LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Louisville now can turn its attention to addressing alleged NCAA recruiting violations and possible roster decisions after its earlier-than-expected tournament exit.
Both issues could determine how the Cardinals begin next season - and who might be around to lead the way.
The university was expecting an answer from the NCAA last Friday to its January response to the governing body’s Notice of Allegations that stated the university committed four Level 1 violations during a sex scandal. Escort Katina Powell said in a book that former Louisville staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with Cardinals players and recruits from 2010-14.
The university’s investigation into Powell’s book allegations led to a one-year, self-imposed postseason ban.
Coach Rick Pitino also could be penalized by the NCAA, which states he failed to monitor McGee. Pitino and the school vow to defend that allegation when the case is possibly heard sometime this spring.
The future of leading scorer Donovan Mitchell (15.6 points per game) is also unclear.
The sophomore guard has been projected as a possible first-round draft pick if he decides to leave school. Mitchell has been vague about whether he’ll enter the draft or return for his junior season.
“I try my best not to look at things like that,” the 6-foot-3 Mitchell recently said, adding that his focus is winning a national championship with Louisville.
As the Cardinals await Mitchell’s decision, they can look ahead to having many of their scorers back.
No doubt, Mitchell’s possible return could boost the Cardinals’ backcourt and their tournament prospects after becoming a first team All-ACC selection. His ability to distribute showed while junior point guard Quentin Snider (12.4 points, 4.1 assists) recovered from a hip injury and sets the stage for another 1-2 offensive punch.
Forward Deng Adel (12.1 points) is expected back along with Ray Spalding, Jaylen Johnson and 7-footer Anas Mahmoud - all of whom progressed offensively.
The Cardinals lose Mathiang and David Levitch along with fifth-year senior Tony Hicks, who transferred and played significant minutes in the Michigan loss. Pitino must also replace assistant Mike Balado, who was introduced as Arkansas State’s head coach on Monday.
First for Louisville is adjusting to a return home it expected to come much later.
“Obviously, the team is very disappointed we lost,” Pitino said, “but, as always, unless you win it all, it’s always going to be a disappointment.”
But the Cardinals didn’t expect to lose this soon after sitting out last year’s tournament.
Instead, the second-seeded Cardinals were bounced on the first weekend because of defensive breakdowns that cost them three of their final five games. The end was Sunday’s 73-69 loss to No. 7 seed Michigan , where they lost a nine-point second half lead to the Wolverines and fell short coming back.
“Going forward, we have to learn how important defense is with the game on the line,” Pitino said.
Louisville (25-9) appeared to have that defense at times before collapsing down the stretch.
Non-conference victories over rival Kentucky and Indiana and an Atlantic Coast Conference win over Duke kept Louisville in or near the Top 10. The Cardinals’ 78-63 first-round tournament win over Jacksonville State looked like a good start toward making the Sweet 16.
But the Cardinals’ struggle to finish off opponents such as Duke in the ACC tournament and then Michigan caught up with them.
“I feel like the team fought, played real hard,” forward Mangok Mathiang said. “They gave their teammates and coach everything they had, but we just fell short.”
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