2023-24 Non-conference opponent preview: Louisville

  • 07/28/2023 7:48 am in

Indiana’s 2023-24 non-conference schedule was finalized on June 27 and Inside the Hall will have a team-by-team look at each opponent. Today: Louisville.

Louisville’s 2022-23 season was unforgettable for all the wrong reasons.

The Cardinals are one of the three teams Indiana could end up facing in the Empire Classic from Nov. 19-20. UConn and Texas are the others competing in the event, while first-round matchups have yet to be announced. In the all-time series history between the two historic programs, Louisville leads the series with an 8-7 record against the Hoosiers. The two squads last met in December 2018, a 68-67 win for IU in Bloomington.

Louisville enters the 2023-24 season coming off its worst year in program history. The Cardinals underperformed all expectations in Kenny Payne’s first year at the program’s helm. Louisville lost a program-record 28 games and won just four. It was the first time the program had suffered back-to-back losing seasons since World War II.

Heavy roster turnover felt inevitable for the Cardinals this offseason and that’s precisely what happened. Louisville returns just four players from last season’s roster. Five true freshmen enter the program along with three power five transfers. The Cardinals also lose two of their top-3 scorers from last year in El Ellis (Arkansas) and Jae’Lyn Withers (North Carolina).

If Kenny Payne has done anything well since he’s returned to his alma mater, it’s recruit. The Cardinals 2023 recruiting class is ranked No. 7 in the nation by 247Sports. Payne inked five top-125 recruits. Top-30 prospects Dennis Evans, a 7-foot-1 center, and Trentyn Flowers, a 6-foot-8 forward, headline the list.

The Cardinals’ additions from the transfer portal also prove to be an immediate help. Former four-star Tre White transfers in after his freshman season at USC. As a Trojan, the 6-foot-7 forward averaged 9 points and 5.1 boards in 26.7 minutes per game. The Dallas native started 29 of 33 games. White had a very productive first year of college basketball and looks to be a cornerstone of Louisville’s 2023-24 season.

A name that might sound familiar to college basketball fans also joins Louisville after a strange freshman season. That’s Skyy Clark, the former Kentucky commit who played 13 games for Illinois before leaving the program this past year. The speedy guard posted inefficient shooting splits with the Illini, shooting 41.1 percent from the field, 33.3 percent from deep and 69.6 percent from the foul stripe. Clark also averaged the same amount of turnovers as he did assists, 2.1.

Clark is more of a work in progress than White, but both are young and entering their second seasons of college basketball. Miami (FL.) forward Danilo Jovanovich is the third and final portal addition to the Louisville roster, he played just two minutes last season for the Hurricanes.

Out of the four Cardinals returning from last season, Mike James, JJ Traynor and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield are the headliners. James was second on the team, scoring 10.1 points a contest, and Traynor mostly came off the bench averaging 25.5 minutes a game.

James missed his freshman season due to a torn Achilles and started to get back into a groove later in the season, seeing more shots from the field.

Huntley-Hatfield is the best-returning defender on the Louisville roster as he led the team in blocks but struggled to find his way around the basket. The former top-five prospect in the class of 2022 had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 15 to 46. At 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, the former Tennessee Volunteer has the tools to be an elite rim runner and shot blocker, he just needs to find a back-to-the-basket game and take care of the ball.

An upside to the Louisville roster in Payne’s second season is that there are no seniors. This is a revamped group that will have to develop chemistry over time, but they have the time. From top-to-bottom, this year’s Cardinals squad is better on paper than last year’s despite losing Ellis, their leading scorer.

It’s still going to be an uphill climb for one of college basketball’s most historic programs. Bart Torvik has Louisville as the No. 141 team in his rankings entering the fall. The Cardinals finished last year ranked No. 263.

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