There is one word that has often been used when describing the 2020-2021 Louisville Cardinals men’s basketball team: uncertainty. Not unlike the backcourt, the Cards frontcourt lacks experience. That issue only got worse with recent injury developments. Nonetheless, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about this group.
Losses: Steven Enoch, Dwayne Sutton
Returners: Malik Williams, Aidan Igiehon, Samuell Williamson, Quinn Slazinski, Jaelyn Withers (Redshirt)
Key Additions: JJ Traynor, Gabe Wiznitzer
Malik Williams is the most productive member of last season’s team to return in 2021. Unfortunately, he will be sidelined for up to 12 weeks and might not be available until February. You cannot understate how costly his absence will be for the frontcourt. Williams focused more on being an interior player last season and improved on both ends of the floor. Malik was an elite rebounder and anchored the defense. He improved dramatically on the perimeter and was a valuable rim protector down low. When he was not on the floor it showed, and Louisville’s did not look the same after Malik was injured early in the game at Florida State on Feb. 24. There is no way around it, the loss of Malik Williams is a massive one.
With Williams out, you are probably going to see plenty of small lineups from Coach Mack, leaving either Aidan Igiehon or Jae’Lyn Withers to pick up the bulk of the minutes at the five. Igiehon missed most of his freshman season with injuries and Withers redshirted. Aidan is more of a traditional power forward and Jae’Lyn will be able to space the floor when necessary. We talked about Samuell Williamson in the frontcourt preview, but he will likely be asked to slot down and play the four at time. Quinn Slazinski has the potential to be another floor spacer with an elite shooting ability. Slazinski hit three of his six attempts from long range last season and came to Louisville with the reputation of a shooter. It could take a few games for this group to get accustomed to playing with each other, but you have plenty of switchable options with potential. Williams’ injury is pretty devastating for the potential of the frontcourt, but it frees up plenty of opportunity for more than one guy to step up and prove themselves.
No one truly knows how much any of the freshman are going to play this year, but there seems to be more opportunity than there was a season ago. JJ Traynor and Gabe Wiznitzer are both intriguing prospects that could end up being crucial pieces for Louisville down the road. I imagine that they will both be fighting for the same minutes, so it’s likely that one of the two ends up seeing much more of the floor. Just like the returning players, both freshman will at least have a chance to earn minutes.
I mentioned it earlier, but the loss of Malik Williams raises some major concerns on the defensive end. We have not seen extended time from any of his potential replacements. Williams was one of the most reliable rebounders in the ACC and provided elite protection at the rim. If someone cannot step up in his absence, this team is going to get man handled down low.
The frontcourt has more uncertainty than any other group on the team. They have a glaring lack of experience and is in major need of a breakout player in 2021. You have to think that someone is going to step up and provide some consistency down low. The backcourt is likely going to be faced with carrying this Louisville team to start out the season. Playing time up front will probably be established after the first few weeks. There is nothing wrong with competition, and given the lack of experience there should be plenty of guys competing with each other. Most people are probably expecting this group to simply survive until February when Malik Williams makes it back. There is more than enough talent on the roster to provide more than that.