Louisville - Northern Iowa Preview
LOUISVILLE HAS THE SUPERIOR SEED, BUT NORTHERN ILLINOIS IS THE MARKET FAVORITE
One of the biggest steam moves we've seen in the first week of the NCAA Tournament involves the Sunday Night finale matching fourth seed Louisville and fifth seed Northern Iowa. The game opened pick-em, not surprising for a battle of close seeds. But, the money kept pouring in on Northern Iowa...up to -1...to -2...and even to -3 before Louisville money started hitting board Saturday afternoon in Las Vegas.
Is Louisville THAT bad? Is the ACC going to be exposed day and night on Sunday (Virginia and Duke play early) in a way that their faithful are dreading? Or, has the market fallen too much in love with a mid-major that may be exposed themselves now that they're facing a major conference opponent?
This isn't Wyoming of the MWC (Northern Iowa's first victim)
This isn't Illinois State of the MVC (Northern Iowa's victim in the conference tournament)
Let's see what JIM HURLEY'S key indicator stats have to say about the final matchup of a 16-game weekend in the Round of 32...
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency
Louisville: 105.3 per 100 possessions (#104 in the nation)
N. Iowa: 114.6 per 100 possessions (#13 in the nation)
Well, you can see right there why the market was so much more enthusiastic about Northern Iowa. Louisville has no offense! The Cards are lacking weaponry, beyond hustle, grit, earning putbacks off the offensive boards, and earning free throws in the crowded paint. It's very hard to make it into the Dance with an offense that's not in the top 100. Northern Iowa's efficiency would probably be lower than that if they played in a major conference. Ken Pomeroy's adjustments for schedule strength don't always hit a home run when it comes to mid majors. Still, even if you make some common sense adjustments, that's a mismatch for the #5 seed.
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
Louisville: 89.7 per 100 possessions (#6 in the nation)
N. Iowa: 93.3 per 100 possessions (#19 in the nation)
Louisville's defense usually makes up for its offensive weaknesses, at least in terms of giving the Cards a chance to compete every time out. But, here, Northern Iowa also grades well. We have a pair of top 20 defenses in adjusted per-possession defense. Again, you should probably dock Northern Iowa because it's easier to post good defensive numbers in the MWC. There's no way Louisville's advantage here counteracts their disadvantage on the other side of the floor. And, THAT'S why sharps were betting Northern Iowa.
N. Iowa: #348
Louisville grades out as slightly faster than average...but it would be faster if they could make their shots the first time the ball goes up! Northern Iowa is one of the slowest teams in the country. They're basically the Wisconsin or Virginia of the Missouri Valley. That's normally good news...but can be an issue if you're trying to pull away from an inferior major conference opponent. Shortening the game helps lesser teams stay with you. And, it's not like Louisville's defensive athletes are going to be bothered by a slow pace. They'll probably appreciate the rest.
Against the Spread
N. Iowa: 20-9-3
Here's another reason the line shot up out of the gate. Louisville was one of the most overrated teams on the college board this season, while Northern Iowa was one of the most underrated. Oddsmakers have done a horrible job all season pricing these teams. Northern was underrated heading into their conference tournament...and kept right on covering. Did the move to -2.5 mean the number had finally caught up?
Early Line: Northern Iowa by 2.5, total of 116.5
Note the very low total. It's expected that Northern Iowa is going to force a slow tempo on the game, and Louisville's going to crawl right along with them. That should give the Cards a fighting chance to compete over the full 40 minutes. And, if we have another mid-major that's not ready for the big time, it will give Louisville a chance to win outright. Northern Iowa hasn't played a halfcourt game with a team like this in quite some time.
*Northern will try to work for good shots, trusting that they're likely to outshoot Louisville percentage-wise over 40 minutes.
*Louisville will go for mud wrestling on defense, but will probably try to earn some cheap points off steals because that's their best approach for earning high percentage shots.
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We'll jump to the NIT for a couple of days before our Dance coverage resumes Wednesday with an early look at a Thursday Night Sweet 16 matchup. Look for big game TV previews every day here in the NOTEBOOK. Then, hook up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK for BIG, JUICY WINNERS each and every day through ALL of MARCH MADNESS!
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