The Cardinals come off a season where they lost Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, lost five-star recruit Brian Bowen, and missed the NCAA Tournament but they bring in new life with new head coach Chris Mack. The Cardinals now have a team of mostly unproven players and a new head coach looking to prove himself at a big-time program. This team is built on an unproven sophomore class and a couple transfers who are looking to make a name for themselves this season. That being said the Cardinals do have the pieces in place to potentially make the NCAA Tournament this season.
The Cardinals will look for one of the two of Christen Cunningham or Khwan Fore to step in and help play the point guard position right away. Cunningham will likely act as a pass-first type player, while Fore is more of a playmaker who can score the ball and play as a combo guard. The team also has Darius Perry who can handle the ball but will likely act as a shooting guard, Perry has plenty of potential and could have a breakout year scoring wise. VJ King will start at the 3, likely leading the team in scoring this season in what hopes to be a breakout season. Dwayne Sutton can also operate as a wing or a small ball four, as he has shown the ability to rebound well. Ryan McMahon is a lethal shooter from deep, he’s a player that should come into games and make shots from deep, which will help the Cardinals spacing wise. Overall this roster has a lot of pieces who can do a lot of different things to help a team win, if used well this could be one of the better backcourts in the conference.
The Cardinals will have a good competition up front to see who will start at center this season as Sophomore Malik Williams and Uconn transfer Steven Enoch both have traits that can help this team. Both are long defenders, while Enoch is probably a more sure thing, Williams has more potential and can space the floor. There won’t be a debate for starting rights at the power forward position, as Jordan Nwora is a stretch four, who will start. Nwora is an elite three-point shooter, a good defender and a good rebounder, which is needed. The Cardinals also added SMU grad transfer Akoy Agau, who should get minutes this season.
The Cardinals have one of the toughest schedules in the country, which should help them stay in the NCAA Tournament picture, despite what looks to be a lot of losses. The Cardinals start the season off with a few easy games but that changes when they’ll play Tennessee and either Kansas or Marquette in the NIT Season Tip-Off. They’ll also play games at Seton Hall and Indiana while playing home games against Michigan State and Kentucky in non-conference play. Things won’t be much easier in ACC play, where the Cardinals will struggle to go .500 in conference play. The ACC Tournament runs March 12th-16th with the NCAA Tournament starting March 19th if they make it there.
What to expect this season
The Cardinals have some talented players but they will need players to step up this season if they want to make it back to the NCAA Tournament. With such a tough non-conference schedule the Cardinals will likely lose a couple of games before ACC play begins. The Cardinals look like a team that will probably go around .500 in conference play, which should keep them in the mix. I think if they can get a couple of quality wins, which they will have plenty of opportunities to do so, this is a NCAA Tournament team. While this season will be a grind to make the tournament, things do look up from here, as the Cardinals look like a perennial top-tier team in the ACC going forward.
PG: Christen Cunningham
SG: Darius Perry
SF: VJ King
PF: Jordan Nwora
C: Malik Williams
Key Reserves: Khwan Fore, Ryan McMahon, Dwayne Sutton, Akoy Agau, Steven Enoch