University of Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Colorado State Rams
9:00 pm (CST) at Moby Arena (Fort Collins, Colorado)
Radio: WCCO 830 AM
Tv: The MTN (looks bleak for folks in Minnesota)
Liveblog: Yes, a very special radio only version (I’ll be complaining about “two-timing”)
Not particularly challenging non-conference schedules aren’t all bad. They give lesser-known programs a chance at the more established programs, and give those smaller programs something to get excited about, and in Fort Collins, they are excited.
That is right. Free T-shirts, free tickets, and hopefully free admission to the Damian Johnson show. After missing the entire season so far with a knee injury and that a broken hand, Damian Johnson, Minnesota’s mister versatility is scheduled to make his season debut, and not a moment too soon.
Although the Gophers are so far undefeated, they have done nothing so far to soothe the existential dread that any Minnesota fan of any sports deals with almost daily. Yes we beat Georgia State and Bowling Green, but we did not do so convincingly. Despite building early leads in seemingly easily in both games, the Gophers were outscored in the second halves. The fast-paced tempo that was the standard of last year’s non-conference season has only made brief cameos, and Minnesota’s half-court offense fluctuated between mediocre and stagnant. We know that Lawrence Westbrook and Al Nolen can drive to the basket with five seconds on the shot clock when they absolutely need to, but we also know Minnesota will need to do a lot better, especially against better competition and especially on the road.
Saturday marks Minnesota’s first road game, and it should also be their first test of the season. Colorado State is in the running for one of the most improved teams of the early season. Of course, after last season, there was only room for improvement. Minnesota easily beat the Rams at Williams Arena by a score of 91-74 as Blake Hoffarber enjoyed something of a coming out party as he scored 21 points. That Rams team only returned one starter and five total players. Two of those players left after an incident involving a hand gun and a players head. This year, there was no such drama and Tim Miles has the team heading in the right direction.
Last season, the Rams were thoroughly embarrassed by Montana, losing 75-39. This season, the Rams beat the Grizzlies 85-55. The Grizzlies probably are worse this year, but a 66 point turn around in one year? I don’t care how much worse Montana is this season, the Rams are much, much better. Even with all of Indiana’s problems this season, I don’t expect we will be talking about a 50 point Gopher win.
The Rams come into Saturday’s game, 2-0 with their other win over Northern Colorado 85-74. The rams play a slightly slightly faster pace than the Gophers, averaging 71 possessions per game compared to the Gophers 65 possessions per game. However, while the Gophers have been anything but efficient on offense, Colorado State has turned themselves into something of offensive juggernaut. The Rams score 119 points per 100 possessions. The Gophers come in only at 98. The Rams have also cut down on their turnovers, averaging only 11 per game. The Gophers have been lucky to not turn the ball over that often per half.
Keys for the Gophers
- Commit less than 13 turnovers. This might as well be the key for the season, especially with such an inexperience team. Thirteen turnovers marked their lowest turnover total of the season, and was the main reason why they were able to hold off Georgia State, despite shooting only 42% from the floor. With a low turnover total, they’ll be able to survive even if the offense isn’t there.
- Boards before blocks The Rams have four players 6’9” tall or taller. The block won’t come easy, and if the Gophers try for them, they’ll miss the block and the eventual rebound. With Johnson playing, the Gophers have no reason to get out rebounded.
- Run with the Rams. Even though the Gophers are used to a slower paced game, they have the athleticism to run. And really, anything to keep the Gophers out of a half court offense is a plus.
Keys for the Rams
- Make Minnesota work on offense. The slower the game, the better chance the Rams have.
- Dump it down low. Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III have both been susceptible, like many freshman, to stupid fouls. Limiting their minutes would be big.
- Get the crowd into the game, or at least get a crowd to the game. Five Gophers will be playing their first college road game. The CSU athletic department is trying to generate some hype. If the crowd is big and rocking, the Gophers could get rattled. Caveat: the Rams best attendance came against in state rival Northern Colorado when only 3,136 people showed up. Moby Arena seats almost 9,000.
Key Players for the Gophers
- Damian Johnson makes his season debut. If he plays his normal minutes, he should get his usual 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 10 others (blocks, steals, assists). More importantly, he should provide a big boost to the Gophers energy level, and create some scary situations for Ram ball handlers.
- Blake Hoffarber couldn’t miss last year. If he gets hot, Minnesota’s interior players should have a lot of room to work.
- Devoe Joseph is slowly heading into Kevin Payton territory. Watch to see if he finds his shot.
Key Players for the Huskies
- Andy Ogide, a 6’9” transfer from Ole Miss is averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds per game while shooting over 70% from the floor.
- Marcus Walker is the Rams’ Lawrence Westbrook. He’s small but can put up big numbers. He leads the Rams in scoring, and scored an eye-popping 43 last year against Tennessee State
- Jesse Carr is a floppy haired freshman point guard, who will have his hands full facing Al Nolen.
Prediction: 65- 61 Gopher win
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