark cloud.