Louisville basketball officially has its draw, and the committee couldn’t help themselves. The Cards will face the Gophers – led by an all too familiar face – in the first game on Thursday.
Richard Pitino Jr. vs. Chris Mack in his first year as the coach of Louisville basketball. We all talked about it, thought maybe it was possible, and here we are. First round of the NCAA tournament and the sports world will continue its Louisville narrative. But in the end, we still gotta play ball.
This 7/10 match up going the way the metrics say it should depends on which Cardinals team we see this week. Will it be the team who showed promise at the end of the year after it seemed all was lost? Or will they come out playing uninspired, out of focus, and like the Louisville team who lost 6 out of 8 at one point?
Here are a few quick predictions for this one, which should be interesting regardless of what’s going on on the actual court. *cue announcers mentioning Pitino, scandal, money, or all of the above at least 50 times*.
Louisville will be locked in
Besides this being the tournament (aka what you play all year for), this is also a road game. The Cards have played well in road games this year, despite finishing with a record of 5-6. One of those wins was a drubbing of UNC in the Dean Dome by 21, and another at top 10 ranked Virginia Tech.
Minnesota by comparison is 2-9 on the road. But they lost at then top 5 (now 2 seeded) Michigan on a buzzer beater 59-57. So this is a team that is able to compete and will certainly give Louisville their best shot.
If Louisville comes out and seizes momentum early, I don’t see them giving it up. Stay locked in from the start and even if it gets close down the stretch, I expect the Cards to live to play another day.
Louisville will force Minnesota to Shoot 3’s
Dead last in the Big 10 at 32% from beyond the arc, the Gophers just aren’t a great shooting team. I fully expect Mack to adjust the defense to lock down the lane – maybe play a bit of that zone we’ve seen before? – and make them shoot over top of it.
Hopefully they keep missing, Louisville grabs the rebounds and converts on their transition opportunities. Everyone knows long 3’s equal long rebounds. This defensive strategy should play into the Cardinals favor.
Enoch will dominate
Minnesota has some height inside, like former Cardinal Matz Stockman, but not a lot of strength. We’ve all seen how skilled Steve is around the basket. And the dude is a physical specimen – he’s huge. At worst, even if he isn’t finishing all his looks, he should be able to get Minnesota’s bigs into foul trouble.
Stockman has been in concussion protocol, so the Gophers also lack depth specifically at center. Daniel Oturu looks to be the likely starter for this one, and he gives up almost 40 pounds to Enoch. Louisville should look to get him established early and feed him often.
In the end, the Cards shouldn’t have much of a problem in this game. They’re better in every category and have much more skilled players. If they take advantage of their opportunities and play up to the level we’ve seen flashes of this season, no reason why they shouldn’t move on.
The “drama” if you will shouldn’t play a huge part in whether or not Louisville takes care of business on Thursday. I know this team for some wasn’t even expected to make the tournament before the year began, but we’re here now. And despite the storylines the NCAA wants to create, the Cardinals should come out on top.