After reading this title, I’m sure many of you will want to call me premature or say that I’m thinking way too far ahead. But am I really? With the Final Four and National Championship less than a week away, next season will soon be known as this season. That is great news for Cardinal fans. If you’re like me, you told yourself the pain of watching the tournament would be too much to stomach, then as soon as the first good game reached crunch time you couldn’t resist. This year’s tournament has been full of surprises and very exciting to watch. The ACC dominated, setting a record for most teams in the Sweet Sixteen with 6, then sending 4 teams to the same side of the Elite Eight guaranteeing the ACC a spot in the National Championship for the 2nd straight season.
Now, we have the Final Four. Oklahoma (my pick to win it all), Villanova, UNC, and Syracuse all reached this destination in the way we thought. Villanova, Oklahoma, and UNC used their high-powered offenses to get here. Syracuse, however, is a surprise. The 10th seeded Orange beat Virginia with a huge run to end the game after trailing by as many as 16 points. That just about sums up the Orange’s run this March. So, what does this have to do with Louisville’s title dreams for next (soon to be this) season?
Well for starters, two of those Final Four teams fell victim to the Cards this season. UNC lost in the Yum! in a tightly contested game, while Syracuse got thumped by the Cardinals a few games later. Not enough? Okay, well next year the Cards return 65% of the scoring, likely Chinanu Onuaku (who could be the best center in college basketball next year), Mangok and Anas who both missed time due to injury, Tony Hicks from Penn, VJ King comes in as a 5 star, and last but not least the core group of guards that made great strides this season. Damion Lee and Trey Lewis will be greatly missed, but they left this team with something special. They showed leadership and demonstrated the way to get things done the right way, as a family. But they also left this team with a desire for vengeance.
The team this year probably would’ve been anywhere from a 3 to 5 seed depending on how they performed at the ACC tournament. The Cards finished in the top 4 of the ACC while missing Mangok for all of conference play and dealing with the inevitable premature end to a special season. This team didn’t deserve the punishment bestowed on them, but instead of pouting, they competed. They showed everyone that the 2016-17 Cardinals will be the team to beat when the time comes. Ken Pomeroy took notice of that, ranking the Louisville Cardinals #1 in his 2016-17 preseason poll.
The Cards have some improvements they need to make, and some growing they need to do. But next year will be this year soon, the investigation will be over and the only thing the team will have to focus on is basketball. The developmental phenomenon from year to year under Pitino has been proven true, time and time again. If the guys he has now continue on the path we’ve seen so many times, then this team we have will be a force to be reckoned with. We can deal with all these jokes and people taking advantage of a seriously low moment by hanging another banner. As always, Go Cards!