The Louisville Cardinals are on the short list of national title contenders heading into the college basketball season. The defending champions brought back enough talent to be ranked third in the initial rankings, including the backcourt combination of Russ Smith and Juco transfer Chris Jones.
Smith and Jones led the Cardinals to their first win of the season over a pesky Charleston Cougars team, combining for 33 points and 10 assists. While Charleston isn’t the best team the Cardinals will face this season, they’re a good squad that went 24-11 last season. The Cougars hung around early, but the two guards sparked a second half where the Cardinals earned the win. That’s not the kind of tough test a national title contender will find later in the season, but a good barometer for where they are now.
Where they are now is a good place. Guard play is so important in college basketball. Especially with the emphasis on letting ball handlers have room to operate this year, guards who can score and set up teammates are crucial.
Both Smith and Jones fit that bill, and both showed they have what it takes to lead the Cardinals this season. There are going to be times this year where someone will need to step up and lead the team. The play of the backcourt duo that led them today is the kind of play they will need later this season.
That play, along with the rest of a talented squad, once again has Rick Pitino’s squad primed for a deep run in the tournament. It’s going to be a long season for Louisville; there will be stumbles along the way, but the play of the two guards today was a good sign that they are up for the challenges to come.