Now that the 2016-2017 college basketball season has officially come to an end, let’s take a glance at what 2017-2018 might hold for the beloved Cardinals.
Louisville had a very successful season, despite its earlier than expected exit from the NCAA tournament. There has been ample time to heal after the tough Michigan loss, and looking back on the season as a whole I would say it was a success. Donovan Mitchell made the first team all-ACC, and the first team all-ACC defensive team. Louisville defeated rival Kentucky in December, earned a top-4 seed in the ACC tournament, and spent a good amount of the season ranked in the top-10 of the major polls. None of those accolades deserve to be overlooked by an unenthusiastic end to the season, just like Lamar winning the Heisman shouldn’t be overshadowed by the sloppy end to the football season. It hurts to think of what could have been or what went wrong, but rather than dwell on the negatives, look at the positives from the previous season and the optimism going into the next.
Louisville loses Mangok Mathiang, David Levitch, and Tony Hicks due to graduation. Donovan Mitchell, along with Deng Adel and Jaylen Johnson have entered their names in the NBA draft, but none have signed an agent which allows them to return to school if they withdraw by May 24th. Mitchell is the only serious candidate to leave early, Adel and Johnson may have NBA careers in the future, but their entry is more so for the purpose of knowing what to work on in their respective games going forward. Mitchell has been projected as high as 13 in the first round, but most mock drafts have the sophomore in the early to mid 20s. Mitchell loves school, has aspects of his game that can improve, and could enter next year’s draft with a better stock if he chooses to return.
With all that being said, Louisville will return all of its key pieces from last year’s team (with the exception of Mitchell if he declares) in a way that we saw the 2012 team do in 2013. This season felt special, but next season the Cards will be better, with or without Mitchell. The Cardinals have a very solid recruiting class, headlined by incoming 6’11 big man Malik Williams who will be a candidate to start right away.
While the 2016-17 season ended less than a day ago, it’s too much fun to imagine how good the returning team will be for 2017-18. Everyone remembers the transition from the surprising 4-seed Final Four run in 2012, to the dominant 2013 national championship team. 2012 left us with some head scratching moments, as did 2016-17. But, with the returns of key pieces and the additions of immediate help from incoming recruits/transfers, 2013 and 2017-18 could be more similar than we think. Louisville has popped up on many “Too Early Polls” in the top-5 with the assumption of Mitchell leaving, if he stays, there won’t be a team more hyped in the nation than Louisville.
Congrats to UNC on redeeming themselves from the heartbreak of a year ago. But next season could be Louisville’s turn to redeem their early exit this season.