Last Updated: 2019-03-20
The East Region First Round starts on Thursday, March 21, with the matchup between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Louisville Cardinals at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. The No. 7 seed Cardinals are listed as 5.5-point favorites to win this battle between two at-large teams with the total at 134.5 points and the No. 10 seed Golden Gophers at +190 money line odds. These two schools will meet each other for the first time since 2014 when the ACC Louisville defeated the Big Ten Minnesota 81-68 as a 9.5-point favorite.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers finished the regular season at the 7th spot of the Big Ten standings with a 21-13 record, while they went 9-11 in the conference play. The Golden Gophers made it to the semifinals of the Big Ten championship tournament, defeating Penn State 77-72 in overtime in the second round, and upsetting Purdue 75-73 in the quarterfinals. However, the Michigan Wolverines were too much in the semis, beating Minnesota 76-49, but the Golden Gophers deserved their place in the Big Dance.
Minnesota is scoring 110.1 points per 100 possessions (56th in the country) on 48.3 effective field goal percentage (282nd) while making 32.1% of its 3-pointers (283rd). The Golden Gophers are allowing 95.8 points in a return (45th) on 49.1 effective field goal percentage (100th). The senior forward Jordan Murphy is a key player for Minnesota, averaging a double-double per game with 14.8 points and 11.5 rebounds. The junior guard Amir Coffey is driving the Gophers’ offense, tallying 16.3 points and 3.2 assists per contest, while Minnesota relies a lot on a couple of freshmen, as the guard Gabe Kalscheur and the big man Daniel Oturu are both a big part of the Gophers’ rotation.
The Golden Gophers will appear in the NCAA Tournament for the 14th time, reaching the final four once in 1997 when they lost to Kentucky. Their previous appearance in 2017 ended in the first round with an 81-72 defeat to Middle Tennessee. In 2009, Minnesota played against the No. 7 seed Texas in the first round, losing 76-62.
The Louisville Cardinals finished the regular season at the 7th spot of the ACC standings with a 20-13 overall record and a 10-8 record in the conference play. The Cardinals thrashed off Notre Dame 75-53 in the second round of the ACC championship tournament, but they lost to North Carolina 83-70 in the quarterfinals. Louisville entered the Big Dance as the No. 22 at the NCAA NET Rankings way above the No. 61 Minnesota Golden Gophers. During the regular season, the Cardinals had a few big wins including an 83-62 victory at the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Louisville is scoring 113.1 points per 100 possessions (28th in the country) on 50.9 effective field goal percentage (163rd), hitting 34.2% of its 3-point attempts (174th). The Cardinals are surrendering 91.2 points in a return (14th) on 46.4 effective field goal percentage (20th). They mostly lean on some sturdy defense, while Jordan Nwora is the first scoring option for the Cardinals. The sophomore forward is averaging 17.2 points per game along with 7.5 rebounds. The senior guard Christen Cunningham is leading the backcourt with 9.8 points and 4.9 assists per game, while the junior wing Dwayne Sutton is posting 10.2 points and 6.9 boards per contest.
The Cardinals will play in the NCAA Tournament for the 43rd time, recording 76 wins and 43 losses, and winning the title on two occasions in 1980 and 1986, as their 2013 title was annulled. The last time they entered the tourney in 2017, the Cardinals were the No. 2 seed. They defeated Jacksonville State 78-63 in the first round before a 73-69 loss to Michigan in the second round. Also, the Cardinals recorded one win and two losses against the No. 10 seed.
Pick: Louisville Cardinals -5.5
While Minnesota has two freshmen in its roster, Louisville doesn’t have rookies in its rotation, and the Cardinals’ second unit looks better than the Golden Gophers’. Also, the Louisville is doing a great job defensively all season long which is often a crucial factor in the NCAA Tournament, and I think the Cardinals’ D will edge the game. Louisville has won the first-round matchup in five straight appearances, while Minnesota is 1-7 ATS in their last eight NCAA tourney games.
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