We now know the full schedule for the Louisville Cardinals men’s basketball team for 2017-18. Whenever the schedule is released, people look for the big names: Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, and other ACC teams like Virginia or Syracuse. Without going into full detail on every single team, I wanted to at least get some thoughts out about the schedule.
* Matinee matchup against Kentucky - The Battle of the Bluegrass will take place on a Friday afternoon at 1:00 in Rupp. Not on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve or a normal holiday. No, this one will be on December 29th. I am not sure if that is usually a day off at your place of employment, but it is about to be for 2017. Yep, Friday afternoon at 1:00. Go ahead and plan accordingly. There isn’t much to say about the teams. We know they will be good. Louisville will be good. Let’s hope that the fans have a solid week or so of beating Kentucky and then watching the football team play in a New Year’s Six Bowl or the College Football Playoff.
*First five ACC games - These could be the games where Rick Pitino is suspended, if that gets upheld. Those games would be at home against Pittsburgh, at Clemson, at Florida State, home for Virginia Tech, and at Notre Dame.
-Pittsburgh has to replace its top two scorers from a team that went 16-17 last season and 4-14 in the ACC.
-Clemson was 17-16 and 6-12 in the ACC, but we know that will be a tough place to play no matter what.
-Florida State finished second in the league with a 12-6 ACC record, but they lose their top three players (Bacon, Isaac, and Rathan-Mayes).
-Virginia Tech is always going to be tough with Buzz Williams as their coach. He may sweat more than any coach in the country, but his guys play hard for him. The Cards escaped last year with a 94-90 win over the Hokies. Louisville gets them twice this season, so luckily this one is at home.
-At Notre Dame. This will be the fifth game that Louisville will be without Pitino, so they will at least be somewhat used to it. But let’s be real: it’s Notre Dame on the road. If we get out of there with a win, it will be a huge bonus. Expect a classic game where your heart gets ripped out at the end. Just prepare for that now. It will make things easier (it won’t).
-So it could be worse. I don’t think it’s unrealistic that Louisville gets Rick Pitino back with a 5-0 or 4-1 ACC record. The ACC definitely could have made this a more challenging start to the conference season.
*Double ACC Opponents - As always, Louisville gets Virginia twice because they are our “natural rival” since joining the ACC. The first one will be on the road, four days after the previous game, so that’s good. The other will be Senior Day, five days after the previous game. Or Senior Night since it’s at 8:00 on a Thursday. Either way, we know Pitino will probably overthink the gameplan and they will be slugfests. They can slow us down to a crawl but we can’t speed them up for some reason. Other teams the Cards get twice: Pittsburgh, Florida State, and Virginia Tech. Again, it could be worse.
*Bluebloods Back-to-Back - Saturday, February 17 at 8 or 8:15 on ESPN at home against North Carolina (Gameday? Never) and then Wednesday, February 21 at 9:00 on ESPN at Duke. What an opportunity! Not much more to say. We get the big boys in back-to-back games. That should be fun, or miserable. We will see.
* Non-conference - About what you would expect. We get Indiana at home, Kentucky and Purdue on the road, Memphis State at the Garden, and then a mixture of decent and no-name teams. Seton Hall should be pretty good. Grand Canyon brings back Keonta Vernon, so that is fun for fans. But they did lose DeWayne Russell, who dropped a cool 42 points on the Cards last season and gave us all a scare. George Mason won 20 games last season, but lost in the first round of the CBI Tournament. Luke Hancock is not walking through that door.
-None of those big four non-conference games are back-to-back, so you have time to work out any kinks against much lesser opponents before you get to the next one.
*Wrap up - “Quick thoughts” turned into a mini-novel. If you have made it this far, you are awesome, and I appreciate you. This season could be a special one for Louisville, and the schedule is tough, but we are used to that in these parts. A few challenging non-conference games and then playing in the best conference in college basketball. We do this every year. With our captains Quentin Snider, Deng Adel, and Anas Mahmoud, key returners like Ray Spalding and V.J. King, and some very talented freshmen, the Cards are in great hands and should be in for another good run.
And now, back to Lamar and company...