The University of Louisville will tip-off it's second century of basketball on Friday evening when it meets Minnesota in the Armed Forces Classic. The game, which pits father vs son in Rick and Richard Pitino, will be played in front of 1,400 – mostly military – inside a hanger at U.S. Air Station Borinquen, a Coast Guard base in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.
“I just think it is an unbelievable priviledge for both programs to be playing in this game,” said the Cardinals Hall of Fame coach. “That's the way both of us feel. Regardless of Big Ten versus ACC in an opening matchup meaning so much, it's a tremendous privledge and we're really excited to get to the island and put on a good show for everybody.”
The Cardinals, winners of 10 straight season-openers, face a Golden Gophers squad the returns four starters from a team that won a school-record 25 games and won the 2014 N.I.T. Championship.
“It think they have great experience,” Pitino said of Minnesota. “Last year they played, and they'll do it this year again, they'll play a top seven schedule and last year they had some great victories. They were a layup away against Northwestern from being an NCAA team last year.”
Among those returning for the Golden Gophers are the team's scoring, rebounding and assist leaders who are each seniors: 6-2 guard Andre Hollins (13.6 ppg), 6-11 center Elliott Eliason (6.6 rpg), 5-9 guard Deandre Mathieu (4.5 apg).
“Louisville is not going to scare their players because they have played a lot of top ten opponents,” he continued. “Whether we're top ten or not remains to be seen, but we'll know a little bit more because we are playing a veteran basketball team that's deeper than they were last year. They are a very underrated team.”
The Cardinals, a preseason top ten selection by the pollsters, are led by All-American forward Montrezl Harrell. Joining him in the starting frontcourt is former McDonald's All-American Wayne Blackshear and sophomore Mangok Mathiang. A pair of former five-star guards – Chris Jones and Terry Rozier – will man the backcourt for the Cardinals.
“Certainly, their starting five is as good as any starting five in the country,” Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino said. “They're young on the bench and obviously once that bench starts to get some more experience they can be a very, very complete team and a top team in the ACC.”
The Golden Gophers have won three of the five previous matchups, including a 70-64 Minnesota win in the last meeting in the 2008 Stadium Shootout at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. Louisville’s two victories in the series both came in the NCAA Tournament, including the 1982 NCAA Mideast Regional Semifinals and 1994 West Region Second Round.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 pm and the game will broadcast nationally by ESPN.