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October 21, 2011

Preseason Top 32: No. 16 Louisville

STRENGTHS: Louisville has plenty of experience and also brings in a talented freshman class. Top returning players include junior G Peyton Siva and senior G/F Kyle Kuric. Siva ranked second in the Big East in steals (2.0 per game) and fourth in assists (5.2) while also averaging 9.9 points last season. Kuric averaged 10.8 points and shot 44.9 percent from 3-point range. Chris Smith, a senior guard, gives Louisville three returning starters. Louisville also could benefit from the return of Fs Rakeem Buckles and Jared Swopshire from injuries. Buckles was Louisville's top rebounder before tearing his ACL last season. Swopshire made 20 starts for Louisville two years ago, but he missed last season with a groin injury. Swopshire has resumed practicing with the team, and the Cardinals hope to have Buckles ready by the start of the season. Louisville also returns C Gorgui Deng, who ranked third in the Big East in blocks (1.9 per game) last season. Louisville's freshman class includes four top-100 prospects in F Chane Behanan (No. 21), G/F Wayne Blackshear (No. 36), C Zach Price (No. 67) and G Kevin Ware (No. 70). All that talent should once again allow Louisville to make things difficult for opposing offenses. The Cardinals ranked 12th nationally last season in field-goal percentage defense (.394).

C Gorgui Dieng (6-11/235, Soph.)
F Chane Behanan (6-6/245, Fr.)
G/F Kyle Kuric (6-4/195, Sr.)
G Peyton Siva (6-0/180, Jr.)
G Chris Smith (6-2/195, Sr.)
C Zach Price (6-10/235, Fr.)
F Rakeem Buckles (6-7/215, Jr.)
F Jared Swopshire (6-8/200, Jr.)
G/F Wayne Blackshear (6-5/225, Fr.)
G Mike Marra (6-5/200, Jr.)

Coach: Rick Pitino (11th season at Louisville)
Last season's record: 25-10 overall, 12-6 in Big East (T-3rd in league)
Postseason: Lost to Morehead State in first round of NCAA tournament
Final regular-season RPI: 17th
Last time didn't made NCAA field: 2006

WEAKNESSES: The health in the frontcourt is a major concern. What can the Cardinals expect from Buckles and Swopshire? Buckles' situation is particularly precarious, as his torn ACL was the third injury he suffered last season. The Cardinals need Buckles and Swopshire to remain healthy, as they ranked 12th in the Big East in rebound margin last season. Louisville also needs more scoring in the post. Deng's an outstanding shot blocker, but he doesn't score much. Siva's a good guard, but he committed 101 turnovers last season. For Louisville to take the next step, Siva must take better care of the ball. While the Cardinals have plenty of quality players, they lack a true star. Who's going to be the go-to guy when a game's on the line?

[More Louisville coverage: CardinalSports.com]

OVERVIEW: Connecticut's the clear favorite in the Big East to start the season, but Louisville should join Pittsburgh and Syracuse as the Huskies' chief competitors. Injuries forced Louisville to rely quite a bit on guile and hustle last season. The returns of Buckles and Swopshire plus the addition of an excellent freshman class gives Louisville coach Rick Pitino much more talent to work with this season. Louisville overachieved last season by winning 25 games and finishing third in the Big East. The Cardinals have a good chance of matching or exceeding those accomplishments this season.

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Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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