The newest members of the ACC tip off their inaugural hoops season as a part of the league when Louisville and coach Rick Pitino take on last season’s NIT champs Minnesota behind 2nd year head coach (and I think he has some relation to Louisville and Rick Pitino, but not sure) Richard Pitino.
The Cards enter the game with a top 10 preseason ranking for the 3rd straight season behind one of the most talented starting lineups in the game, while Minnesota returns two of its top three leading scorers from last season’s team in Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu as they hope to build off of an impressive first year under Pitino.
The game tips off at 7 PM tonight from sunny San Juan, Puerto Rico as each team hopes to make an early statement in the Armed Forces Classic.
Richard Pitino appears on the right path to becoming one of the top coaches in college basketball. In just one season, he resuscitated an FIU program left for dead by apathetic (to put it nicely) head coach Isaiah Thomas, and in his first season at Minnesota, he led the Golden Gophers to an NIT championship.
He had his bumps along the way in his first, season, but with quality wins over teams like Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Iowa while managing to recruit fairly well (great when considering it’s Minnesota), he showed he has the program on the rise.
The team is led by four quality seniors, starting with guard Andre Hollins. The 76-2 Memphis native led the Gophers in scoring last season at 13.6 ppg and had six 20+ point games. Another Tennessee native, DeAndre Mathieu, is undersized at 5-9, but he is quick, can pass, and he can drain threes when needed, shooting 52% beyond the arc for his career and hitting 22-45 last season.
They also are fortunate to have two experienced big men in the paint in 6-11, 240 lb. Elliott Eliason and 6-10, 250 lb. Maurice Walker. Both could give the Cards trouble inside, as Eliason had 8 double-digit rebounding games last season and five games with at least 5 blocks. Walker was able to use his thick frame last season to get buckets in the paint at a high percentage, and he should be better this season.
They did lose 6 players from last season’s team, but they return enough talent to give Louisville a very difficult early season test.
Minnesota freshman center Bakary Konate was a top Louisville recruit for a brief time last season, and it was rumored the staff wanted to bring him in a year early last December. It of course did not work out, and the 6-11, 230 lb. center from Mali landed with the younger Pitino. Ironically, Cards freshman center Anas Mahmoud was a top target of Minnesota for some time only to end up with Louisville. Father and son, in a way, swapped top center prospects.
3 Reasons Louisville wins
- Talent and big-game experience are too much for Minnesota to contain. Louisville has two players with Final Four experience in the starting lineup and two potential lottery picks.
- Wayne Blackshear plays like Morgan Park Wayne. He has looked far more aggressive this preseason, but will it translate to the regular season? If it does, look out.
- Foul trouble is minimal. Louisville’s depth is largely untested, but the starting 5 is tough to beat.
3 Reasons Louisville loses
- Rebounding woes. Louisville got outrebounded by Barry University in an exhibition, and Minnesota has quality bigs who should challenge Montrezl Harrell and Mangok Mathiang. If they cannot protect the glass, it may prove tough to pull out the win.
- Wayne Blackshear plays like Houdini Wayne. So many times in his three-year career has Blackshear disappeared during big games and showed he was not willing to do much more than float around the perimeter. Louisville cannot have that tonight or this season.
- The game falls on the bench players. If Louisville’s starting 5 gets in foul trouble, can guys like Quentin Snider, Anton Gill, Chinanu Onuaku, and Anas Mahmoud step up? That is a lot of youth and inexperience to rely on, and it could prove costly if they are asked to do too much.
Louisville 84, Minnesota 75
It will be a fun, tough game, but Louisville’s talent is too much, and Rick Pitino is not going to lay down for his son. I imagine the team will be prepared, and while there will be typical early season brain farts on both ends, it is tough to imagine anyone containing the likes of Montrezl Harrell. The entire team could struggle, but as long as he plays like the best PF in the country he is, Louisville should be fine. The Golden Gophers may be in store for the best season they’ve had since Clem Haskins roamed the sidelines, but they do not quite have the necessary ammo to knock off the Cards.