NCAA Basketball American Athletic Conference BasketballLouisville Cardinals

Preview and Predictions for Louisville Cardinals Basketball

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

The Louisville Cardinals basketball program opens the 2013-14 season as defending national champions, and they bring back enough talent to once again compete for the title.

Rick Pitino’s squad returns seven of its top scorers from last season, but the two best players from last year’s team were drafted by the NBA this summer. Replacing playmaker Peyton Siva and center Gorgui Dieng will be a tall task, but the Cardinals will rely on returning players and a key transfer to fill their shoes.

Russ Smith declined the chance to go to the NBA after last year, and he will be joined in the backcourt by talented JUCO transfer Chris Jones. The duo of Jones and Smith gives the Cardinals the kind of scoring, ballhandling and playmaking that they will need to go deep in the tournament come the spring.

The team also returns Luke Hancock, Wayne Blackshear and Stephan Van Treese to add depth to a talented team that will be even better if starter Chane Behanan is reinstated from his suspension and Kevin Ware returns to full speed from his horrific injury suffered in the tournament last year.

Unfortunately for them, the best in the country are better this year than they have been in a long time. The race for the title game will be tougher than it was last year, and this team doesn’t have the same kind of veteran playmakers they did last season. It will be another good year in Louisville — one that will likely even see another Final Four appearance — but I don’t see them beating teams like Duke or Kentucky this year.

Ben Sullivan is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bensullivan52, “Like” him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google.