University of Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Cornell Big Red

1:00 pm (CST) at Williams Arena

Radio: WCCO 830 AM

Tv: if the Internet counts, ESPN 360

Tickets: Row 11, in the corner in the upper deck

I try to avoid the all too obvious and obviously not as funny as I hope headlines (Rams ramming, Bison Charging, Panthers and Bears growling or teeth gnashing) but sometimes they are just too good to pass up. Everyone’s favorite barely Ivy League caliber school, and Hofstra’s worst enemy, will bring a disappointing record of four wins and four losses into Williams Arena on Saturday afternoon. Cornell, who won the Ivy League last year before running into the Lopez brothers at Stanford, thought this would be the year they would be one of the mid-majors to watch. A rough schedule and rougher injuries will mean that unless the Big Red (blush…head line…not so clever huh?) will need to win the Ivy League to make the tournament again.

Adam Gore and Louis Dale, both of whom were a lock to start every game so far this season, haven’t played one minute combined due to injuries. Cornell could have used them in losses at Indiana, Syracuse, Sienna, and on a neutral court to Saint John’s. Although they beat none of these teams, and there only wins have come against teams that they Gophers easily would have handled, Minnesota should not take Saturday’s match-up too lightly. Despite their injuries Cornell only lost by ten at Syracuse, and were tied with ten minutes left in the game.

Coming off another confidence building win, there is the very real danger that the Gophers have become too confident. Williams Arena will not be rocking, there will not be gobs of cameras and media strewn about, and this game will not be easy. It is a classic trap game, and with such a young team whose ability to regular their emotions is still hazy will need to be very careful.

Cornell plays at a similar pace to the Gophers, averaging about 3 possessions per game than the Gophers, but like most non-conference opponents of the Gophers, they don’t make as much out of those possessions. Minnesota averages 10 more points per 100 possessions than the Big Red. They don’t turn the ball over anymore than the Gophers, which either says a lot about how Cornell has handled their injury situation, or it says even more about the Gophers early season turnover woes. They shoot three pointers very well, hitting 38%, but only make 46% of their two point shots. The Gophers make 37.5 percent of their two point shots and 54.4 of their two point shots. If free throws determine who wins on Saturday, Minnesota should have an advantage. While both teams shoot about the same percentage, the Gophers have shot 12 more free throws despite playing one less game than Cornell.

Minnesota’s defense, as should be known by now, is solid bordering on spectacular. Cornell’s? Not so much. They successfully defend three pointers as good as most teams, but have been absolutely torched on the inside. Jeff Foote is seven feet tall, but after that their next tallest tallest regular player is only 6’7”. Like most of Cornell’s opponents, the Gophers should have their way on the inside, especially on the inside. Opponents of the Big Red are making almost 52% of their inside shots, and they haven’t faced a front line comparable to the twin tower and Jonathan Williams, who will play tomorrow afternoon.

Keys for the Gophers

  1. Pound it inside. This may the be the biggest size advantage the Gophers have all season.
  2. Rebounds, boards, etc. There is no excuse to not have a massive rebounding advantage.
  3. Jump out early. We should know a lot about the team’s mindset by the first TV time out.

Keys for the Big Red

  1. Keep it close. They did this against Syracuse, and if they can do it against the Orange they should be able to against the Gophers
  2. Live by the 3, die by the three. If the threes fall, they could be in business.
  3. No turnovers. If they start giving the ball away, they have given the game away.

Key Players for the Gophers

  1. Jonathan Williams will make his season debut, and Cornell should help him ease back into his role as Minnesota’s interior enforcer
  2. Lawrence Westbrook, always streaky, is slipping down the slop of the wrong kind of streak, The Gophers will need him to get it going again before they face Louisville.
  3. Ralph Sampson should have plenty of chances to explore his scoring side.

Key Players for the Big Red

  1. Ryan Wittman (yes, one of those Wittmans) is one of the best pure scorers in the country.
  2. Jeff Foote is Cornell’s only substantive player with size. God help him.
  3. Geoff Reeves has taken advantage of his injury-related increased playing time. He is 6’5” and can shoot the three. With much of Minnesota’s focus on Wittman, he could have a big game.

On paper, and especially with Cornell’s injury problems, Saturday should be a walk in the park. Games aren’t played on paper, and with the Gophers possibly expecting a walk in the park, expect a game similar to last year’s snooze fest against South Dakota State. The Gophers should win, but it won’t be a blow out, or pretty.

Prediction: Minnesota wins 65-55.

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