(left) and Rick Pitino helped Louisville
win a national title in 2012. Now they'll lead the Cardinals into a new league in 2014-15. (Robin Alam/Icon SMI)
After a season in which it welcomed Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, the ACC's delayed growth to 16 teams will finally be complete next season when Louisville joins the conference. The Cardinals will immediately be one of the top teams in their new league, bringing back forwards Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear and guards Chris Jones and Terry Rozier. While they don't yet know when or against whom they will begin their maiden ACC voyage -- the dates and order of the full schedule will not be known for a few more months -- on Tuesday, the Cards and the 15 other teams at least learned a little bit about what the conference slate will look like for the next two years.
It may not have been a rude welcome for Rick Pitino's squad, but it's not a very hospitable one, either. Here's a look at the challenges of Louisville's first ACC schedule, with a peek at 2015-16 as well:
Howdy partners: Each ACC team is assigned two partners that it will play home-and-home series with each year. For at least the next two seasons, the Cardinals will get one of the ACC's original teams and a fellow expat from the Big East in Virginia and Pittsburgh, respectively. The Cavaliers are the reigning ACC regular season and tournament champions, while the Panthers have advanced to the NCAA tournament 12 times in the past 13 seasons. That should mean four challenging games for the league's newest member. Virginia loses second-leading scorer Joe Harris but will have three starters back, including second-team All-ACC pick Malcolm Brogdon, and welcomes top 50 shooting guard recruit B.J. Stith. The Panthers do lose their top two scorers in Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna, but head coach Jamie Dixon will attempt to plug those holes with junior college signees Tyrone Haughton and Sheldon Jeter, who started his college career at Vanderbilt.
Blueblood battle: Of the other two teams the Cardinals will play twice in their first ACC season one is yet another former Big East rival, Miami, and the other is one of the conference's -- and the nation's -- perennial powers: North Carolina. Like Louisville, UNC should be a top 10 team in the preseason and one with legitimate national title aspirations. The Tar Heels bring back All-America guard Marcus Paige and fill in some backcourt holes with an overloaded recruiting class featuring wing players Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson and point guard Joel Berry. The ACC didn't take it easy on either side with this series but did create what should be two of the best regular-season matchups in the country next year. The Cardinals will host the Heels in their only scheduled meeting in the 2015-16 season.
Putting the K in KFC Yum! Center. Speaking of matchups of national title contenders . . . all eyes will be on Louisville's home court whenever the television networks see fit to schedule the lone meeting of the season between Pitino's Cardinals and Mike Krzyzewski's Duke Blue Devils. Duke loses Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood but welcomes the best recruiting class in the country, led by No. 1 overall recruit Jahlil Okafor and fellow top 10 recruit point guard Tyus Jones. Louisville beat Duke in the Elite Eight two yeas ago, while Pitino's Kentucky team famously lost to Coach K's Blue Devils in the 1992 Elite Eight that featured Christian Laettner's heroics. The Blue Devils then rotate in for a home-and-home in 2015-16.
Back to the Dome. The Orange preceded the Cardinals to the ACC by one season, but Pitino is no stranger to Syracuse's Carrier Dome, having coached in the Big East for 10 seasons, two at Providence and then eight at Louisville. The Orange have been absolutely slammed by personnel attrition this offseason. Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis and sophomore forward Jerami Grant both declared for the NBA draft, and with the graduation of C.J. Fair, Syracuse is without its three best players from 2013-14. Five-star power forward recruit Chris McCullough and four-star point guard signee Kaleb Joseph will have huge responsibility foisted upon them immediately. The roster turnover did Louisville a bit of a favor here, but clearly the Orange will be better equipped to handle a high-pressure matchup in the comforts of the Carrier Dome. Syracuse then visits Louisville in 2015-16.
Miami went a middling 17-16 and just 7-11 in the ACC this past season. But that may have been a matter of biding time before a pair of energizing transfers became eligible to take the floor. Point guard Angel Rodriguez
and shooting guard Sheldon McClellan
were solid gets for head coach Jim Larranaga last offseason and the dividends could pay off next year. Miami may not have the look of a preseason top 25 team in 2014-15. But it's hardly a home-and-home breather for Louisville, either.