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It’s a 10/7 seed matchup here as the Louisville Cardinals clash with the Minnesota Gophers. This game has one of the more interesting storylines of any game on opening weekend, as it’s a revenge game for the Pitino family. Minnesota made a surprising run to the Big Ten semifinals, while Louisville has had a very solid season overall. Oddsmakers have the Cardinals as five-point favorites here for this one, which will be televised on CBS in an early tipoff.
Minnesota Shows Well
It’s been a bumpy ride of a season for Minnesota. They started off hot and looked like a lock for the NCAA Tournament, then collapsed during the middle of Big Ten play and lost six of seven games. Just when it was looking like they might slip out of the field of 68, they turned things around.
They won two games in the Big Ten Tournament, an overtime thriller over Penn State and a surprising upset of Purdue, to clinch their spot. But I’m still not sold on them, and they didn’t manage to keep any momentum going as they got blown out by 27 points by Michigan in their last game. They also didn’t play particularly well against Penn State or Purdue, as both of those teams kind of choked the game away. They just don’t have enough offensive firepower for this time of year, and they aren’t ever a threat to knock down threes. In fact, they have just one rotation player who shoots over 30.6% from three, and that won’t cut it against a Louisville defense that is solid on the interior.
One interesting factor here is that Richard Pitino is Minnesota’s coach. His dad is Rick Pitino, who of course was fired by Louisville in a very contentious departure. He’ll be coaching for revenge here for his dad, but I don’t think that will be enough to save him. He doesn’t have the athletes or the shooters that Louisville does, and this game won’t be particularly close.
The younger Pitino denied that his personal connection to Louisville would play much of a factor here, saying:
“Well, I don’t know the team that well,” he said. “Obviously, I know Louisville well. I know they’ve got fifth-year seniors. I haven’t really watched much of them. So obviously, there’s that story line. But obviously, I know Chris Mack is a terrific coach, and I know they’ve had a really good year.”
Marcus Fuller of The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the elder Pitino would be out of the country and not able to attend the game. Unfortunately, we won’t be getting precious reaction shots of Pitino in the crowd.
UPDATE: Minnesota will also be without big man Eric Curry for this one, as the sophomore is dealing with a foot injury. Curry had been averaging 18.7 minutes per game, so it’s a somewhat significant blow to the Gophers’ depth.
Louisville Bounces Back
Louisville has been having an undeniably impressive bounce-back year. Their program was embroiled in scandal seemingly every year under Pitino, and things are finally back to normal. After Pitino was fired midway through last year, the team struggled amidst the distraction and limped to an NIT berth.
— Louisville Basketball (@LouisvilleMBB) March 21, 2019
They’ve looked reborn this year in Chris Mack’s first year as coach. They’ve shown they are capable of great efforts when the lights were bright, like when they beat Michigan State in non-conference play and their 21 point road beatdown of North Carolina. Mack, the former Xavier coach, has done an excellent job, and this Louisville team is the perfect sleeper squad who could make a deep NCAA Tournament run. Louisville’s defense is their strongest quality, and they’ll be facing a Minnesota team that can’t shoot to save their lives and often goes on scoring droughts.
One thing that makes Louisville dangerous is the 1 & 4 work together. The four is Jordan Nwora who leads the team in scoring at 17.2. He can score inside & out. @mjessenhoward @MinnesotaRivals pic.twitter.com/zyyxZItBDk
— David Sisk (@CoachDavidSisk) March 19, 2019
Louisville has fared well against this conference recently, going 10-3-1 against the spread in their last 14 games vs. Big Ten teams. They already beat Michigan State, so I don’t expect them to have much trouble with Minnesota. Jordan Nwora has turned into one of the best players in the conference, and with his versatility at 6’8, the Gophers don’t have anyone who can stop him.
Louisville has played a tough schedule up to this point, and Mack thinks that works to their advantage:
“I started looking at all the No. 1 and 2 seeds our team has played. I mean, I’m not a historian, but I’d be hard-pressed to think many teams have played that many ones and twos throughout the course of the regular season. So our team is battle-tested. We’re going to play a team that is very physical, that prides itself on rebounding and drawing fouls and has played well as of late. So I don’t worry about the rest of the other 66 teams in the tournament. I worry about two,” he said.
Louisville is battle-tested as Mack pointed out, so running a gauntlet in March won’t be anything they aren’t already used to.
Louisville has a clean slate of health entering this one, and will be at full strength. Nwora had a really strong close to the regular season, and if he can keep that momentum going, they won’t have much trouble cracking this formidable Minnesota defense.
Nwora also said the fact that Pitino’s son coached Minnesota wouldn’t make a difference:
“No, we haven’t really talked about that at all, actually. We’re just worried about playing Minnesota. Coach Pitino was here and now it’s Coach Mack and we know that Minnesota has Coach Pitino’s son, but we haven’t talked about that. Minnesota is our focus going into tomorrow and doing our best that we can to win the game.”
- 10-4 ATS in their last 14 games following a straight up loss
- 11-4-1 ATS in their last 16 games following an ATS loss
- 10-3-1 ATS in their last 14 vs. Big Ten
- 1-5 ATS in their last 6 NCAA Tournament games
- 0-4 ATS in their last 4 non-conference games
- 2-5 ATS in their last 7 games vs. a team with a winning % above .600
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
I love the Cardinals here. Minnesota never fares well on big stages, and they’re just 1-5 against the spread in their last 6 NCAA Tournament games. Louisville matches up very well against Minnesota, and their elite defense will fare very well against Minnesota’s one-dimensional attack. This will be decided by double digits.
Prediction: Louisville -5
Full-Game Total Pick
I also like the under a lot here. Both of these teams are defense-first squads, and that will only get more exaggerated here in the NCAA Tournament. The under is 7-2-1 in Louisville’s last ten games, and 9-4 in Minnesota’s last 13. This will be a very hard fought defensive struggle.