University of Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Eastern Washington Eagles

7:30pm (CST) at Williams Arena

Radio: WCCO 830 AM

Tv: Big Ten Network

Tickets: Row 29 in the corner of the lower deck

Liveblog: More like a live chat. I’ll be at the game, but a chat room will be up and running.

Thank goodness mascots have little baring on the outcome of basketball game. If they did, the Gophers would be 0-3-1, and would have been beaten soundly by the Golden Bears (Concordia), Falcons (Bowling Green),  and the Panthers (Georgia State) while tying the Rams (Colorado State). Rams and Gophers are, of course, on the same end of the food chain. I suppose a ram could accidentally step on a Gopher, which would kill the Gopher, but could also break a rams leg, causing a long and excruciating death and then we would have a tie. If you are waiting for a non-animal opponent, fear not, because the Virginia Cavaliers ride into town in one week.

My apologies for the long and excruciating mascot discussion, but this is just another necessary but not too exciting tune up that a young team needs. At least it was hopefully not as long and excruciating as trying to follow last Saturday’s game against Colorado State without TV, radio for much the first half, or frequently updated game trackers. Minnesota picked up the win in Damian Johnson’s season debut, and he seems to have picked up right where he left off, doing all the little things it takes to win. He will make his home debut, and barring electromagnetic storms or some other freak occurrence, there will be plenty of ways to catch the game.

The Eastern Washington Eagles out of the Big Sky Conferences comes into Williams Arena with wins over UC- Irvine (who has lost to USC and Oregon),  Texas-Arlington (who played their only Division I game against the Eagles) and Idaho (who beat North Dakota State but lost to Michigan State and Gonzaga). Their lone loss came at Illinois by, which, I’m sorry to remind all of us, is better than Gophers fared in recent years. While they don’t have any big wins, they are on track for a much better season that last year when they were 11-19.

Eastern Washington is a small team that rarely runs. They have three players on their roster shorter than 6’0” including Benny Valentine who is their leading scorer. The 5’7” guard averages 18 points per game, but also almost three turnovers. With a lack of size, one would think that they would try to speed up the game as much as possible, but they don’t and this probably explains why they aren’t the best team in Spokane, Washington. They average only 66.1 possessions per game, ranking in the bottom third of the country, unfortunately in the same neighborhood as the Gophers. They also score roughly the same number of points per possession as well, but their defense ranks 140th in the country. Teams don’t necessarily shoot well against them (they have not had an opponent shoot over 50%, but they force so few turnovers they don’t need to shoot well. They may just be what the Gophers need. The Gophers were made to beat slow short teams that don’t force turnovers.

Keys for the Gophers

  1. Run, run, run. Eastern Washington isn’t use to it, and Colorado State couldn’t handle it. Until the half-court offense gets going, defense is their best offense.
  2. Crisp passing. Minnesota jumped out to an early lead against Bowling Green with crisp and quick passes. The best way to get the offense going is to make open shots, and crisp passing is the best way to get open
  3. Make free throws. It might be about time for Tubby to ditch the no dribble rule. The Gophers made only 7-13 free throws against Colorado State, and came within 1 inch of losing.

Keys for the Eagles

  1. Make every possession count. The Eagles don’t play fast, and in all likelihood will take fewer shots than the Gophers. To have a chance, they will need to shoot better than Minnesota.
  2. Keep it close early. In every game except Colorado State, the Gophers have been susceptible to late game runs. Even if the Gophers are horrible in the second half, thinking more about turkey and stuffing and cranberries, it won’t matter if Minnesota is up by 20.
  3. Get the Gophers in foul trouble. The best way to take away a size advantage is to get rid of the size advantage. Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson are still very prone to foul trouble. If Travis Busch plays power forward for most of the night, it won’t matter that the Eagles have only one player 6’9” or taller that is expected to play.

Key Players for the Gophers

For the first time this season, Ralph Sampson, Colton Iverson, Paul Carter, and Damian Johnson will all be healthy and expected to play extended minutes. Iverson and Sampson played together over the summer. Carter and Johnson are both extremely long and athletic. Watch how Tubby Smith uses these players, and how they play well together. Despite the inferior competition, we should get a good idea of what to expect from these four for the rest of the season.

Key Players for the Eagles

  1. Benny Valentine is the Eagles leading scorer, assister, and turner-over. Watch how he handles the bigger and stronger Gophers guards.
  2. Brandon Moore is the Eagles only interior presence, but he is a presence for sure. The 6’9” 240 pound center scores 13 points per game along with 7.5 rebounds.
  3. Not even ESPN knows where Milan Stanojevic is from, but like just about every European player, he loves to shoot the three, including 174 last year. Three pointers accounted for 81% of his points.

Prediction: 75-57 Gopher win

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