Louisville, Evansville turn to new leaders for 2020-21 season

NCAA Basketball
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Louisville’s top returning scorer and rebounder Malik Williams is sidelined for at least 12 weeks as he recovers from offseason surgery on a broken bone in his foot.

A knee sprain is the culprit for transfer guard Charles Minlend’s expected five-week absence.

Make no mistake, injury concerns are abundant for Louisville entering Wednesday’s season opener against visiting Evansville. At times, coach Chris Mack said, the team has practiced with just six healthy scholarship players, although the sidelines still were packed with plenty of anticipation.

“Some of the injuries that our guys are dealing with have been finicky, to say the least,” Mack said. “We have guys that want to be out there. Nobody’s sort of sandbagging and holding back.”

The Cardinals and Purple Aces are slated to begin play in the Wade Houston Tipoff Classic in a field that looks slightly different from how it was constructed originally.

Evansville, which closed the 2019-20 season on a 19-game losing streak, is a late replacement as the Cardinals’ opponent at KFC Yum! Center, where the Cardinals went 17-1 last season. Southern Illinois, the Purple Aces’ counterpart in the Missouri Valley Conference, had to pull out of the game due to COVID-19 concerns.

Even before the evolving pandemic prompted the scheduling change, Mack preached to players the importance of remaining flexible amid the unprecedented nature and likely adjustments that await in the season ahead.

“We’re not unlike every team in the country when they’re dealing with the exact same thing,” Mack said. “There’s gonna be a feeling out process. We play those first couple games, and they’re gonna come fast and furious. We’re going to have to make some adjustments and we’re gonna have to learn from both good play and bad, figure out how to continue to get better, especially with the younger roster in certain areas.”

Louisville lost about 75 percent of its scoring from last season. With Williams and Minlend out, the program is hopeful former reserves such as sophomore guard David Johnson can emerge as reliable options from the outset. Carlik Jones, a graduate transfer from Radford who averaged 20.0 points last season, also figures to get plenty of looks.

The Purple Aces either graduated or lost via transfer their top five scorers from last season. Evan Kuhlman, a 6-foot-8 senior, and Noah Frederking, a 6-4 senior, are the leading returning scorers at 5.8 points a game.

Mack played for Evansville for two seasons before transferring to Xavier following the 1989-90 campaign.

–Field Level Media

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