Louisville, KY – The ninth-ranked Louisville Cardinals begin 12 basketball season with a non-conference battle at home with Martin Skyhawks.
Last year the Skyhawks lost 21 games and with the top two scorers from that team gone, it could be another long season for UT-Martin. Jason James enters his third season as the leader of the Skyhawks, and he is 16-46 during his brief tenure. UTM is 31-29 in season openers all-time, and 7-12 since becoming an NCAA Division-I member in time for the 1992-93 season.
As for Louisville, it finished with a 25-10 record last season and a tie for third place in the Big East standings. Unfortunately for Rick Pitino's club, a first-round game of the NCAA Tournament resulted in a loss to Morehead State. Sure, a few key contributors from that year's squad are gone, but the 2011-2012 Cardinals' roster is loaded with youthful talent.
Louisville won its only previous meeting with UT-Martin back in 2005 by a 78-61 final.
Terrence Smith is the top returning scorer for the Skyhawks, posting 11.3 ppg a year ago, to go along with a team-best 103 assists. Smith will have to carry the load this season for the Skyhawks, but other players will need to step up. Look for Troy King to build off of his productive freshman year where he averaged 9.6 ppg. However, the forward will need to improve drastically on the boards after averaging just 3.2 rebounds per game. Mike Liabo is another interesting player, as he netted 11.3 ppg as a rookie and has the skill to shine offensively. He posted 17 points in a recent exhibition game and appears poised to be a go-to guy.
Forward Kyle Kuric will feel the pressure of being a go-to guy on offense for Louisville after averaging 10.8 ppg overall and a slightly better 12.6 ppg versus the conference last season. He figures to get plenty of help from guard Peyton Siva (9.9 ppg), who tries to find new and improving players on his team with whom he can generate even more assists after handing out 182 a year ago. Even though it is still far too early to tell how he will fit into the plan when the real games begin, Pitino has to be encouraged with the development of sophomore Gorgui Dieng who could actually ring up a double-double on occasion if given enough time on the floor. Freshman Chane Behanan, a 2011 McDonald's All-American and a Parade Magazine Second Team All-American, has to be someone that the staff is taking a long hard look at as someone who can create mismatches. Pitino needs just three more wins to reach 600 for his career, something he should accomplish in short order.