7:00 pm (CST) at Williams Arena (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Radio: WCCO 830 AM
TV: Bigtennetwork.com (Streaming for $2.99)
Tickets: Best available- Row 6 upper deck, baseline
Another week, another distraction, and another game just in time. If you are looking for the latest on allegations, possible poor decisions, and other issues that have little or nothing to do with basketball, there is a raging “debate” in the Strib comments section. I’m here for basketball, the Gophers, and the team on the court.
That team kicks off their season against Tennessee Tech on Friday night at Williams Arena. The Golden Eagles of the Ohio Valley Conference finished 12-18 last season. Their biggest win came against Lipscomb, who of course beat Indiana in Bloomington, though their best game was probably a 10 point loss at Florida State.
It will likely be another rough year in Cookeville. The Golden Eagles were picked to finish in the bottom third of the conference, either seventh or eighth based on the source. Frank Davis and Will Barnes will provide a senior back court that should at the very least bring stability to a team that struggled mightily last year. Joining Davis and Barnes in the starting line up are Alfred Jones and Kevin Murphy. While that experience certainly helps, their team MVP last season Daniel Northern is no longer with the team, and their is no definitive replacement for him in the starting line-up. Because the Golden Eagles bring back so many players and have the same coach as last season, one time Tubby Smith assistant Mike Sutton, it is not unreasonable to assume that the team’s performance last season is harbinger of this season.
Last year Tennessee Tech played a fast paced and entertaining style of play, not afraid to push the ball up the court. Unlike many teams that like to play fast, they did not shoot many three pointers, but those they did attempt had a good chance of going in as the Golden Eagles made better than 36% of their shots from the outside. Inside scoring was a problem as they made only 46.8% of their shots inside the three point line. Like many low to mid-major teams, quality interior players with true Division I height are hard to find. While they like pushing the ball up the court, they may have been playing too fast for their own good. They committed turnovers on over 21% of their possessions (just like the Gophers, watch out in the first few rows). They are a very average free-throw shooting team, avoid blocked shots, but they are susceptible to the steal, which should have the Gophers licking their chops, or buckteeth.
Tennessee Tech forces a lot of turnovers on defense, ranking in the top 50 in both blocks and steals, but still manages to give up lots of points. It seems that if they don’t take the ball away early in the possession, their defense collapses. Opponents of the Golden Eagles made almost 36% of their three pointers and 49% of their two-point shots. For most teams, a missed shot is something of a victory. For Tennessee Tech, a missed shot went right back to their opponents nearly 37% of the time.
Keys for the Gophers:
- Guard the three-point line. Last season the Golden Eagles scored 28% of their points from behind the three point line. In Minnesota’s exhibition games their opponents were scoring nearly half their points three at a time. There will be a major talent disparity on display Friday night, so even an excellent shooting night shouldn’t result in even a near upset. Further down the road those open three point shots will hurt the Gophers.
- Give Colton Iverson some quality minutes. The Sophomore center looked great against UMD and lost at times against Minnesota-Moorehead. Until Minnesota’s roster is fully intact they have serious size limitations. Iverson will need to get on track, and the sooner the better, for the Gophers to avoid any early season stumbles.
- Prove that outside shooting success is not a fluke. The Gophers shot better than 60% from the outside in their final exhibition game. The key to the season may be building off of it. You may remember that the Gophers made every three pointer that they attempted against Penn State last season at Williams Arena, and then their outside shooting fell off a cliff, the offense ground to a halt, and they snuck into the the NCAA tournament. Hopefully they can be a bit more consistent tomorrow night and beyond.
Keys for the Golden Eagles:
- Take care of the ball. Tennessee Tech needs to make the most of every opportunity. If they do turn the ball over, they better throw it out of bounds. If the game turns into a track meet with the Gophers scoring on the break, they don’t have a chance. A slow, grinding style should help them cut down on turnovers, keep the Gophers from running, and keep what could be a quiet crowd off its feet.
- Stay even on the boards. Once again, it comes down to not wasting possessions, and that also means not giving the Gophers extra chances. Tennessee Tech was a bad rebounding team last year. If they can just become average on the glass, they should be much better.
- Exploit poor perimeter defense. The three-point shot has become the ultimate equalizer in college basketball. If the exhibition games are any indication of what to expect tomorrow, the Golden Eagles will have plenty of chances to pile up the points on the outside.