University of Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Virginia Cavaliers

8:30 pm (CST) at Williams Arena

Radio: WCCO 830 AM

Tv: ESPN 2

Tickets: Row 11, center court in the upper deck

Liveblog: A live chat will be open about 3 hours before the game

The fact that the Ralph Sampson III’s father played for Virginia is not the most intriguing story line of Tuesday’s game against Virginia. I’ll actually name a few others. How will Minnesota’s young interior fare against major college competition. Will the Gophers miss Paul Carter, their most ACC-type player? Will this game reveal anything about either the Big Ten or ACC? Which is the reveal Virginia, the team that lost to Liberty or the team that almost beat Syracuse? If one delved deep enough into the minutia, there are probably 100 story lines more intriguing that where Ralph Sampson III got his Y chromosome, and I only mention it to serve as an example. Yes, ESPN family of networks, it is possible to mention something once and move on. Of course they will mention it a million times, which may give them less opportunities to mention that Williams Arena is old, it is cold outside (which really affects indoor sports) and there are more than a few seats at The Barn that don’t have stellar views, but please do us all a favor and spare us the DNA analysis and tell us more about Thomas Jefferson.

Yes, there is a basketball game tomorrow and not just a family reunion of sorts. The Gophers come into Tuesday’s game confident and undefeated, having strung together three consecutive best games of the still young season. Riddled by injuries, Minnesota figures to be as healthy as they have been all season with Lawrence Westbrook at full strength and Jonathan Williams available if needed. Paul Carter is still out, but the Gophers are loaded at the small forward position, and if they had to choose where to have an injury, it would be on the wing.

Virginia on the other hand is having a head-scratcher of the season. That they are struggling is no surprise. Sean Singletary, their best player last year, is living the life in the NBA, barely cracking double digit minutes each night. Mamada Diane, their second best player last season, has not adjusted to what should be his starring role, and has lost his starting spot. Not surprising, the Cavaliers look like a team still trying to find themselves. While they have more wins than losses, their wins might as well be losses. They beat VMI, which is more than certain teams from states where the grass is oddly colored can say, and they also knocked off Radford and South Florida, each by two points. For those who are curious, Radford has not beaten a Division I team and has lost to both Navy and William and Mary. Just when Virginia looked to achieve some sort of self-awareness they gave up an 11 point half time lead in less than 10 minutes to lose to Syracuse.

Other than Louisville, Virginia will probably be the fastest team Minnesota plays this year. Virginia ranks 21st in the country in possessions per game, and loves to put points on the board. They average 10 possessions more than the Gophers each game, and as you might expect, score 80 points per game, four more than the Gophers. Those extra 10 possession only equate to four extra points because they don’t always make the best use of their opportunities, especially from the three point line where they make only 29%, which ranks 279th in the country. Minnesota on the other hand makes about 38% percent. Other than their three-point woes, Virginia is actually on solid offensive team that excels on the offensive glass and turns the ball over much less often than a team that is struggling should.

This is not the case on defense, where Virginia plays exactly like a team that barely beat Radford. They rank 246th in forcing turnovers, and if they do not force a turnover, the other team is more than likely going to score. Their opponents are shooting better than 36 from behind the three point line and making more than 52% of their two-point shots. At least they can rebound.

Virginia will be Gophers biggest test so far this season, and will be very different than anything they have seen. Like most ACC teams, the Cavaliers should have an athleticism advantage, and they are the first team the Gophers have faced so far that isn’t afraid to run. But thanks to Minnesota’s recruiting class, they should be able to keep up.

Keys for the Gophers

  1. Hit the glass, and hit it hard. Minnesota should have the advantage on both ends of the court when either team has the ball. But this game will be decided once the ball is in the air and off the rim. The Gopher guards will need to be especially ready to track down long rebounds off of three point shots.
  2. Establish some inside scoring. With Virginia’s poor perimeter defense, it will be tempting to launch three pointers early and often, (which Minnesota has done…early and often) but the outside shots will be that much easier if the Gophers can suck some defenders inside.
  3. All we are saying, is give press a chance, but don’t press it. Virginia committed only 11 turnovers against a very athletic Syracuse team. Minnesota will need to see how the Cavaliers handle the press, and be OK abandoning it and settling into some half court defense if it doesn’t work out.

Keys for the Cavaliers

  1. Get an outside game. Their perimeter shooting is woeful, but the Gophers rank 10th in the country in blocking shots. The Cavaliers will need to keep Minnesota honest the outside.
  2. Keep the crowd out of it. It may be wishful thinking, but Minnesota’s home crowd should be lively despite the late start.
  3. Force mistakes. Worse teams have made the Gophers look silly at times.

Key Players for the Gophers

  1. Al Nolen’s scoring has disappeared. He will need to do more than just pass and defend.
  2. Damian Johnson will need to focus on rebounding, especially on the defensive ends. One of his strengths has all but disappeared.
  3. Blake Hoffarber- open shots + national TV= big night

Key Players for the Cavaliers

  1. Sylvan Landesberg is a 6’6” freshman guard who can do it all. He leads the Cavaliers in scoring, is second in rebounding, third in assists, and second in steals.
  2. Sammy Zeglinski has improved his three point shooting from 19% last year to almost 48% this year.
  3. Mike Scott averages a double-double, and should give the Gophers fits.

Prediction: 85-80 Gophers win

Your Prediction: [poll id=”10″]