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NCAA Tournament: Louisville presents big challenge for Gophers

The Cardinals are as battle-tested as any team in the country.
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Minnesota basketball fans know what the Gophers are all about, but what does their competition in Thursday's NCAA Tournament opener bring to the big dance?

For starters, Louisville is 4-8 in its last 12 games, but that only tells half of the story. Of those eight losses, six of them were against ranked opponents, and most of them are now seeded 1-4 in the NCAA Tournament. 

Louisville's last eight losses: 

  • 79-69 vs. #9 North Carolina
  • 80-75 at #22 Florida State (in overtime)
  • 71-69 vs. #2 Duke
  • 69-49 at Syracuse
  • 64-52 at #3 Virginia
  • 66-59 at Boston College
  • 73-68 at #2 Virginia
  • 83-70 vs. #3 North Carolina

Louisville's other losses include games against marquee opponents: fifth-ranked Tennessee, a Marquette team who has spent most of the season in the top 25, Kentucky, who is now ranked seventh in the country, Pittsburgh in overtime and a one-point loss to Indiana on Dec. 8. 

Let's not forget that Louisville has wins over six NCAA Tournament teams. 

  • Vermont (an NCAA tourney team)
  • Michigan State (Big Ten Tournament champion)
  • Seton Hall (NCAA tourney team)
  • North Carolina (when the Tar Heels were #12 in the nation)
  • NC State (when the Wolfpack was #21 in the country)
  • Virginia Tech (when the Hokies were #11 in the country)

“I’m really proud of our group. Our team is battle-tested," said Louisville coach Chris Mack. "They’re better having been in those moments before and we’ve done it against the best teams in the country.”

The only common opponent Minnesota and Louisville have this season is Boston College, whom the Gophers also lost to by a nearly identical score, 68-56, on Nov. 26. 

"I think Louisville wins this game and wins this game pretty easily," says ESPN's Joe Lunardi.

Minnesota shouldn't be counted out, but Louisville is battle tested and capable of going on a big run. 

The Cardinals might have an issue scoring, as noted by The Athletic (paywall). 

"Handling pressure has been an ongoing issue, and it can be difficult to generate buckets," The Athletic's East Region preview says of Louisville. 

Minnesota has the length to cause problems for Louisville, but scoring issues of their own could be a problem. The Gophers rank 273rd nationally in 3-point shooting (32.5 percent) and 211th in 2-point shooting (43.8 percent)

Louisville ranks 29th in the nation in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and 17th in defensive efficiency. The Gophers are 54th in offensive efficiency and 44th in defensive efficiency. 

A glimmer of hope for Minnesota might be in that Louisville's two leading scorers aren't game-changing guards like Michigan and Michigan have. Minnesota has struggled this season against high quality guard play, but they've been competitive against teams led by bigs, like Purdue. 

Louisville is led by 6-foot-8 forward Jordan Nwora (17.2 points per game) and 6-foot-5 forward Dwayne Sutton (10.2 points per game), whom All-Big Ten forward Jordan Murphy should match up well with. 

Tip-off is Thursday at 11:15 a.m. on CBS. 

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