Amidst all the headlines and scandal that has surrounded the words “Louisville Basketball,” over the past few months, it may have been easy to forget that another Louisville basketball team tips off this week, free of the drama that has attached itself to their Yum! Center partners.

    On Friday night, at 7:00 pm, the Louisville women’s basketball team will play their first game of the season, at home, against Southeast Missouri State. Coach Jeff Walz’s 11th season at the helm comes with the high expectations that have become the norm for this program. They enter the season ranked 9th in the AP poll, and 10th in the coaches, falling behind only Notre Dame as ACC teams in the top 10.

    While there will be many familiar faces, returning from last year’s Sweet Sixteen run, there are plenty of changes to the roster this season. Let’s take some time to get familiar with who will be playing for the Cards this year.

Who’s Gone:

Briahanna Jackson – SR

Cortnee Walton – SR

Taylor Johnson – SR

Mariya Moore – JR

Brianna Jones – SO

Ciera Johnson – FR

    After having zero seniors on the 15-16 squad, last year’s team had three players graduate and move on. Most notable was Briahanna Jackson, who spent two seasons with the Cardinals after transferring in from Central Florida. She spent most of last season as the team’s starting point guard and averaged 6.1 points and 4.3 assists per game before her senior year was cut short by injury. Courtnee Walton was the longest tenured member of the Lady Cards, graduating after five years with the program. She started all but one game she played in last year, and played more of a leadership role for the team as more of her on-court minutes were passed to younger players. Finally, Taylor Johnson, a grad-transfer from Loyola Chicago, wrapped her one season as a spark off the bench for Louisville as a backup point guard.

    Along with the three seniors, Louisville also lost three transferring players. No doubt, the most shocking departure of the offseason was the star junior, Mariya Moore. Moore shocked everyone by announcing her transfer to USC, after starting for three years at Louisville and scoring over 1,300 points. As much fun as it would have been to see her start alongside Myisha Hines-Allen for a fourth and final season, it is hard to begrudge someone for wanting to not only play closer to home, but alongside their younger sister, which is exactly what Mariya decided to do.

    Two other former Cards, sophomore Brianna Jones and freshman Ciera Johnson, moved on to different schools. Jones was a highly touted recruit out of New York, but failed to carve out a big role at Louisville, playing only about 6 minutes per game in her two seasons at Louisville. She will finish her career at Georgetown University. Johnson’s departure came as more of a surprise, as she had seemed to find her way into Coach Walz’s rotation, getting 12 minutes a game as a freshman. She also moved on to a school closer to home, as the Texas native will continue her career at Texas A&M.

Who’s Back:

Myisha Hines-Allen – SR

Asia Durr – JR

Arica Carter – R-JR

Sam Fuehring – JR

Kylee Shook – SO

Jazmine Jones – SO

Sydney Zambrotta – SO

Bionca Dunham – SO

Jessica Laemmle – SO

    While Louisville may have lost a few more players than they expected this year, they are returning nine players from last year’s squad to create some familiarity. When talking about these familiar faces, the conversation starts in the same place it ended last year: Myisha Hines-Allen and Asia Durr. Hines-Allen, the 2015-2016 ACC Player of Year, returns as the lone senior on Louisville’s squad. She comes in as a preseason All ACC pick, looking to add on to her career averages of 14.4 points and 7.6 rebounds. While her points dipped to 13.9 per game last year, she had a career high in rebounds with 9.3 per game. Most of those lost to junior star Asia Durr, the preseason pick for ACC Player of the Year. After battling through injuries her freshman year (and still averaging 11 points per game), the former top recruit broke out in her junior year, scoring 19.2 points per game and hitting 119 three pointers over the course of the year, a Louisville single season record, on 40% shooting from deep. Durr hit at least one three pointer in every game last season, bringing her overall streak to 39 games, a school record. Durr was the star of last season, and Louisville will need her and Hines-Allen to be an even stronger one-two punch this year, to make up for the loss of Moore.

    In looking to replace that production, Louisville may have to look towards a returning name some fans may have forgotten. Arica Carter, the main starting point guard on the ‘15-’16 team will return to the roster after sitting out all of last season with an injury. While her numbers don’t jump off the page, Carter has been a consistent leader in the program for a few years now, even when she was sidelined for last season, and will be a stabilizing force to run the offense through this year. Joining Durr and Carter as juniors will be Sam Fuehring. Fuehring has played the role of a spark plug off the bench, playing 11 minutes per game and recording around 4 points and 2 rebounds per game in her two seasons.

    Also returning are five rising sophomores from last year’s strong class of newcomers. The strongest of which last season was Kylee Shook. Shook on ly averaged 13.3 minutes per game last year, but found a spot in the starting rotation towards the end of last season, and looks to gain most of the minutes left vacant by Cortnee Walton and Ciera Johnson’s departures. She averaged 5 points and 3 rebounds a contest, while spreading the floor and shooting 38% from three. Jazmine Jones saw more minutes than any freshman last year, thanks to a great mid-range game that got her 4.5 points per game. Zambrotta quickly became a fan favorite off the bench with her ability to light it up from long range, shooting 40% from long range. Bionca Dunham and Jessica Laemmle saw action in 28 and 24 games, respectively, and will look to find the court more often in their sophomore seasons.

Who’s New:

Dana Evans – FR

Loretta Kakala – FR

Lindsey Duvall – FR

    Last, but not least, Louisville adds three 5-star recruits, all of whom were top 25 recruits in the class of 2017, according to espnW. Unfortunately, one of them, Lindsey Duvall, has already been ruled out for this season. The local, Bullitt East prospect, who already gained favor in the fanbase when she decommitted from Kentucky to come to Louisville, will redshirt this season as she recovers from a knee injury. Next, Coach Walz continues his West Coast connection with freshman Loretta Kakala. Kakala, the 2nd rated center in the class of 2017 and 25th rated recruit overall, was a McDonald’s All-American and will help fill the hole left under the basket by last year’s departures. Finally, the most highly touted recruit is Dana Evans. The five star point guard was the 9th rated player in the 2017 class, another McDonald’s All American, will have an immediate impact on this team as she helps to replace the losses of Jackson and Johnson at point guard, alongside Carter, while she returns to form.

    The Cards will be tested early this season, when they get to participate in the Women’s NIT in the middle of November. They’ll also be tested out of conference with trips to Ohio State, Indiana, and Kentucky, while Vanderbilt will be making the trip into the Yum! Center, all before ACC play begins at the end of December. Finally, Louisville will face their toughest challenge of all on February 12th, when they head into Storrs, Connecticut, to face their former conference rivals UConn. Geno’s squad faltered in the Final Four last season, but remain as formidable a foe as ever, after being picked unanimously as the #1 team in the AP poll. When Louisville goes into Storrs in February, they’ll seek to do what they were never able to do in 9 seasons in the Big East and two National Championship matchups: take down the Huskies.