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After winning the toughest conference in the country and ending the regular season ranked No. 1, Louisville suffered a disheartening setback against Michigan State in last season's Elite Eight. Coach Rick Pitino wants to make up for that team's NCAA tournament shortcomings -- no matter how long it takes. "I'm going to be the coach here until I retire," Pitino said during the offseason, a tough one for him because of disclosures about his personal life. Cardinals fans needed something to count on following the graduation of Terrence Williams and the early departure of Earl Clark. Both were selected in the first round of the NBA draft. Still, even with its two leading scorers gone, Louisville has plenty of firepower to be a contender once again in 2009-10.
Samardo Samuels was one of the top freshmen in the Big East last season.
Forward Samardo Samuels was among the top freshmen in the Big East last season, when he averaged 4.9 rebounds while ranking third on the team in scoring at 11.8 points per game. The departure of leading scorer Clark means the Cardinals will rely even more on the 260-pound Samuels in the paint. Another sophomore, Terrence Jennings, should give Samuels some help down low. Jennings is ready to take on an increased role after averaging 11.9 minutes last season. Also in the mix is sophomore Jared Swopshire and freshman Rakeem Buckles, a touted signee who teammates said "played like a beast" during summer pick-up games.
Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith received congratulatory phone calls in June from Pitino, who informed them that they had been selected co-captains of the 2009-10 squad. Sosa, a senior point guard, has had a roller-coaster career. He averaged 7.3 points last season and saw his minutes dwindle toward the end. With Andre McGee gone, Sosa will be Louisville's top point guard. That could change if high-profile freshman Peyton Siva outplays Sosa early in the season. Smith is hoping for a strong finish to his career after averaging just 7.8 points as a junior, his lowest point total at Louisville. Preston Knowles, who averaged 6.1 points as a sophomore, should contribute on the perimeter.
Louisville will be competitive in the Big East because of its depth, but youth and a lack of star power might keep the Cardinals out of the conference title race. Not to worry, though. Pitino remains one of the game's top coaches. If Louisville is indeed down, it won't be for long.
Preseason rankings were compiled by basketball writers David Fox, Mike Huguenin, Jason King and Steve Megargee.