Cardinals, Gophers kick off the first round of the Big Dance with an intriguing 7 vs. 10 matchup
The first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament gets underway on Thursday when the Minnesota Golden Gophers take on the Louisville Cardinals in Des Moines, Iowa.
Minnesota has been up and down this year, performing well in non-conference games before going 9-11 in Big Ten play. Despite this losing record, the Gophers were one of eight Big Ten teams to get into the NCAA Tournament, a testament to the conference's overall strength this season.
Just like Minnesota, Louisville also has been inconsistent throughout this season. The Cardinals beat Midwest Region No. 1 seed North Carolina by 21 points in Chapel Hill in January and also have a win over East Region No. 2 seed Michigan State. However, Louisville dropped seven of its 10 final regular-season games before falling to the Tar Heels in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament.
East Region: No. 10 Minnesota Golden Gophers (21-13) vs. No.7 Louisville Cardinals (20-13)
Time: 12:15 p.m. ET (Thursday)
Where: Wells Fargo Arena (Des Moines, Iowa)
Keys for Minnesota
The Golden Gophers are led by senior forward Jordan Murphy, who was named first team All-Big Ten along with guard Amir Coffey. Murphy leads the Big Ten with 11.5 rebounds per game and is second only to Coffey (16.3 ppg) on the team in scoring with 14.8 points per game. Murphy has scored 20 or more in five straight games before being held to 14 against Michigan in Minnesota's Big Ten Tournament semifinals loss.
Minnesota will need Murphy and Coffey to have big games against a Louisville team that has shown a tendency to up its level of play depending on the quality of the opponent (wins over North Carolina, Michigan State).
Keys for Louisville
If the Cardinals are going to come away with the victory, they will need to start quickly and get their offense going from 3-point land. Louisville is led by Jordan Nwara, who is averaging 17.2 points per game and is hitting 37.1 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
The Cardinals also will need to get support from forward Dwayne Sutton (10.6 ppg) and point guard Christen Cunningham (9.8). Steven Enoch, who has given Louisville offense off of the bench, will need to be a factor as he is averaging 11.6 points and 6.0 rebounds over his last five games.
Both of these teams are evenly matched as this could be a situation where it comes down to the last possession. On paper, Louisville appears to be the better team, but Minnesota played well last weekend during the Big Ten Tournament, so this could go either way.
Nuwara and Sutton could be the difference-makers especially if the Cardinals get hot from 3-point range.
Final Score: Louisville 64, Minnesota 63
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.