Editor’s note: During the 2017-18 season, Kentucky basketball will play five nonconference games against Power 5 teams that made the NCAA Tournament last season — Kansas (Nov. 14 in Chicago), Virginia Tech (Dec. 16 at home), UCLA (Dec. 23 in New Orleans), Louisville (Dec. 29 at home) and West Virginia (Jan. 27 in Morgantown) — meaning five opportunities to impress the selection committee come March.
In our Quality Wins series, we’ll break down those matchups and make an early prediction on the outcome. Today, it’s Cats vs. Cardinals.
Tale of the tape
Kentucky has zero returning starters and only 7 percent of last season’s points and 15 percent of its 2016-17 rebounds back. The top six scorers from last year’s Elite Eight squad — Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo, Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins — are gone. The Wildcats have eight freshmen, three sophomores and no juniors or seniors among their scholarship players.
Kentucky had a trio of lottery picks in the past draft, and Louisville also lost an underclassman to the NBA draft in guard Donovan Mitchell. The Utah Jazz selected Mitchell with the 13th overall pick. Mitchell was the Cardinals’ top scorer at 15.6 points per game last season.
Louisville lost eight players in all from the 2016-17 roster. Mitchell is the most notable departure, but the Cardinals also will be without key contributors such as forward Jaylen Johnson — who declared for the draft but wasn’t selected — and Mangok Mathiang, who graduated.
Coach Rick Pitino’s side does return its second- and third-leading scorers: senior guard Quentin Snider and junior forward Deng Adel. Senior forward Anas Mahmoud, junior forward Ray Spalding and sophomore forward V.J. King are also back.
Almost 50 percent of Louisville’s scoring output from last season returns.
Kentucky signed the No. 2 class in the country, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. It was a class that included 5-star prospects Quade Green, Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt, P.J. Washington and Nick Richards. Four-star guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jemarl Baker were top-100 players, as well.
Louisville signed the No. 7 class in the country, according to 247Sports composite rankings. The Cardinals added 5-star small forward Brian Bowen and 5-star center Malik Williams. A trio of 4-star prospects were also part of the class: point guard Darius Perry, small forward Jordan Nwora and power forward Lance Thomas.
Kentucky leads the all-time series 34-16. The Wildcats have beaten the Cardinals in eight of the last 10 meetings going back to John Calipari’s first year at Kentucky.
Louisville topped Kentucky 73-70 in last year’s contest.
Our (way-too-early) prediction
Kyle Tucker: Kentucky 77, Louisville 72
Joe Mussatto: Kentucky 71, Louisville 69
Louisville will sport the more veteran side, but history is working against the Cardinals in Rupp Arena — a place they haven’t won since the 2007-08 season.
Next in the series: Kentucky travels to Morgantown, W.Va. (publishing Sept. 20).
Previously in the series: