The versatile Clark went from a reserve to the team's top player in March.
Nov. 22-23 Morehead State* Nov. 30 Western Kentucky (in Nashville) Dec. 6 Indiana State Dec. 7 Ohio Dec. 8 Lamar Dec. 13 Austin Peay Dec. 18 Ole Miss Dec. 20 Minnesota (in Glendale, Ariz.) Dec. 27 UAB Dec. 31 UNLV Jan. 4 Kentucky** * Billy Minardi Classic (also Florida A&M, South Alabama)
The Battle of the Bluegrass should give the Cardinals their toughest test -- even with the Wildcats still adjusting to second-year coach Billy Gillispie -- in what is otherwise a soft nonconference itinerary.
Coach: Rick Pitino (7th year) 2007-08 record: 27-9 Big East record: 14-4 (T-2nd) NCAA tournament: Elite Eight
Watch the Cards carefully. They're playing with a loaded deck
How good can the Cardinals be? Earl Clark knows. Back in April, the thensophomore, who had blossomed during Louisville's run to the Elite Eight,declared for the NBA draft. At 6' 9", 220 pounds, the smooth-moving forwardhas the athletic grace and inside-out skills that pro scouts covet, and he waswidely projected to be a first-round pick. But Clark never made it to the draft.After traveling all the way to Houston -- on his own dime -- to work out for theRockets, he got as far as his hotel room before changing his mind and retreatingto Louisville. "Each year I've been here this team has gone further," he says,"and I realized that this was an opportunity to win a championship."
The springy junior now gets another year to mature and develop his game underRick Pitino, and one of the most complete teams in the Big East retains theservices of a player capable of carrying it to the Final Four. Clark enteredlast year's NCAA tournament as a reserve and left it a star, averaging teamhighs in points (14.5) and rebounds (8.3) while wowing everybody with hisversatility. His big moment came in Louisville's Sweet 16 rout of Tennessee, inwhich he scored 17 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked four shots, twoon three-pointers. Says senior point guard Andre McGee, "Earl's a big matchupproblem."
The same could be said about senior swingman Terrence Williams, a 6' 6"defensive stopper who fancies himself a point forward at the other end of thefloor -- he led the team in assists (4.5 per game) last season. Giving Williams andClark a boost up front is highly touted freshman Samardo Samuels, a 6' 8",240-pound banger who appears ready to replace the departed David Padgett in themiddle.
The backcourt has plenty of experience. Junior Jerry Smith is a career 42.1%shooter from beyond the arc, and because of his great range the new 20' 9"three-point line shouldn't bother him. At the point, McGee beat out junior EdgarSosa for the job, starting 27 of the 36 games last season. Joining the rotationis Mississippi State transfer Reginald Delk, a sweet-shooting 6' 4" junior(and the nephew of Tony Delk, who starred for Pitino at Kentucky in themid-'90s).
"We're a deep team," says Pitino. "And we need to be, because this is thestrongest the Big East has ever been. There are 11 or 12 teams that are goodenough to go to the Sweet 16."
Driving the Cardinals is the memory of how last season ended: with an 83-73loss to North Carolina, one game short of the Final Four. "We know we've got alot of talent," says Williams, "but at the end of the day, you've still got towin." -- Mark Beech
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