LOUISVILLE — A season with national title aspirations begins Tuesday night for Louisville.
The Cardinals, who are ranked No 5 nationally in both major preseason polls, host Bellarmine University at 7:01 p.m. at the KFC Yum! Center in their one, and only, exhibition game. UofL returns three starters, and six of its top seven scorers, from a team that went 20-14 last season.
“It’s a two-headed monster,” second-year Cards coach Chris Mack said of preseason expectations. “It’s great for public perception of our program, especially how things were viewed prior to us as a coaching staff getting here. But again I go back to we haven’t earned anything. I hope our players are well aware of that. If they’re not, they’ll learn it the hard way. I’m hopeful that we don’t have to learn it the hard way moving forward.”
Louisville learned that lesson, apparently, in a closed scrimmage against Ohio State on Oct. 20.
“We got our *** kicked,” Mack said at last Friday’s media day.
The Cards will look to bounce back tonight against the Knights.
“I want to see a big improvement from our team from Sunday’s scrimmage to the next time we take the floor,” Mack said. “We know Bellarmine’s going to be very disciplined, they’re going to move the ball as fast as they possibly can on offense. On defense, they’re really going to try to shrink the floor. I’m more worried about, and I want to see our of our guys, a mindset that I didn’t quite honestly see in the first half of the Ohio State scrimmage. Having said that, we responded really well in the second half. But I think having a veteran team, the continuity of the same coaching staff, we should be a lot more ready than we were on Sunday. I’m anxious to see that.”
Bellarmine is coming off a 28-5 campaign. Although the Knights graduated their top two scorers off a squad that advanced to the Division II Sweet 16, they are still a consensus preseason Top 10 pick.
Bellarmine should be paced by 6-7 senior forwards Ben Weyer (11.5 points, 4.9 rebounds per game) and Alex Cook (9.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg), as well as 6-7 sophomore guard Pedro Bradshaw, a transfer from Eastern Kentucky University. Providence graduate Juston Betz is a redshirt sophomore guard for the Knights.
Louisville, meanwhile, will be led by junior forward Jordan Nwora, a preseason Associated Press All-American and the preseason ACC Player of the Year. He averaged 17 points and 7.6 rebounds per game last season.
Also returning are Dwayne Sutton (10 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Steven Enoch (9.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Malik Williams (7.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Ryan McMahon (7.2 ppg) and Darius Perry (5.4 ppg).
Mack also welcomes in graduate transfer point guard Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble as well as a highly-regarded freshman class that is headlined by 6-foot-10 forward Aidan Igiehon.
Louisville officially opens the season a week from Tuesday night at Miami (Fla.).
“If our team competes and stays together and improves, we can do anything that we want to do. We can compete with any team in the country,” Mack said.