The Louisville Cardinals were expected to enter the 2016-17 college basketball season as one of the top teams in the country, but third leading scorer and leading rebounder Chinanu Onuaku announced that he would remain in the 2016 NBA Draft. Many had this move dropping the Cardinals significantly in their preseason rankings, but in reality, it should only drop them a few spots.
Louisville returns a large portion of their minutes from last season and had immense success in a year where they were considered in transition. The Cardinals finished just two games behind the North Carolina Tar Heels in the ACC regular season standings and defeated this same UNC team in their only matchup of the season. Remember, all of this happened with the Cardinals self-imposing a postseason ban, so this team succeeded while knowing there would be no end reward.
The departure of Onuaku will sting for Rick Pitino and Co., but it should also be noted that center Mangok Mathiang will likely be recovered from last year’s injury and be able to play this season. While not as offensively prolific as Onuaku, Mathiang is a highly capable rebounder who should be able to immediately replace some of the damage from Onuaku’s decision to go to the NBA.
This Louisville team is primed for a massive 2016-17 season, and the departure of one key player is not going to destroy that. Watch this team moving forward, because they could be one of the favorites to win it all once March swings around.