Last Updated: 2017-03-06
Matchup: Evansville Aces at #13 Louisville Cardinals
Date/Time: November 11, 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
College Basketball Betting Odds From Bookmaker
Spread: Louisville -19.5
The Louisville Cardinals will look a lot different at the outset of the season, but that’s true of just about any blue-blood college basketball program. Their 2016-17 debut will take place on Friday night at the KFC Yum Center against the Evansville Aces. All of the teams ranked in the top 25 are in action on college basketball’s opening night. The Cardinals are a 19.5-point favorite for their season opener and the total has been climbing since opening at 135.
The Aces are going to hit the ground running with their toughest opponent of the non-conference schedule. Evansville was 25-9 last season, including notable wins over UC-Irvine, Belmont, and Murray State. The Aces were 12-6 in Missouri Valley Conference play. Louisville was not a player in the postseason for the first time in forever, as they self-imposed a postseason ban after the investigation into “improper benefits”, like prostitutes for recruits, launched by the NCAA that mostly left Rick Pitino clean, but affected past assistant coaches. The Cardinals did lose two scholarships as part of the ban. Louisville finished up 23-8 last year and 12-6 in conference play.
Unfortunately for the Aces, the chances of pulling off a monumental upset pretty much left with last season’s graduating class. Leading scorer DJ Balentine took 20.5 points and a team-high 4.4 assists per game with him. Balentine wrapped up his collegiate career with three straight 20+ points per game seasons. Perhaps the bigger loss, literally and figuratively, is Egidijus Mockevicius. Mockevicius was a stunningly efficient shooter that wound up shooting 64 percent from the floor. He also averaged 14 rebounds per game. He was a double-double machine with 15.7 and 14 on a nightly basis. He also averaged three blocked shots per effort.
Jaylon Brown is the top leading returner and he has big shoes to fill. Brown averaged 10.8 points per game and shot over 50 percent from the floor, but he won’t have help from Balentine and Mockevicius to create clean looks. The Aces are going to play with tempo and Brown is the team’s point guard, so the pressure is certainly on him to perform in this game and throughout the season. Head coach Marty Simmons likes to go overseas to look for talent, since the Midwest is a very tough region to recruit. The Aces have a 7-foot-1 center from Serbia in Sergej Vucetic, whose role will increase with Mockevicius elsewhere in his career. The Aces also have a couple interesting newcomers in junior Dalen Traore from the Ivory Coast and freshman Silas Adheke from Nigeria. It certainly appears to be a transitional season for the Aces.
Louisville’s inexperience may show in these early games, but the new offensive system could allow the team’s athleticism to really shine. Louisville was a very efficient offense last season that played at a modest tempo. This season, Rick Pitino wants the Cardinals to pressure the opposition into mistakes and have his own team get up and down the floor in transition. Louisville will be playing more up-tempo and will be looking to press more often this season. It seems like a great time to shift gears, as the Cardinals lost Damion Lee, Trey Lewis, and Chinanu Onuaku from last season’s team.
The top returning scorer is Quentin Snider and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to playing a much different scheme and at a much quicker pace. He’s not the only returnee, as the Cardinals will rely on guys like Jaylen Johnson and Mangok Mathiang down low and perimeter sophomores Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel. Mathiang is the most accomplished of that group and his role is very important as the top returning rebounder. One story for Louisville this year could be three-point shooting. If they’re going to play at a quicker pace, there should be more open looks beyond the arc. Louisville shot just 34.7 percent from distance and Snider is the only returning player that had any success from deep.
Free College Basketball Pick: Louisville Cardinals -19.5
Evansville should provide a decent challenge for the first half, but some significant losses leave the Aces with nowhere near enough weapons to stay in the game over 40 minutes. The depth just isn’t there for Evansville. Louisville may go through long stretches of sloppy play and Pitino has already warned the media and his players about that, but the fast pace should allow the Cardinals to put together several runs to put some distance between the two teams.