The NCAA committee is getting the Tournament started on a Pitino note with Richard Pitino going against his and his dad’s former team in Louisville. The Cardinals are a decent -5 point favorite (at 5Dimes Sportsbook), but these teams are even in a lot of categories, including that they both disappointed more often than not this season.
Things were going great for Louisville and then it lost a huge lead against Duke and things haven’t looked right since, winning just two of its final seven Games (both against Notre Dame). Some of that has to do with Schedule, but you can’t ignore a 20-point loss to Syracuse and loss at Boston College. The Cardinals already played two Big Ten teams, beating Michigan State at home and losing to Indiana on the road. Minnesota lost at Boston College early and struggled through Conference play, but closed on a nice run in the Tourney with wins over Penn State and Purdue before getting trounced by Michigan.
Inconsistent or not, there isn’t much that separates these teams. Louisville ranks better in terms of efficiency on both ends of the cOurt, but it’s not overwhelming in any specific category. It’s the same for Minnesota, which isn’t much further behind in the rankings. However, it could be argued that the Gophers have a more talented team with senior Jordan Murphy and Daniel Oturu in the frontcOurt combined with sometimes point guard Amir Coffey, who is 6-8. Murphy and Oturu are an issue in itself on the block, but Minnesota also has a reasonable size edge in the backcOurt.
Jordan Nwora will have a big task of limiting Murphy, who averages 14.8 points and 11.5 boards per Game. He’s the reason they won two Games in the Big Ten Tournament and if Nwora can’t deal with his size, that could be a problem. At center, Oturu won’t have much of an advantage over Malik Williams and Steven Enoch. It’s unknown how Louisville will try to defend Coffey, who averages 16.3 points per Game. When he’s playing well, not many can stop him, though that’s been a rare occurrence this season. Either way, he’ll have a few inches on guys like Christen Cunningham, Ryan McMahon and Khwan Fore on the perimeter. Dwayne Sutton and VJ King will likely start on him, but one ball screen later and the 6-0 Fore could be matched up with Coffey. But for the Gophers to get the upset, either Dupree McBrayer or Gabe Kalscheur will need to step up. Kalscheur has more often been the guy as a better shooter, but as a senior, McBrayer needs to do more at some point, and he did in the recent win over Penn State (18 points).
The issue for Minnesota, while it can match up with most teams, is that it rarely defends well. Even in wins, the Gophers tend to allow a lot of points and that’s why the over could easily hit in this Game. While Murphy has an edge on one end, he’s not exactly a great defender and Nwora (17.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg) can either step back and hit threes or take him off the dribble. The rest of Louisville’s production is hit-or-miss and that’s why Nwora is the only guy that averages more than 10.2 points per Game. Minnesota may have size, but it doesn’t have good defensive numbers and that’s where Sutton and Cunningham can capitalize.
Neither of these teams has been easy to trust this season and Louisville’s recent drop off is a good reason to take Minnesota. That being said, Louisville has the better defense and since both teams are unreliable, that may be the best thing to bet on.
Our Pick – Minnesota +5.5