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Golden Gophers vs. Utah Valley Wolverines

7:00 pm (CST) at Williams Arena (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Radio: WCCO 830 AM

TV: Big Ten Network (actual live TV!)

Tickets: Best available- Row 11 upper deck, center court

Naming a college basketball conference is an exercise  in redundancy. There are really only three ingredients in a conference name; a synonym of large, a number, and/or a general geographic region. A few bend the rules, such as the Metro Atlantic Conference (to which geographic region would this refer?), the Big Ten and Atlantic 10 have major counting problems with 11 and 14 teams respectively, and the Summit League has only one team from a state known  for mountains (yes South Dakota State, you have the Black Hills, which, as the name suggests, are more hills than mountains). The Horizon League is a whole other story, perhaps it migrates across the globe each day. However, no conference strays off the conference naming beaten path than the Great West.

Dictionary.com lists 23 definitions for the word “great.” None of those definitions includes exempt from the NCAA basketball tournament. The Great West champion unfortunately is exempt from the Big Dance. Instead they win an automatic bid to the Collegeinsider.com tournament (won by Old Dominion last season in case you missed it). The conference just isn’t great. In fact, it would be a stretch to call it mediocre. It isn’t particularly western either. Utah Valley , whom the Gophers play Thursday night, is the only team firmly planted in the western half of the country. The University of North Dakota and the University of South Dakota both represent states that have western portions, but the actual universities cling to the Minnesota border. They are only in the west if Marshall is out west too. Houston Baptist and Texas Pan-American are pretty central too. Chicago State is west of about one-third of the country. The New Jersey Institute of Technology is a few miles west of the Atlantic Ocean. Next time they should try the Geographically Dispersed Conglomeration of Mediocrity. Not catchy but accurate!

The Utah Valley Wolverines come into Thursdays game with a 1-1 record. Their win came against North Dakota State in Fargo, and they lost at California-State Bakersfield. Last season they finished with a record of 17-11, including a win over “Academy of Art.” Please don’t complain too loudly about the Gopher Schedule. Their best win came against Montana, and their worst loss, though all of them were bad, was probably against Houston Baptist.

The Wolverines put up pretty good numbers last season, even though a big reason is the low level of competition. They were actually the 19th best three point shooting team in the country and the fifth best free throw shooting team. That success has not carried over to this season so far.

Utah Valley State plays the game slowly, at about the same pace as Northwestern, averaging 67 possessions per game. As a comparison, the Gophers are averaging 71 possessions per game. They are shooting 33% from behind the three point line, and shoot a below average number of three pointers.  On offense they are pretty horrible, turning the ball over 24% of the time. They also struggle to secure offensive rebounds. On defense they are better, holding opponents to 21% shooting from behind the three point line and keeping opponents off the free-throw line. The Gophers shouldn’t, and shouldn’t have to rely on threes and frees on Thursday. Their rebounding and shot blocking are horrible, which is expected from a team with only one player 6’9” and three others 6’7”.

The heavily favored Gophers continued to beat up on weaker opponents on Monday night with their win over Stephen F. Austin, and are one of the statistically best teams in the country, ranking in the top 21 in overall defense,  defensive shooting percentage, two-point defense, blocks, steals, and offensive two point field goal percentage. This should be a cake walk.

Keys for the Gophers

  • Get Paul Carter back on track. It isn’t a problem at all if he loses his spot in the starting line-up to Rodney Williams. It is a problem if he loses his spot and loses his high impact style of play. In the last game he attempted only two shots. He needs to show offense to go with his great rebounding.
  • Damian Johnson needs to rebound. Maybe five rebounds was too much to ask. Maybe three is a better goal.
  • Start fast. Against a better team, the Gophers would have dug themselves in a huge hole with their slow start on Monday. The Gophers should be up ten points at a minimum halfway through the first half.

Keys for the Wolverines

  • Don’t get dominated down low. They may need a gimmick defense, a tough zone, or stilts to slow down Ralph Sampson III.
  • Jordan Swarbick needs to shoot well. The senior guard made 3-5 three pointers in his teams win against NDSU, and didn’t make a single three in his teams loss to Cal State Bakersfield.
  • Force a few turnovers. The Gophers are more than generous with the ball, so a few should fall into their lap. Keeping the Gophers off-balance will lead to a few more, and maybe a few easy baskets.