KEY PLAYERS GONE BUT REPLACEMENTS LOOK PROMISING FOR LOUISVILLE WBB.
Watching the Louisville WBB portion of the ACC Network Takeover by the Cards Sunday was a nice, early summer treat and positive refreshing of the wonderful season the WBB Cards had last season. The win over UConn (also a Final Four team) and defeat of Michigan in the NCAA "Great Eight" reminded me of the immense amount of talent Jeff Walz had to call upon in the 2021-22 season.
It also brought up the question in my mind about replacing Engstler, both Smiths, Hall and Parker. The four freshmen coming in (Walker, Harris, Brown and Lester), plus redshirt-freshman Mobley are part of the equation. The portal has been kind to the Cards again, with Carr, Jones and Williams ---we'll see how the eight "new to us" Cards augment the seven returnees (Van Lith, Cochran, Dixon, Robinson, Konno, Verhulst, Russell). Syndey Schetnan appears to be on the volleyball roster exclusively, something I expected would take place. .
Losing three starters to graduation creates some opportunity for the 2022-23 roster, but it also demands a lot, since Engstler was such a strong contributing forward, Hall came in and claimed the point-guard job and Kianna Smith's shooting touch was such a key factor in UofL's success this past season.
The guards battle to see who joins Van Lith in significant minutes should be a fun one to watch. Carr was a very capable point guard at Syracuse. Morgan Jones was a high scoring game-changer at FSU and having both of them for a season adds security and depth. And, let's not forget about Robinson and Konno, two key reserves from last year who are undoubtingly eying a starting role for 2022-23. Russell and Verhulst could be very prominent in the process as well and, let's not forget that freshmen Brown and Walker are guards also
Associate coach Sam Purcell going -- to take the Miss. St head coaching job and taking key reserves Ahlana Smith and Ramani Parker with him is a bit of a sting, sure, but when you have nine guards on a 15-player roster...you still have plenty of options. Ahlana could bury the three quite successfully, though -- let's hope one or two on the roster can be as deadly.
A front line cadre of Cochran, Dixon, Mobley, Williams, Brown and Lester gives the Cards some height options and we hope someone can step up to be the scorer and rebounder Engstler was. Four of the six are new to the Louisville program (although Mobley did red-shirt last year) and, if Lester and Mobley are as good as the hype surrounding them indicates -- that could be a very pleasant surprise. Williams adds height and significant experience and a team can never have too much height.
Cochran finished so strong against Michigan and you've got to believe she's got plenty more games like that to give the Cards in the future. With Dixon being so solid as a backup and occasional starter and Williams adding 6'5": height -- let's hope the trio can rebound with authority and make some key stops.
I've had several WBB aficionados indicate to me that this is Van Lith's team and the fortunes of the Cards will go as she goes. It's a lot of weight on the junior, but, I remember another junior who stepped up and was a strong guard-leader for the Cards in her final two years in Dana Evans. Van Lith has shown us plenty of times in her two years here that she can take a game over. Think about how many past Cards WBB players you could say that about. McCoughtry. Durr. Hines-Allen and Schimmel come to mind. If they were on the court, you had a fighting chance. Van Lith can't do it alone, though. Basketball is a team sport.
Defense and speed. These two factors were so essential in Louisville creating the Final Four team they had in 2021-22. You better believe those two factors will be just as important in the 2022-23 season. It's the ACC and we all know how dangerous the league is and can be,
A starting lineup? It's way too early to even guess at that yet, and Walz will tell you it's the five out there at the end of a close game that are more important. Robinson is so valuable in that particular aspect and Konno has three years of experience in the Walz system.
Yes, the challenges are there, but Walz has a lot of options to meet and conquer them with. The pre-season battles should be some pretty intense ones
I look forward to the season. And the battles leading up to it.