Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Texas A&M Aggies
4:00 pm (CST) at the Anaheim Convention Center
Radio: WCCO 830 AM
TV: ESPN 2
The score of a basketball game is not determined at the end of the year after all games have been played. The better team at the end of the season is not awarded an automatic victory because on paper they are better, and the players are more talented or highly recruited. Basketball is played one game at a time, and on Friday night in Anaheim, California, Portland was simply better.
The Gophers lost an extremely frustrating game by the score of 61-56. This wasn’t so much a Portland win as it was a Gopher loss. The Gophers did just about everything they needed to do to win except put the ball in the basket. Shooting only 33% from the field, 16% from the three point line and 59% from the free throw line will making winning nearly impossible regardless of the opponents and the Pilots are not a pushover.
There seems to be fair amount of hand-wringing because the Gophers lost to a team from a smaller conference a few thousand miles from home. Portland will make the NCAA tournament, and is poised to win a lot of games this season. They should be favored to win every game except tonight’s game against West Virgina, at Washington, and at Gonzaga. If they keep playing like this, they will be among the higher seeded mid-majors once the NCAA tournament rolls around in a few months.
Going into the 76 Classic, most people would have expected a loss to Butler and a win against Portland. The opposite happening should be more beneficial in the long run. The Butler win is better than a win over Portland. While no one wants to see the Gophers lose, the loss to Portland shouldn’t seem very detrimental in March.
The Gophers have another great opportunity to pick up another quality non-conference win when they take on Texas A&M at 4 pm this afternoon in a game televised on ESPNU.
The Aggies reached the third place game by beating Clemson on Thursday and losing to West Virginia on Friday. In their games prior to the 76 Classic the Aggies beat Angelo State, SMU, and Samford, none of which were in spectacular fashion (their larges margin of victory was 19 points against both Samford and Angelo State.) Texas A&M is another team that should make the NCAA tournament in March, but for that to happen they will need to play better.
Texas A&M features five players scoring nine points or better, and is led by Donald Sloan. The 6’3” senior shooting guard is averaging better than 17 points per game on 50% three point shooting, though he hasn’t made a three pointer yet in Anaheim (0-6). He has also become turnover prone (4:9 assist to turnover ratio this week) and is really struggling against better competition. Derrick Roland is another guard averaging nearly 12 points per game who scores most of his points around the basket. He hasn’t found his shooting range yet making only 2-14 three pointers on the season. B.J. Holmes should remind Gopher fans of Lawrence Westbrook, another undersized shooting guard that loves to shoot. David Lobeau and Brian Davis are a pair of 6’9” forwards who each average around nine points per game. Dash Harris, the starting point guard will pass up a shot to get his teammates involved, and has attempted more than 4 field goals only once this season but can make the open shot and is shooting 50% from the field.
Texas A&M boasts one of the most efficient offenses in the country, scoring 1.17 points per possession, and like Butler, really gets to the free throw line. Luckily, they shoot free throws worse than the Gophers, but still manage to score more than a quarter of their points at the charity stripe. Other than their ability to get to the free throw line, the are consistently slightly above average in nearly every offensive category.
On defense it is the same story. They hold opponents to only .86 points per possession while being just OK statistically. Opponents do shoot well against them, especially inside the three point line, which should hopefully translate into some easy inside baskets.
Texas A&M’s roster is on the shorter side, with only 2 players 6’9” or taller (there do have a 7’0” freshman who is yet to play), but have still managed to out-rebound every opponent this season. Other than their 8 rebound advantage over Clemson, they have not held a real decisive rebounding advantage in any game.
This is another winnable game for the Gophers. A win would be a solid addition to the post-season resume. A loss would undo the benefits of the Butler win, but this isn’t anything close to a must win game. There really isn’t such a thing this early in the season. If the Gophers come out flat again though, there is some reason to worry.
Keys for the Gophers
- Score inside early. The Gophers seem to lose confidence in their interior scoring if they are not successful their first few trips down the floor. The Gophers should have a significant size advantage and will need to make the most of it.
- Convert turnovers into points. The Gophers offense is a product of their defense. Despite forcing 19 turnovers against Portland, the Gophers scored only 17 points off those turnovers. Portland converted 10 Gopher turnovers into 12 points.
- Make free throws. Shooting under 60% is unacceptable, and not a way to win.
- Slow the game down. The Aggies like to play slow anyway, and turning the game into a grinding affair will limit their own turnovers and force the Gophers to use a half court offense.
- Score from the outside. Texas A&M has made 33% and 25% of their three pointers in the first two game. The Gophers love to double the post. If the Aggies can’t kick the ball out and shoot effectively from distance it will be a very long day.
- Take better care of the ball. The Aggies turned the ball over 19 times against Clemson and 16 against West Virgina. Neither team has forced as many turnovers as the Gophers this season. Texas A&M’s ability to limit mistakes ultimately should decide the outcome of the game.