(Photo of Chris Mack, David Johnson: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Waiting 263 days to retake the court, the Louisville men's basketball program did not disappoint in their season-opener. Getting the job done on both ends of the court, the Cardinals cruised past Evansville, taking down the Purple Aces 79-44. For their second game of the Wade Houston Tipoff Classic, Louisville turns their attention to Seton Hall. Tipoff is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 27th at 4:00pm EST, and can be viewed on ESPN2.
Here are a couple of the more significant storylines to follow ahead of Louisville's matchup with the Pirates:
A Familiar Face
Most Cardinals fans should be very familiar with the head coach of the Pirates, as is it none other than Kevin Willard, who was an assistant coach at Louisville from 2001-07 under then-head coach Rick Pitino.
Willard was previously the head coach of the Iona Gaels for three seasons before taking over at Seton Hall, and is now entering his 11th year with the program.
His first five years at the helm can be best described as mediocre, barely going over .500 with an 82-81 record as well as failing to make the NCAA Tournament during that span.
Since the 2015-16 season, Willard has guided Seton Hall to a 109-56 record, including a Big East Championship in 2016 and five straight 20-win seasons. He has also made the NCAA Tournament every year since, and was guaranteed to do so in 2020 had there been one, as the Pirates came in at No. 15 in the final AP Top 25.
Replacing A Legend
Like Louisville, Seton Hall also lost a solid amount of production from their 2019-20 squad. While the Cards are lost Jordan Nwora, the Pirates lost arguably one of their best players in program history.
Guard Myles Powell completed his collegiate career as Seton Hall's third all-time leading scorer and their all-time leader in made three pointers. During his senior campaign, he averaged 21.0 points, 4.3 rebounds & 2.9 assists per game, getting named the Big East's Player of the Year and a Consensus All-American in the process.
He's not the only notable name that graduated over the offseason, as guard Quincy McKnight & center Romaro Gill both have moved on. McKnight not only averaged 11.9 points, but also 5.4 assists with a 2.37 assist-turnover ratio. Gill and his 95 blocks (3.2 per game) was primarily responsible for Seton Hall top-10 mark in block percentage last season.
But just because the Pirates will be sans three of their top playmakers from last season, doesn't mean there is no talent leftover. Forward Sandro Mamukelashvili is back, who was recently named to the Naismith Preseason Watch List, as is their leading rebounder in guard/forward Jared Rhoden.
Fire Up The Transfer Portal
Outside of Mamukelashvili & Rhoden, two of Seton Hall's biggest contributors are expected to be a pair of transfers.
One of the most sought after graduate transfers over the offseason was Harvard guard and New Jersey native Bryce Aiken, who decided to come home for his final collegiate year.
Aiken burst onto the scene during the 2016-17 season, winning the Ivy League's Rookie of the Year. His junior year was his best to date, averaging 22.2 points and shooting 39.8% from three-point range to earn 2018-19 All-Ivy honors. He received a medical redshirt last season after only seeing seven games due to a foot injury.
After sitting out a year due to transfer rules, fellow guard Takal Molson is now eligible for the Pirates and is expected to be the other half of their backcourt. His last season saw him earn 2018-19 All-MAAC honors at Canisius College, averaging 16.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists.
Bumps In The COVID Road
Like in Louisville's season opener, unfortunately as is custom with the theme of 2020, there is not a shortage of COVID-19 related storylines for their matchup with Seton Hall.
Back on Nov. 11, the Pirates were forced to pause all team activities due to positive test results among the program's "Tier 1" personnel, which consists of student-athletes, coaches, staff and managers.
As a result, their planned season-opener on Nov. 25 against Winthrop in Louisville had to be cancelled. Seton Hall returned to individual workouts on Nov. 23, then to practice the next day, and their matchup with Louisville is their new season-opener.
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