Photo – Sports Illustrated
When Russ Smith decided to return for his senior season back in May, he certainly sent ripples throughout the college basketball world and instantly made the Cards a threat to repeat as National Champions in 2013-2014. Since then he’s been named a preseason All-American and has appeared on all the major 2014 NBA draft boards. Today, the accolades continue to roll in as Myron Medcalf of ESPN named him one of his top 10 most indispensable players for the upcoming season. Also appearing on the list were Mitch McGary (Michigan), Alex Kirk (New Mexico), Davante Gardner (Marquette), Cleanthony Early (Wichita State), Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State), LaQuinton Ross (Ohio State), Jahii Carson (Arizona State), Doug McDermott (Creighton) and Andrew Wiggins (Kansas). Russ will have a bit more depth and talent surrounding him in the backcourt this year so it’ll be interesting to see how he’s used. He won’t necessarily need to score as much and Rick Pitino has made it clear that he’ll need to log some significant minutes at the point guard spot in order to prepare for the NBA. Regardless, Russ is a force and certainly one of the most indispensable and irreplaceable players in the country.
8. Russ Smith (Louisville) — Rick Pitino received great news when Smith announced his return. He flirted with the NBA but ultimately decided to rejoin his teammates and make a run at another national title. The Cardinals will enter the season as strong contenders to defend their crown. Luke Hancock, Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell all return for the defending champs. But I can’t see Louisville on the podium again unless Smith competes at an All-American level in 2013-14. “Russdiculous” has been criticized for his mishaps (2.7 turnovers per game). But the Cardinals wouldn’t be the champs without him. The most explosive guard in the country (18.7 PPG, 2.1 SPG) is a two-way catalyst for a team that’s capable of winning its second consecutive championship. Louisville needs him.