By the time next season rolls around, it will have been six full years since the Florida Gators became the last college basketball team to repeat as National Champions. However since then, it's hard to argue that any team has been in better position for back-to-back title runs than the 2014 Louisville Cardinals will be.
Louisville was already in good shape heading into next season, and that was before they got news Wednesday that star guard Russ Smith would return for his senior year. Add Smith in with other key contributors such as Final Four MVP Luke Hancock and forwards Chane Behanan and Montrezl Harrell, and the Cardinals will once again be one of the favorites to cut down the nets in Dallas next spring.
Here's what you need to know about the 2014 Louisville Cardinals:
Key Returnees: Russ Smith, Sr., G (18.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg), Chane Behanan, Jr., F (9.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Luke Hancock, Sr., G/F (8.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg), Wayne Blackshear, Jr., G/F (7.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg), Montrezl Harrell, Soph., F (5.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg), Stephan Van Treese, Sr., F (1.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
Key Additions: Chris Jones, PG
Louisville got maybe the best news of any college basketball team this off-season with the news that Smith would return to school. In addition to re-inserting an 18.7 point per game scorer into their starting lineup, Smith's return also fills a major need; with Peyton Siva graduating and Kevin Ware likely out for the entire 2014 season to injury, the Cardinals were woefully short in the back-court. Smith should fill a major void left by both players.
Moving to the front-court, Louisville will again be one of the deepest teams in college basketball.
The Cardinals will have plenty of rebounding prowess with Behanan (who averaged nearly seven boards a game last season) and Harrell, who proved exactly how talented he is with a 20 point, seven rebound effort against Syracuse in the Big East Tournament final last March. Van Treese will add frontcourt depth off the bench, while Hancock will once again provide perimeter shooting. Hancock hit a team-high 63 pointers during the 2013 season, including eight alone in the Final Four against Wichita State and Michigan.
However what Louisville's entire 2014 season- and in turn, their title defense- will likely come down to is the play of guard Chris Jones. A junior college transfer, Jones has been penciled in as Siva's replacement at point guard, but without any major college hoops experience it's impossible to know what the former Tennessee signee is capable of.
Still, between their depth, size and Smith's return, it's hard to imagine Louisville starting the 2014 season outside of anyone's top five.
Despite all the returnees however, it will be the one new face- that of Chris Jones- which could ultimately decide whether Louisville becomes the first team since Florida in 2008 to win back-to-back titles.