2024 North Carolina Sports Network
Atlantic Coast Conference Basketball Spotlight:

By Ben McCormick
North Carolina Sports Network

: University of Louisville

Location: Louisville, Ky.

Previous Conference Affiliations: Independent (1911-48; 1949-64), Ohio Valley Conference (1948-49), Missouri Valley Conference (1964-75), Metro Conference (1975-95), Conference USA (1995-2005), Big East Conference (2005-13), American Athletic Conference (2013-14)

ACC Member Since: 2014-15

ACC Ranking Among 32 Leagues (KenPom): 7th (2023), 5th (2022), 5th (2021), 4th (2020)

NCAA Tournament Bids: 43 (1951, 1959, 1961, 1964, 1967, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012*, 2013*, 2014*, 2015*, 2017, 2019)
* = vacated by NCAA

NCAA Championships: 3 (1980, 1986, 2013*)

Final Fours: 10 (1959, 1972, 1975, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1986, 2005, 2012*, 2013*)

Conference Titles: 17 (1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1995 in Metro; 2003, 2005 in CUSA; 2009, 2012*, 2013* in Big East; 2014* in AAC)

Conference 1st-Place Finishes: 23 (1967, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975 in MVC; 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1994 in Metro; 2005 in CUSA; 2009, 2013* in Big East; 2014* in AAC)

Head Coach: Kenny Payne (57, 2nd season)

As A Player: Louisville (1985-89), then 11 years professionally, including with the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers (1989-93)

Record As Head Coach (Through Jan. 16): 10-38 (.208) in 1+ seasons

Previous HC Experience: none

AC Experience: Oregon (2004-09), Kentucky (2010-20), New York Knicks (2020-22)

Assistant Under: Ernie Kent, John Calipari, Tom Thibodeau

2022-23 Record: 4-28, 2-18 (15th in 15-team ACC)

2023-24 Preseason Prediction (Coaches): 14th in 15-team ACC

2023-24 Record (Through Jan. 16): 6-10, 1-4 ACC

2023-24 Midseason Ranking (KenPom): #192 nationally (15th in ACC)

Upcoming Schedule Highlights: at #4 North Carolina (1/17), at Wake Forest (1/20), #7 Duke (1/23), Virginia (1/27)

It may take a miracle to save the Kenny Payne era at Louisville.

The 2022-23 season, Payne’s first as the head coach at his alma mater, was an unmitigated disaster. The Cardinals were 4-28 overall and dead last in the ACC. They ended the season #290 on KenPom, the lowest rank of any power six school in the country. Their 28 losses were the most of any ACC men’s basketball team — ever.

For a squad that was nationally competitive just a few years ago, the drop-off was steep and unexpected. A program of Louisville’s stature (three national titles) never expects to drop 28 games in a season, but the Payne era has ushered in tough times.

Payne’s goal heading into the 2023-24 season was to learn from last season’s struggles and prove that Louisville basketball is still a force to be reckoned with.

“There should be a chip on our shoulder,” Payne said. “We have to earn respect. I’m constantly talking to the guys about what happened last year — how we looked, how our chemistry wasn’t right, how people viewed us. So we have something to prove, and we’re not going to forget that.”

Payne was a national champion during his freshman year at Louisville. He also spent time in the NBA, both as a player and as an assistant coach. His career has been a decorated one, and on paper he seemed like an interesting hire for the Cardinals.

The initial idea was to pair Payne with college basketball legend and former Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning, as well as former Duke assistant Nolan Smith, to put the program back on an upward trajectory.

That hasn’t happened, though. In fact, Louisville fans have been calling for Payne’s job for a while, and many are stunned that he still holds the position. There is a significant financial factor at play; if Louisville fired Payne today, it would owe him $8 million, per his buyout agreement.

It can be tough to part ways with a head coach after just one season, of course, no matter how disastrous that season may have been. So Payne is back, and while Louisville already has surpassed its four wins from 2022-23, there also have been plenty of disappointments.

The Cardinals have suffered losses to Arkansas State and Chattanooga this season. However, on Jan. 10, they picked up the most notable win of the Payne era — at Miami. By leaving the talented Hurricanes stunned, the Cardinals proved they won’t just lie down and take a beating each night.

“I say it to the guys all the time,” Payne said. “You can beat anybody, or you can get beat by anybody, in this game.”

Still, it seems unlikely that Louisville will make a major leap up the league ladder this season. Its top player from last year, guard El Ellis, left for Arkansas. Forward Jae’Lyn Withers, a three-year starter for the Cardinals, landed with an ACC foe, North Carolina.

The Cards did land two top-35 players from the Class of 2023, Trentyn Flowers and Dennis Evans, but even those positive headlines ultimately were turned sideways.

In August, Flowers decided to leave Louisville and head overseas to play in the Australian NBL, a move that came just weeks before the official start to the season. Earlier this month, the team announced that Evans, who had been dealing with a shoulder injury, was no longer medically cleared to play.

The official statement on Evans read, “We are disappointed by the news and will not be releasing any additional information out of respect for Dennis’ privacy.” It was a development that was brutal for both Evans and the Cards.

Unfortunately, the Evans news came at a time when disappointment has become commonplace at Louisville. Like Evans, senior forward JJ Traynor will miss the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury. In multiple ways, the losses just keep piling up for the Cards.

This year’s squad is 6-10 so far and headlined by returning wing Mike James, who is averaging 14 points per game. James was the lone Cardinal who averaged 10+ points per game last season to return. James is joined in the backcourt by Illinois transfer and former Jordan Brand All-American Skyy Clark, who also averages 14 points per game.

Clark is not the only former high-profile high school recruit to land at Louisville through the portal. The Cards also are getting 12 points per game from USC transfer and 2023 Pac-12 All-Freshman selection Tre White.

Overall, while this season has been far from perfect, Louisville has improved a bit. After the Cards knocked off Miami, they fell to NC State by just six points.

Now Louisville is heading into a tough stretch in which it will travel to both #4 North Carolina and dangerous Wake Forest before matching up with #7 Duke at home. If the Cardinals can pluck a win during this stretch, they could prove that the Miami win wasn’t a one-time thing.

2023-24 Louisville Cardinals
(6-10, 1-4 ACC; through Jan. 16)


PG Ty-Laur Johnson, Fr. — 22 mpg, 8 ppg, 2 rpg, 37% FG, 83% FT, 20% threes, 56/38 ATO, 5 blocks, 18 steals
(6-0/160); 4-star recruit in HS; Our Saviour Lutheran School, Brooklyn, N.Y.

G Skyy Clark, So. — 35 mpg, 14 ppg, 3 rpg, 38% FG, 79% FT, 30% threes, 44/48 ATO, 3 blocks, 17 steals
(6-3/205); 2023 Illinois transfer (starter); Montverde (Fla.) Academy; Los Angeles, Calif.

G/F Mike James*, R-So. — 32 mpg, 14 ppg, 6 rpg, 45% FG, 81% FT, 41% threes, 23/22 ATO, 3 blocks, 12 steals
(6-5/200); 10.2 ppg in 2022-23; 2021-22 redshirt; Oak Ridge HS, Orlando, Fla.

G/F Tre White, So. — 31 mpg, 12 ppg, 6 rpg, 41% FG, 72% FT, 29% threes, 21/26 ATO, 5 blocks, 14 steals
(6-7/205); 2023 USC transfer (starter); Prolific (Calif.) Prep; Dallas, Texas

C Brandon Huntley-Hatfield*, Jr. — 30 mpg, 10 ppg, 9  rpg, 55% FG, 72% FT, 25% threes, 16/20 ATO, 15 blocks, 8 steals
(6-10/240); 2022 Tennessee transfer (reserve); Scotland Campus (Pa.) Prep; Clarksville, Tenn.

Key Reserves

G/F Curtis Williams, Fr. — 17 mpg, 6 ppg, 1 rpg, 40% FG, 63% FT, 39% threes, 14/12 ATO, 1 block, 3 steals
(6-5/205); 4-star recruit in HS; Brother Rice HS, Detroit, Mich.

F Kaleb Glenn, Fr. — 10 mpg, 2 ppg, 3 rpg, 41% FG, 33% FT, 3/7 ATO, 1 block, 6 steals
(6-6/205); 4-star recruit in HS; La Lumiere (Ind.) HS; Louisville, Ky.

F Danilo Jovanovich, So. — 9 mpg, 1 ppg, 1 rpg, 20% FG, 75% FT, 2/4 ATO, 1 block, 2 steals
(6-8/220); 2023 Miami transfer (reserve); Whitnall HS, Milwaukee, Wis.

Out With Injury

F JJ Traynor, Sr. — 25 mpg, 10 ppg, 5 rpg, 52% FG, 50% FT, 37% threes, 1/8 ATO, 4 blocks, 2 steals
(6-8/190); 8 games in 2023-24; 6.9 ppg in 2022-23; Bardstown HS, Bardstown, Ky.

*—returning starter (started at least 50% of current team’s games last season)

Louisville Cardinals
10-Year Snapshot

Season — Overall, League (Place), Postseason

2022-23: 4-28, 2-18 ACC (15th); no postseason (Kenny Payne)
2021-22: 13-19, 6-14 ACC (11th); no postseason (Chris Mack)
2020-21: 13-5, 8-7 ACC (7th); no postseason (Chris Mack)
2019-20: 24-7, 15-5 ACC (2nd), COVID (Chris Mack)
2018-19: 20-14, 10-8 ACC (6th), NCAA Round of 64 (Chris Mack)
2017-18: 22-14, 9-9 ACC (8th), NIT Elite Eight (David Padgett)
2016-17: 25-9, 12-6 ACC (2nd), NCAA Round of 32 (Rick Pitino)
2015-16: 23-8, 12-6 ACC (4th), postseason ban (Rick Pitino)
2014-15: 27-9, 12-6 ACC (4th), NCAA Elite Eight (Rick Pitino)
2013-14: 31-6, 15-3 AAC* (t-1st), NCAA Sweet 16 (Rick Pitino)

*—conference champion

NOTE: Please visit the North Carolina Sports Network’s 2023-24 profiles and 10-year snapshots for all 19 Division One men’s basketball programs in North Carolina and all 15 Atlantic Coast Conference programs.

Appalachian State Mountaineers, Sun Belt Conference

Campbell Camels, Coastal Athletic Association

Charlotte 49ers, American Athletic Conference

Davidson Wildcats, Atlantic-10 Conference

Duke Blue Devils, Atlantic Coast Conference

East Carolina Pirates, American Athletic Conference

Elon Phoenix, Coastal Athletic Association

Gardner-Webb Runnin’Bulldogs, Big South Conference

High Point Panthers, Big South Conference

NC Central Eagles, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

NC State Wolfpack, Atlantic Coast Conference

North Carolina Tar Heels, Atlantic Coast Conference

North Carolina A&T Aggies, Coastal Athletic Association

Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Atlantic Coast Conference

Pitt Panthers, Atlantic Coast Conference

Queens Royals, Atlantic Sun Conference

Syracuse Orange, Atlantic Coast Conference

UNC Asheville Bulldogs, Big South Conference

UNC Greensboro Spartans, Southern Conference

UNC Wilmington Seahawks, Coastal Athletic Association

Virginia Cavaliers, Atlantic Coast Conference

Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Atlantic Coast Conference

Western Carolina Catamounts, Southern Conference