The Northern Iowa Panthers and Louisville Cardinals won on Friday in very different ways. Northern Iowa won in a blowout while Louisville won a nail-biter. Which team is going to be better in this game on Sunday in Seattle?
The Northern Iowa Panthers Can Win Because…
Their ability to defend without fouling is noticeable. Northern Iowa can claim to be a more disciplined team than Louisville, and they're currently favored on the NCAA Tournament odds. The Panthers committed only 14 fouls throughout their 71-54 win over Wyoming on Friday afternoon. Northern Iowa allowed only nine free throw attempts. The Panthers just didn’t make many mistakes in this game. They limited Wyoming to only 24 first-half points, built a lead of almost 20 points, and were not seriously challenged throughout the second half. This is a team that is exceptionally well-schooled by head coach Ben Jacobson. Northern Iowa’s attention to detail shows up not just on defense, but also on offense.
The Panthers turned the ball over only seven times against Wyoming. This team hit 50 percent of its three-point shots, and not by taking a very small number of threes, either. UNI made 9 of 18 treys and hit 46 percent of its shots from the field. Given the way this team plays defense, if Northern Iowa puts up those numbers and also hits 16 of 18 free throws (though the total number of free throw attempts could be in the mid-20s and not the high teens), the chances of the Panthers beating Louisville are very good, especially if the turnovers are kept low against Louisville’s pressure defense. Turnovers, in fact, are probably going to be the biggest single key to this game. What should also encourage Northern Iowa is that its best player and leading scorer, Seth Tuttle, hit just 4 of 12 field goal attempts. He scored 14 points against Wyoming, but he was not very effective. If Tuttle is on his game, UNI would have to really like its chances.
The Louisville Cardinals Can Win Because…
They played poorly against UC Irvine on Friday in their first NCAA Tournament game, and still managed to win. Louisville shot only 41.8 percent from the field, and the Cardinals – who pride themselves on their effort – were outrebounded, 29-25. Louisville made just 5 of 15 three-point shots. The Cardinals earned only six free throws. What’s more is that the team’s best player and its most realistic NBA prospect, big man Montrezl Harrell, scored only eight points and attempted only eight shots.
There are some reasons for these numbers, and they’re reasons that won’t exist against Northern Iowa. UC Irvine had a center, Mamadou Ndiaye, who is seven and a half feet tall – 7-foot-6. Harrell simply could not play his normal game against an opponent who was so much taller and could so much more easily defend the basket. Northern Iowa (and just about every other team in the country) doesn’t have that kind of problem matchup. Harrell should play well, and a nervous Louisville team that was shaky for much of the day against UC Irvine should probably be able to play with a lot more freedom on the court.
Louisville should play better than it did against UC Irvine, but Tuttle is going to be a lot better than he was against Wyoming. If both of those things come true and Northern Iowa’s supporting cast remains solid, the Panthers will beat the Cardinals, so take them with your NCAA tournament pick.
NCAA Tournament Pick: Northern Iowa -2.5 at The Greek