If further proof was needed that the NCAA was funny, look no further than today’s Minnesota-Louisville clash. By giving us the Pitino Bowl to kick off the 2019 NCAA Tournament, the selection committee removed the tongue from its cheek and absolutely hit us over the head with a sign that reads “HOW BOUT THIS FOR A STORYLINE?!”
Unsurprisingly, this has led to many a question past just wondering who will advance to the second round. Will Papa Pitino show up to the game? Will Richard Pitino go full Inigo Montoya when taking the court? These are the things I’m dying to know.
Truth be told, however, removing any outside storylines this should be a fairly entertaining game to start off March’s madness. So who has the upper hand from tipoff to final buzzer? Let’s dive in and find out.
-No. 10 Minnesota Golden Gophers vs No. 7 Louisville Cardinals
- Time/TV: 12:15PM ET - CBS
- KenPom Spread: Louisville (-5)
Speaking of Rick Pitino, it’s honestly pretty amazing that Louisville is even playing in this game in the first place. After spending an offseason shrouded in controversy, head coach Chris Mack has pulled up nothing short of a miracle to lead the Cardinals to 20 wins and an NCAA Tournament berth in his first year west of the Ohio River.
Making Mack’s job of not skipping a beat much easier, however, falls squarely on the shoulders of sophomore forward Jordan Nwora. The 6-foot-8 Buffalo, NY native stuck with the program amid all the turmoil and was rewarded by leading the Cardinals in scoring with 17.2 point per game, not to mention chipping in 7.5 rebounds per game for good measure.
This level of production led to Nwora earning a spot on the All-ACC Third Team, while also garnering the conference’s Most Improved Player award.
For Minnesota and Little Richard, it’ll look to match the strength of Jordan Nwora with a Jordan of it’s own in senior forward Jordan Murphy.
The Golden Gopher elder statesman had himself quite the Big Ten Tournament, highlighted by a 15 point, 14 rebound double-double against Penn State and a 27 point outing in Minnesota’s win over Purdue.
Murphy, along with 2018-’19 running mate and Minnesota leading scorer Amir Coffey, will need to have a big game if the Golden Gophers hope to advance past the upstart Cardinals.
So can Minny do it? Well the 7-10 game is essentially a crapshoot, however, anyone looking to handicap Thursday afternoon’s tilt should look no further than the advanced metrics.
According to KenPom, Louisville is the 18th best team in the country, owning both an offense and defense inside the top 30 in the entire nation. The Gophers, on the other hand, check in significantly lower on the rankings as KenPom’s 47th best team with both an offensive (55th) and defensive (43rd) efficiency lacking far behind the Cardinals.
- Pick Against The Spread: Louisville
Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 19-26