University of Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Louisville Cardinals

1:00 pm (CST) at University of Phoenix Stadim (Glendale, AZ)

Radio: WCCO 830 AM

Tv: Fox Sports Network

Tomorrow’s game between the Minnesota Gophers and Louisville Cardinals  is more than just a basketball game.

It is Lawrence Westbrooks first game in his home state since he led the nation in scoring in high school. It is also his first chance to see his brother who nearly died in a car accident.

It is Minnesota’s first real chance to prove that the Tubby Transition is indeed a head of schedule. The Gophers are undefeated, but most NIT -level teams would be undefeated against their schedule.

It is Louisville’s first chance to legitimize the hype that led many so called experts to predict they would cruise to the final four. However, they have already lost to lowly Western Kentucky, and it is nearly impossible, unless your are wearing the reddest (or cardinalist?) of tinted glasses to argue that Louisville has any wins more impressive than the Gophers.  Tomorrow we learn which team is hyped and which one deserves the hype.

Oh, and I heard something about the two coaches having some connection with some team whose wins and talent level have precipitously plummeted since each left.

There is no doubt the the Louisville Cardinals will be Minnesota’s biggest test so far this season, even if they haven’t showed it yet. With the Big Ten’s best teams struggling so far this year, Saturday’s game might even be the biggest challenge of the season. They are faster, bigger, stronger, more agressive, and just plain better than any team the Gophers have played so far, and the Gophers will need to play a near perfect game, hope for an implosion by Louisville, or get a bit of both to pull off the upset.

Louisville averages nearly 73 possessions per game, much more than the Gophers average of 65.  This means the Gophers will probably have many more offensive possessions than usual, but it may not matter. The Cardinals give up the fewest points per 100 possessions with 78. Minnesota’s defense is above average, and has shut down teams when they have needed to, but they are 62spots behind Louisville. Louisville excels in all defensive catagories, but is especially effective in defending the perimeter. Their opponents make only 24.3 percent of their three pointers. The interior is good defensively as well, where they only allow 40.8% shooting.

Offensively, Louisville is more average. The Gophers actually shoot the ball better both inside and outside. The Cardinals biggest advantage is their lack of turnovers. The Gophers have steadily cut down on their mistakes, as one would expect with a young team still learning to play together, but they still turn the ball over once ever five possessions. Louisville commits turnovers on only 17% of their possessions, good for 13th in the country.

If you haven’t realized yet that this would be a monumental upset, you may have realized I haven’t even mentioned rebounding, Minnesota’s biggest and most glaring Achilles heel. So far this season Minnesota has been out-rebounded by the likes of Georgia State, Virginia, and South Dakota State. Also consider that 47% of Minnesota’s rebounds come from primarily perimeter players.  The rebounding woes aren’t that surprising when the players who are supposed to grab rebounds aren’t. If the Gophers can somehow break even in all other categories, rebounding may do them in. Louisville gives up offensive rebounds on 24.3 percent of the time. The Gophers give up offensive rebounds 37% of the time. And Louisville is big. They should have a size advantage at every position except center, when Minnesota’s twin towers will have a modest height advantage but not width. Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III will need to rebound by strength and position, neither of which they have proved the can do.

They play the games for a reason though, and unlike that other college sport that it supposed to be exciting this time of year, what is on paper doesn’t really matter. Tubby Smith has had success against Rick Pitino in the past, and Louisville has only won five of their last ten games on neutral courts. Anything can happen right? And that is why we watch.

Keys for the Gophers

  1. Run like you’ve never run before. The Gophers’ half court offense is dreadful. The Cardinals’ half court defense is the best in the country. The Gophers best offense is their trapping defense. Louisville only goes seven players deep, they played on Thursday night, and they should be at least a little fatigued. The Gophers’ only chance is to run them off the court.
  2. Don’t get embarrassed on the boards. Minnesota will not out-rebound Louisville, but if they are within seven or so rebounds, it won’t undo anything else they have done well.
  3. Establish and inside presence. Open perimeter shots won’t be there on their own, but if the pair of seven footers get going, their should be gaps in Louisville’s defense.

Keys for the Cardinals

  1. Slow the game down. I know it is counter-intuitive for a running team to go away from their strength, but the Gophers can run with the Cardinals. The Gophers can not execute in the half court like the Cardinals.
  2. Jump out to a big lead. I don’t think the Gophers will be demoralized, and they have shown the ability to make comebacks. They don’t have the firepower though.
  3. Out-rebound the Gophers on the defensive end. Minnesota will need second chances, and should be buried if they don’t get them.

Key Players for the Gophers

  1. Paul Carter is back for the Gophers, and they will need him especially on the defensive end. Any offensive production will be a bonus.
  2. Lawrence Westbrook will need to take the ball to the basket. Anticipate some awfully stagnant offense, and plenty times the Gophers will need Westbrook to bail them out with less than five seconds on the shot clock.
  3. Damian Johnson has discovered offense. Although, scoring isn’t his biggest asset, he can present all sorts of match-up problems.

Key Players for the Cardinals

  1. Earl Clark is Ron Artest without the rap sheet. He is big, wide, quick, and can score and rebound. He is taller than Damian Johnson and Paul Carter, and quicker than Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson. He also scored a career high 25 points, had a career high 16 rebounds, and added 5 blocks
  2. Terrence Williams averages ten points per game, nine rebounds per game, with nearly five assists per game. The senior forward might be the best overall player on the court tomorrow.
  3. Edgar Sosa has been struggling, but not as much as the Gophers have struggled with secondary offensive threats this season. With their defensive attention elsewhere, Sosa should get his looks, and if he executes like he is capable of, it will look like 1994 all over again.

Prediction: A Louisville blowout is more likely than a close Gopher win, and I am leaning towards the blow out. Louisville 85 Gophers 67.

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