The college basketball offseason is in full swing, and Louisville has seen plenty of changes to its roster over the past month. There have been expected departures in addition to transfers both in and out of the program. With the majority of the roster set for the 2021-2022 men’s basketball season, here is a breakdown of what you can expect from the Louisville Cardinals this upcoming season.
G Carlik Jones, G David Johnson, G Charles Minlend, G Josh Nickelberry, F/C Aidan Igiehon
Carlik Jones and David Johnson have both declared for the 2021 NBA Draft and will not return to school. Louisville loses its top two leading scorers and most important contributors from last season. Both Josh Nickelberry and Aidan Igiehon have transferred out of the program after spending two years in Louisville.
G/F Samuell Williamson, F/C Malik Williams, F Jae’Lyn Withers, G/F Dre Davis, F Quinn Slazinski, F JJ Traynor, C Gabe Wiznitzer
El Ellis comes to Louisville as the top-ranked JUCO recruit in the nation according to the 247sports composite rankings. The 6-2 guard averaged 17.7 points, 4.3 assists, and 3.4 rebounds while shooting over 40-percent from three-point range in 22 games last season for Tallahassee C.C. Ellis also earned Panhandle Conference Player of the Year honors in 2021. Ellis is someone who will likely start for Louisville and become an immediate contributor for the Cards. The jump to the ACC is a big one, but he is the top ranked JUCO player for a reason, and he should be considered the gem of this incoming class.
Wheeler joins the Cards as a consensus top-70 recruit in the 2021 class out of Richmond, VA. The 6-10 center chose Louisville over a slew of high-major offers. With Malik Williams and Jae’Lyn Withers back for next season, Wheeler will not be rushed into action, but he is a player that should earn frontcourt minutes sooner rather than later.
James comes in as a top-75 recruit in the class of 2021 out of Orlando, FL. As a senior at Oak Ridge High School in 2020-2021, James averaged 19.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists on 58-percent shooting from the field. James led his school to the Florida Class-7A semifinals and was named the Orlando Sentinel Player of the Year.
Noah Locke comes to the Ville by way of the University of Florida. Originally a top-100 recruit in the class of 2018, Locke averaged 10.1 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 40.3-percent from three-point range (on 537 attempts) in three seasons at UF. Locke offers some much needed scoring from behind the arc; Louisville finished 298th among D-1 teams in three-point shooting last season and did not have any contributors hit over 40-percent of their long range attempts. With three years of SEC experience, you have to trust Locke’s record as a proven scorer who can be a nice contributor to a Louisville team looking to make significant offensive improvements entering 2022.
Matt Cross played just 14 games for the Miami Hurricanes last season before announcing his intent to transfer in mid-January. The 6-7 forward averaged 6.9 points and 3.5 rebounds during his short stint down in South Florida. Cross shot 40-percent from three on 50 attempts during his short freshman season. Cardinal fans will remember his breakout performance in a narrow win over Louisville on January 16th, when Cross had 16 points and 4 rebounds while hitting 4 of his 6 attempts from deep. Cross has only played half of a college season, but he was a top-100 recruit out of high school and showed flashes at Miami that makes me think he can really help this team. Like Locke, he offers an ability to shoot the ball that was not readily available on the roster last season for Louisville.
West started 124 games in his four year career at Marshall, averaging 12.5 points, 6.0 assists, and 3.5 rebounds as a senior in 2021. He’s a career 38-percent three-point shooter that can provide value on both ends for the Cards. The jump from C-USA to the ACC is a big one, but I expect West to earn plenty of minutes next season for Louisville.
With David Johnson and Carlik Jones officially declaring for the draft, Louisville has only one open scholarship that it can fill for next season. Carlik could have come back due to a covid exemption. The Cards have already brought in three transfers, and you should expect them to go out and get a couple more sometime this offseason. The staff could really go in any direction with the open spots. There is a thought out there that Louisville needs to add another big, but Malik Williams is going to be a three-year captain at center, and anyone coming in would have to play behind him. The frontcourt is a bit crowded, but so is the whole roster. If I am the coaching staff, I would take my time with this and see how the transfer portal shapes up as the NBA draft deadline nears. As of now, there are no obvious players out there that have been linked with Louisville. This is 2021, though, and new names are getting added to the portal every day.
Extended Roster Thoughts:
The Louisville men’s basketball roster will see no shortage of turnover headed into the 2021-2022 season. The Cards lose their two leading scorers and overall best players from last year. With some major holes in production to fill, the staff has brought in six new players who are looking to make an instant impact on the court.
What is missing from the 2021-2022 roster is a proven star or go-to first option offensively. Last season, Carlik Jones was that guy. With he and Johnson no longer rostered, there will be a few candidates looking to lead the team offensively. Samuell Williamson looked much better in February and showed a glimpse of what should be expected from him as he enters his junior season. Malik Williams is as proven as any player that remains on the roster, but he has missed significant time to injury over the past two seasons. Williams’ presence defensively is invaluable, and the team has looked completely different whenever Malik was off the court these past two years. If Williams can stay healthy, we know just how important he is to the success of this team. At this point though, that is a major if.
Luckily, Jae’Lyn Withers stepped up in a big way last season and gained some great experience playing in the absence of Malik. JJ Traynor played sparingly, but he showed some promise in his limited minutes as a freshman. Both Withers and Traynor are both ideally stretch 4s, though, who you’d want to be playing alongside a true center. Gabe Wiznitzer and Roosevelt Wheeler could be nice depth pieces, but the ceiling of this frontcourt and ultimately the team as a whole is dramatically different if Malik Williams is healthy.
Quinn Slazinski and Dre Davis are two guys who got thrown into the mix last season out of necessity and were given extended minutes early on in the schedule. Both were instant contributors who struggled a bit down the stretch. Dre was a true freshman and Quinn, while technically a sophomore, was playing real college minutes for the first time in his career.
Slazinski had the reputation of a knock-down shooter entering last season yet shot just 23-percent from deep. His 75-percent mark from the free throw line indicates that he is definitely a better shooter than he showed last season. With the influx of guys coming in, Quinn will almost certainly need to improve offensively if he wants to earn minutes.
Dre was probably held to unfair standards by the fanbase after averaging over 12 points his first four collegiate games. I am not all that concerned about Davis heading into next season. He showed his value defensively last year. On the other end, he is still probably a bit raw, but Davis is a guy who gets into tough spaces, plays through contact, and is decisive in the paint. He’s someone who provides toughness that any coaching staff wants to see in their players. I expect Dre to improve on his consistency and be a solid player for this team in 2022.
Overall, this will definitely be a deeper team than last season. Coach Mack identified some areas that clearly needed improvement, and he has done well addressing them for the most part. The biggest question for me has to do with the first scoring option. You’ve got a couple players who are expected to make a leap, but can they make one big enough to help this Louisville team exceed expectations? You’ve got some players coming in who are worth getting excited about, but there is no way to know for sure how their games will translate at Louisville. With a group thats filled with a lot of really solid pieces, odds are someone is going to step up and stand out from the pack. The good news? There is a lot of time left to figure out who that is going to be.