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Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Portland Pilots

7:30 pm (CST) at the Anaheim Convention Center

Radio: WCCO 830 AM

TV: ESPN U


So much for a chance to celebrate. Less than 24 hours after defeating #10 Butler, the Gophers will play the Portland Pilots out of the West Coast Conference at 8:30 pm in the semi-finals of the 76 Classic. Portland’s presence in the game isn’t a huge surprise, but how they got there was. They simply dominated an over-matched UCLA team, winning 74-47 on the strength of their 11-19 three point shooting. The final score could have been much worse, because the Pilots were up 30 with 11 minutes left in the game.

A game against UCLA might draw more viewers, but tonight’s game should be better in the long run for the Gophers. UCLA is terrible this season, and Portland should make the NCAA tournament as an at-large team. Just because they don’t get much publicity doesn’t mean this wouldn’t be an important non-conference win. Portland also won’t be playing what should have amounted to a home game for UCLA, playing only an hour from campus.

Even though the Pilots play in a mid-major conference, they have big time basketball size, with five players 6’8” or taller. Despite their size, they score one-third of their points from behind the three point line, and are in incredibly dangerous perimeter shooting team. It is really their guards that make them go. They rank second in the country having made nearly 54% of their three pointers. That excellent statistic isn’t the result of one exceptional game. They have shot better than 50% from the outside in three of their four games, and still managed to make 7-16 three pointers in their worst shooting game, a 98-81 win at home against Seattle.

T.J. Campbell might be their best player. The 5’9” guard makes 68% of his shots, an unheard of shooting percentage for a player his size, and scores 16.8 points per game. Nick Raivio leads the team in scoring and rebounding, and like just about everyone else on his team that isn’t 6’8” or taller, makes 54% of his three pointers. Portland’s interior players have yet to make a three pointer this year. This should bode well for the Gophers. Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III won’t get dragged out to the perimeter, and should be able to avoid cheap fouls far from the basket.

Even when Portland misses, they secure a large number of offensive rebounds. Most teams that shoot an inordinate number of outside shots get a lot of these long rebounds. Despite their size,they also give up a lot of offensive rebounds. The Gophers have enough athleticism to neutralize Portland’s rebounding, and it will be particularly important for Minnesota’s guards to block out the Pilots.

While Portland excels on offense, their lack of defense will create a lot of high scoring games. They are one of the worst teams in the country in forcing steals and blocked shots, and most turnovers against them are on unforced errors. The Gophers should get plenty of extra opportunities on offense, and they will need to make the most out of them. In a bit of irony, the Pilots also don’t defend the three pointer very well, and often switch between zone and man to man. With the Gophers’ size, expect to see a lot of zone and what should be many opportunities for open outside shots.

Keys for the Gophers

  • Devoe Joseph needs to play in control. He has developed a nasty habit of launching ill-advised three pointers early in the shot clock. He’ll be more effective giving up the ball early in the possession and getting it back curling off a screen to take a shot in rhythm.
  • Defend the three pointer. After their excellent perimeter defense in the last two games they are now holding opponents to under 30% three point shooting. If they hold Portland to around 30% outside shooting, they should win. If Portland realizes that the shots are open and forgets how to miss, it could be a very long night.
  • Use the depth. Rodney Williams, Al Nolen, Colton Iverson, and Paul Carter all played less than 20 minutes last night. Even with their lopsided win, Portland’s starters played more than Minnesota’s. With such a quick turn around time between games, the Gophers should be able to wear down the Pilots.

Keys for the Pilots

  • Compact the Gopher defense. If they can score a few baskets inside early in the game, the Gophers will need to leave shooters to double the post. Portland loves to shoot the three, and any sort of inside game should create plenty of opportunities.
  • Make the Gophers work on offense. Portland should throw at least a token press at the Gophers, and not let them bring the ball up uncontested. The Gophers are prone to a silly turnover now and again, and the Pilots need to try something to keep the offense off balance.
  • Keep the Gophers out of the paint. Portland can’t win if Colton Iverson has free reign in the paint again. They need to hold both Iverson and Ralph Sampson III to less than 8 points and 8 rebounds each.