Key Departures: Carlik Jones (Grad); David Johnson (NBA); Quinn Slazinski (–>Iona); Josh Nickelberry (–>La Salle)
New In Town: Noah Locke (<–Florida); Matt Cross (<–Miami); Elbert Ellis (JUCO); Sydney Curry (JUCO); Roosevelt Wheeler (#78); Michael James (#80)
State of the Program:
The Chris Mack era at Louisville is off to an up and down start through 3 seasons, as the best of the 3 was the Covid shortened year of 2020. Last season was a disappointing follow up to the successful 2020 campaign as they missed the tournament and now Mack will attempt to really get this program humming the way it was in the years prior to his arrival. He loses a few key pieces but he does welcome back quite a few contributors from a season ago, including Jae’lyn Withers (SO), Samuell Williamson (JR), and Dre Davis (SO) who were regular starters a year ago. On top of that they get reserve players JJ Traynor (SO) and Malik Williams (SR) and a large incoming group of both transfers and Freshmen. The concerning trend for Mack is the poor offensive performance a season ago. He’s always been known as an offensive guru who’s had his most successful seasons when his teams were very efficient offensively, but last year was the worst year of his career as the 92nd best offense. He has brought in several good shooters to help with the offensive woes, but that trend will be something to watch for this program going forward.
The best of the incoming group is former Florida G Noah Locke (SR), who was an excellent shooter at 40% from 3 over his 3 seasons with the Gators. His shooting ability will be hugely important as Louisville was dead last in 3-pt shooting in the ACC a year ago. He should start in the backcourt with Davis and provide the Cardinals with a legitimate sniper from deep. Matt Cross (SO) comes in via Miami also looking to add shooting to this roster as he shot 40% his first year with Miami. Cross was a top-100 recruit and can play the 3 or 4 and gives the Cardinals a versatile weapon who can guard multiple positions and his shot is silky. He will help them space the floor and has a ton of potential to develop into a great player for this program. Mack also landed 2 JUCO transfers, including the #1 ranked player Elbert Ellis (JR), who comes in as a very talented scorer at all 3 levels and is a springy athlete. He has a real chance to translate well from that level to high major basketball and should be a contributor right away for the Cardinals. He should get a ton of minutes off the bench in a 6th man sparkplug role. The other transfer is 6’8” F Sydney Curry (JR) who is the ultimate bruiser in the paint, and while he doesn’t have much game outside the paint he is a force. He is able to use his big body to rebound and punish smaller defenders and his athleticism allows him to be good in transition as a finisher as well. He will compete for backup minutes inside behind Withers, Williams and Traynor. A couple of equally rated Freshmen come into town, the first of which is 6’10” big man Roosevelt Wheeler (#78). Wheeler is a big, strong athlete that has a ton of potential due to his physical gifts. His offensive game is raw but he has good hands and finishes well inside through contact. He has a chance to be a physically dominant force inside down the road for Mack, with this year having limited involvement. The last newcomer is 6’6” wing Michael James (#80) who is a freak athlete that also shows promise as a scorer at all 3 levels. At this stage he’s very skilled when attacking the basket, especially in transition, but his athleticism and jumper give him the potential to be a solid 3 and D player. He should supply some highlight reel moments if he gets some run off the bench this season.
The overall outlook is good not great. They have some solid pieces and have improved their outside shooting with the addition of Locke and Cross. The returning core is solid but losing Jones and Johnson hurts an already awful offense that ranked 92nd a season ago. They do get 3 starters back, including promising wing Williamson and big man Malik Williams who has started 37 games over his career. Those 4 plus Locke will make a solid starting group that just doesn’t have the elite firepower to really put them in the National conversation. They should be a tournament team and should see some growth out of Withers, Davis and Williamson who will all have a chance to elevate their roles and take control of the team. How well they develop offensively will determine how far they can go as they should once again be a pretty good defensive team that mucks things up and makes every game a dog fight. Ultimately, they don’t have the star power to be a true National threat or even a threat to the top of the Conference.