LOUISVILLE, KY — There will be a new man guiding the Louisville basketball program for just the second time in four decades when interim coach David Padgett leads the No. 16 Cardinals against visiting George Mason on Sunday at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville.
Padgett, who took the reins last month when former coach Rick Pitino was suspended and then later fired, follows Pitino (2001-17) and Denny Crum (1971-2001) as the head coach of the Cardinals.
“I’ll be nervous on Sunday,” Padgett said.
“Each day that goes by I am getting a little more nervous. But now I am nervous for the right reasons — now it is more ‘win-loss nerves’ instead of the old ‘I’ve never done this before’ nerves. I’m sure by Sunday I’ll be jumping out of my skin ready to get going that day.”
The squad Padgett took over should help calm his nerves. Louisville’s starting lineup is loaded with top-end talent, including preseason award candidates Deng Adel at forward and Quentin Snider at point guard. The Cardinals also return three more players with starting experience — forward Ray Spalding, guard V.J. King and center Anas Mahmoud.
Louisville has suffered through one of the most drama-filled offseasons in the country. An FBI investigation revealed three coaches were mentioned in a pay-for-play scandal involving freshman McDonald’s All-American Brian Bowen. After the FBI’s initial allegations were announced, Louisville assistant coaches Jordan Fair and Kenny Johnson were fired, Pitino was suspended and then fired, and Bowen remains suspended.
Padgett said Friday his team is looking forward to actually talking about basketball instead of FBI and NCAA issues.
“We’re excited to get into the regular-season,” Padgett said. “I know it’s been an exciting and active offseason, but we are looking forward to getting into the regular game routine.”
Sunday’s matchup with George Mason should be a good warm-up for a Louisville team that is heavily favored. The Louisville lineup features four players 6-foot-6 or taller while he Patriots’ tallest starter is 6-7 Goanar Mar. The Cardinals figure to be led in scoring by Adel, who averaged 12.1 points per game last season, and Snider, who averaged 12.4.
Louisville’s starting lineup is fairly set, but Padgett said the Cardinals will need some newcomers to help. Transfer Dwayne Sutton and freshman Jordan Nwora figure to help at forward, freshman Darius Perry will help spell Snider, and freshman Malik Williams can play either the four or the five. Backup shooting guard Ryan McMahon will be out of the lineup for at least another week with broken ribs.
“We can’t play with just 5-6 guys this year, we have to have 9-10 guys this year to play,” Padgett said. “The good news is that we seem to have options. … It’s just going to be a practice by practice and game by game basis as to who will play.”
Padgett complimented George Mason junior guard Otis Livingston, and said the Patriots quickness could pose an issue for the taller Cardinals. Livingston had 14 points Friday night as George Mason won its season-opener 67-65 vs. Lafayette.
The Patriots were led by Jaire Grayer’s 17 points and nine rebounds Friday night. George Mason’s Justin Kier hit a pair of free throws with six seconds left to secure the 67-65 win.
“I give our guys a lot of credit for hanging in there and being tough-minded,” Patriots coach Dave Paulsen said. “We got just enough stops to come through in the end. We have a lot of work to do and corrections to make, but it’s always nice to teach after a win.”
This the first matchup between Louisville and George Mason since 1993. Louisville holds a 3-0 series edge.