Season finally comes to end for overachieving Cardinals
By ANNIE MOORE
College Contributor Network
Nobody expected the Cardinals to go far into the NCAA tournament. After a tumultuous regular season, many didn't expect Louisville to make it out of the Round of 32. But, Rick Pitino's team surprised everyone by coming within seconds of a third Final Four in four years. This March, Louisville was playing with house money, and ran out.
At the beginning of the season, everyone knew the task in front of Louisville was a daunting one. The 2014-15 season was Louisville's first in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Many wondered what the team would look like after saying goodbye to the winning-est class in school history when Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Stephan Van Treese and Tim Henderson all graduated. But when Montrezl Harrell decided to stay another season, Louisville shot up in the preseason rankings.
When the season started, Louisville looked to live up to those expectations, but after a solid season, everything changed on Feb. 22 when star guard Chris Jones was kicked off the team, later to be charged with rape and sodomy.
With four games left in the regular season, a Louisville team that had been struggling to put up big numbers with Jones, needed to replace him... enter Quentin Snider.
Snider, the true freshman from Louisville, stepped up in the final stretch of the regular season and into the postseason to help fill the void left by Jones. Snider averaged 13 points and 4.5 rebounds in Louisville's first two NCAA Tournament games. In his starting season, the former 'Kentucky Mr. Basketball' finished with 589 minutes played. Though he wasn't the offensive contributor that some of the upperclassmen were, when his number got called in Louisville's time of need, he stepped up and facilitated a deeper run than many expected in the postseason.
Aside from Snider's heroics, undoubtedly the team's leaders were senior Wayne Blackshear, junior Montrezl Harrell and sophomore Terry Rozier. Rozier led all scorers, averaging over 17 points per game on the season. Montrezl Harrell brought the excitement with highlight-worthy dunks in virtually every game, but was also one of the team's most consistent producers. Harrell finished the season averaging 15.7 points and 9.2 rebounds, 0.8 rebounds shy of averaging a double-double.
And then, there's Wayne Blackshear. The team's lone senior, and the last member of the 2013 National Championship team, was the veteran leader of this team. And while he excited much debate amongst fans and pundits in games where he didn't have a show-stopping performance, Blackshear exhibited maturity, focus and toughness in Louisville's late run in February and March.
Never was Blackshear's heart better showcased than in Louisville's Elite Eight matchup against Michigan State. Blackshear was physically ill at halftime, and had a bloody nose in the second half, but continued to produce for his team, scoring 28 points, the second-highest scoring night of his collegiate career.
Images of the bloodstains on Blackshear's jersey, Rozier draining threes and Harrell slamming in monster dunks will live in the memories of CardNation for a long time. And now, memories are all they have, because next season Blackshear, Rozier and Harrell will all be gone.
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino announced on Monday that Harrell and Rozier will both leave Louisville, as well as sophomore guard Anton Gill, who will transfer.
With those four departures, Louisville's lineup gets much younger. Mango Mathiang is suddenly the veteran on the team. The redshirt sophomore averaged just 18.7 minutes per game, with 2.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Backing up Mathiang are a crew of young men led by Snider and Chinanu Onuaku.
While some younger guys got extended minutes as Jones left, Louisville basketball will have a much younger face next season. Aside from Mathiang, Onuaku and Snider, every member of next year's Louisville team averaged less than ten minutes of playing time per game this season, and less than three points per game.
While some recruits coming in will surely boost this team, Rick Pitino will have his hands full sculpting this team for the 2015-16 season in the ACC.
But if this postseason proved anything, Louisville can exceed expectations. While the team didn't reach the Final Four as Cardinal fans are used to, it did reach a fourth consecutive Sweet 16, and exceeded expectations through adversity.
Annie Moore is a junior at the University of Louisville majoring in Communications with a Sport Administration minor. She believes Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. Follow her on Twitter: @AnyMoreSports