Gophers leaning on seniors, confidence in NCAA tournament game vs. Louisville

An up-and-down year has them at the Big Dance in Des Moines

Sloane Martin
March 21, 2019 - 6:38 am

© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

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March Madness kicks off for basketball -- and Gopher fans -- early Thursday morning.

The No. 10 Gophers are looking for an upset against the No. 7 Louisville Cardinals -- the team formerly led by Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino's father, Rick. WCCO Radio's Mike Max in Des Moines says it's a coin-toss game.

"They're not quite sure what they're identity is," Max said of the Cardinals. "You're not sure what Louisville team's going to show up, are you?"

Seniors Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey have been solid for the Gophers down the last stretch of the season. Pitino says the entire group overcame a lot to get here including injuries to starter Eric Curry and the death of senior Dupree McBrayer's mother at the end of last year.

"And then the uncertainty of going into this year," the sixth-year head coach said. "Five new players. Not really knowing what this year would bring. To get back to the NCAA Tournament, that's special. When you're able to do that, yeah, it's fulfilling. Hopefully we can make a little run at it and continue to build this program."

RELATED: NCAA Tournament: Let the games begin -- in earnest

This is the Gophers' second NCAA Tournament appearance the last three years under Pitino. The last time Minnesota moved on to the next round was 2013 when they beat UCLA.

Max expects a major Gopher presence just a few hours south on I-35 to cheer them on.

"It's going to be interesting because Des Moines a pretty sleepy town by nature -- that's not a knock, just what it is," Max said. "You've got the University of Michigan, Nevada, Michigan State and Minnesota with just a short drive, so I'm expecting it to be pretty raucous in that arena."

One NCAA Tournament game with a lot of Minnesota representation will be North Dakota State versus Duke Friday night. Apple Valley's Tre Jones is the starting point guard for the top-seeded Blue Devils and the Bison have five players from the metro area on the roster. That game is scheduled to start at 6:10 p.m. central.

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