Bellarmine vs. Louisville Odds
After a long and very eventful offseason, first-year head coach Kenny Payne and the Louisville Cardinals will begin their season as they host the Bellarmine Knights.
For those who don’t know, Payne was a former player under Denny Crum at Louisville, and before his stint with the Knicks, he was an assistant at Kentucky under John Calipari for 10 years.
Payne has always been attributed as one of the best assistants in all of college basketball — said by some even to be responsible for Cal’s success at Kentucky.
But on Wednesday night, he begins the most formidable challenge of his career: looking to rebuild his alma mater’s once proud program in his first head coaching job.
That rebuild begins against a familiar foe in the Knights. While it will be their first official meeting — the Knights begin just their third season of Division-I basketball — their connections and history are longer than the eight-minute drive down Eastern Parkway that separates them.
Fresh off of being robbed by the NCAA of a trip to the Big Dance, the Knights begin year three in Division I.
Bellarmine’s first two years have been nothing short of amazing, as it posted a combined record of 34-21 while finishing no worse than second in the ASUN. The Knights also won the conference tournament a season ago.
Bellarmine returns just 56.2% of its minutes from last year and lost three starters. The most significant loss is the team’s leading scorer, Dylan Penn, who transferred to Vermont.
However, they return a solid core led by Juston Betz and Curt Hopf.
Betz led the ASUN in minutes last year and was named preseason Defensive Player of the Year by ASUN coaches. Expect him to take on an even more prominent role with the loss of Penn.
Hopf was named to the All-Freshmen team last year and is a shooting threat from anywhere on the floor.
Alec Pfriem also returned for the Knights and was one of the best shooters in the ASUN last season. But he’s coming off a hip injury that saw him miss the last 10 games of the ’21-22 season, so don’t expect to see him rushed back in game one of the year.
While some may label them as unproven, the first-year group of Peter Suder, Michael Bova and redshirt freshman Ben Johnson will help maintain the Knights’ high level of success following the departures of Penn and CJ Fleming.
One bright side for Payne — who is facing massive expectations and hype — is that he can’t do much worse than the Cardinals did a season ago.
Louisville’s 13-19 record was its most losses in a season since its 2000-01 campaign in Conference USA. The Cards also finished 12th or worse out of 15 teams in the ACC in nine different metrics.
While I don’t see Louisville performing worse than last year, it may take some time to get where it wants to be. The Cardinals return five players from last season to a roster with only 10 scholarship players and only one true guard.
That singular true guard is El Ellis, a senior who, at times last season, showed his ability to be great despite the team’s overall lack of success.
Sydney Curry is another player whose stats from a season ago don’t quite jump off the page, but he could be a significant player for the Cardinals in this campaign — both off the glass and in terms of scoring.
The freshmen additions of Kamari Lands, Devin Ree and Fabio Basili (who reclassified to join Louisville) are massive for Payne. At the very least, the trio will likely see decent minutes and gain much-needed experience this season.
With so many questions surrounding Payne and Louisville, there’s one thing that’s for sure: he didn’t lose his recruiting touch during his time in the NBA.
He also found success in the transfer portal with the addition of former top-25 recruit Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, who didn’t see the minutes he hoped for at Tennessee.
The Cardinals’ roster has a lot of potential, but it lacks proven success. Plus, it will take time for them to gel.
Bellarmine vs. Louisville Betting Pick
As I mentioned, this Louisville roster severely lacks proven success. However, the Cardinals have proven their ability to struggle against inferior teams on their home court.
Louisville played two exhibition games before the start of the season. Their first — against Division-II Lenoir Rhyne — ended in a 57-47 loss for the Cardinals. Lenoir Rhyne held the Cardinals to 29.2% shooting and gave up only 19 points in the second half on the way to its first Division-I win since 2017.
The second came against Chaminade, and while Louisville did come away with a win, it was only by seven points. To give you a decent reference point, Chaminade also played Ohio State and Cincinnati — it lost to Ohio State by 44 and Cincinnati by 43.
After seeing what Louisville has done in the preseason, I would take Bellarmine as an underdog at just about any number. But +12.5 is roughly double where I expected this line to open up for the Knights.
Even when they were at their best, the Knights struggled on defense in 2021-22. I don’t see that changing this season, so that is a legitimate concern heading into this game.
But again, this Louisville team was held to just 57 points by a Division-II program just 10 days ago. Just seven days ago, it was losing to Chaminade with six minutes left in the game, before coming away with a win primarily due to the fact that it had 32 attempts at the free-throw line.
I expect this line to drop, but I am confident in it as low as +5 or better. I personally will also be making a small wager on the money line.