UofL Men’s Basketball Preview: Backcourt

The 2020-21 Louisville Men’s Basketball season is rapidly approaching. Today, we preview the Cards backcourt ahead of Wednesday’s season opener. It is a group that lost a lot of production from last year’s squad. With a mix of fresh and familiar faces, the backcourt looks to be the strength of this Cardinal basketball team.

Personnel

Key Losses: Fresh Kimble, Ryan McMahon, Darius Perry, Dwayne Sutton

Returners: David Johnson, Samuell Williamson, Josh Nickelberry

Notable Additions: Carlik Jones, Charles Minlend, Dre Davis

Returners

When discussing key returners from the backcourt, you have to start with David Johnson. The 6-5 guard broke out for Louisville in the second half of the season and should be expected to make a significant leap headed into 2021. In the final 15 games of the season, Johnson averaged 8.9 points, 4.4 assists, and 3.8 rebounds. He was named to the Naismith Trophy preseason watch list last week and earned Second Team Preseason All-ACC honors. Especially considering the extended absence of Malik Williams to start the season, David Johnson is going to be the most important returning player on the entire team. He’s the type of lengthy, two-way guard that Chris Mack wants running his team and what we saw last year is just a glimpse of his capability.

The other key returner is Samuell Williamson. Sam is listed as both a guard and a forward, but played the majority of his minutes last season at the small forward position. He’s got the size to play in the front court, but also has the ability to play more of a shooting guard in a big lineup. Given the role of Jordan Nwora last season, Williamson was not much more than a complimentary piece in most games, scoring 4.4 points with 2.6 rebounds in 15.3 minutes per contest. He scored double figures just once in ACC play. You saw plenty of flashes though. Sam looked solid defensively, played well around the rim, and was able to hit the occasional corner three. What held him back was opportunity. He was the highest ranked recruit in Louisville’s 2019 class and should have more than enough chances to show himself this upcoming year. Both he and Johnson are on the radar of NBA scouts and are prime candidates to break out in a big way.

Lastly, we have sophomore Josh Nickelberry, who appeared in just 15 total games last season as a freshman. Nickelberry was an elite scorer at the high school level and entered Louisville as a top-100 prospect in the class of 2019. Like many of his fellow freshman, he was never really given the leash to go out and earn playing time. Unfortunately, we do not have much tape on him at the college level, so expectations for him are a bit unknown. You should expect him to immediately slot in to the backup shooting guard role behind Carlik Jones and see plenty of playing time off the bench. This team has a real need for three-point shooting and Nickelberry is someone with a history of shooting it well as a prep player. There are a lot of different break out candidates on this Louisville squad, but Josh Nickelberry should get the chance to carve out an important role for himself in his second season.

Additions

Photo Courtesy of radfordathletics.com

There are many new faces for the Cards this year, none more important than 6-1 guard Carlik Jones. Jones comes to Louisville via Radford, where he was a two time First-Team All-Big South selection and 2020 conference player of the year. Jones was always a playmaker with the ball in his hands headed towards the rim, but he made significant strides last season by raising his three-point average to 40.4-percent after shooting below 30-percent in his first two season. While guys like David Johnson and Sam Williamson are expected to make a leap, we have already seen Carlik Jones produce at the college level. It will just be a matter of translating his success to the power conference level. Graduate transfers tend to under perform after making the jump to a conference like the ACC, but Jones has reportedly been Louisville’s best player in the almost two months of practice headed into the season. Coach Mack has insisted that he expects big things from him. In a year where Louisville has experienced significant roster turnover, Jones is somebody that this team desperately needs.

Photo Courtesy of @CminlendJr

Charles Minlend was picked up off the graduate transfer market as well, but he will be sidelined for at least the first month of the season with a knee injury. Minlend is an explosive guard who can attack the rim and make plays on both ends. If he can get healthy for conference play, he will be a key addition for the Cards.

Photo Courtesy of @DAndreDavis14 Twitter Account

Dre Davis is the lone scholarship freshman on this list. The 6-5 guard/forward from Indianapolis had an impressive senior season while leading one of the top teams in the state of Indiana. Unlike last year, there seems to be plenty of opportunity for the freshman to contribute in 2021.

Full Preview: Newcomers (link)

Questions? Concerns?

The biggest question surrounding this Louisville backcourt headed into the season is shooting production. The returning members from the 2019-20 team made a total of 28 three-point shots a year ago. You lose a 40-percent shooter in Jordan Nwora in addition to Ryan McMahon (43.6%), one of the best and most reliable long-range threats in school history. Dwayne Sutton (graduation) and Darius Perry (transfer) left having made at least as many three-pointers as the rest of the returners combined.

You hope that Carlik Jones’ 2020 season was not a fluke and that he can be a reliable shooter. You saw an ability from Williamson to make a catch-and-shoot three, but he only had 27 attempts last year. David Johnson (5-23 from the arc in 19-20) never seemed all that interested in shooting from deep, but he was surrounded by shooters most of the time. Someone will step up and establish himself as the knockdown shooter this team needs, but I am not sure I can comfortably predict who that will be.

Outlook

The backcourt is the stronger and more experienced of the two groups headed into this season, and should be expected to carry this team at least to start out the year. We talked about shooting, but defense has got to be a major concern as well. This is a tall, switchable group that could end up being a nightmare on the perimeter for opposing teams if everything clicks.

There are lots of reasons to be optimistic about what you have coming back along with what’s coming in. That being said, no one truly knows how this group is going to look this year. I tend to be on the optimistic side long term, but it could take some time. Regardless, ifย  Louisville can get healthy, they’ve got the talent in the backcourt to lead the Cards to another successful season.

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