6:15 pm (CST) at the BankUnited Center
Radio: WCCO 830 AM
TV: ESPN U
Redemption is only just a game away, and the Gophers have a chance to not just end their early season slide, but also to make a statement, represent their conference, and vault themselves back into the Top 25.
By the time Wednesday’s game against the other “U” tips off, Tubby Smith will have had three days and two long flights since the Gophers lost to Texas A&M to move his team in the right direction. The players, especially Lawrence Westbrook and Al Nolen, will have had plenty of time to screw their heads on straight and discover that while they are valuable members of the team, they are not above the team.
The Gophers will also get a big boost off the bench from Devron Bostick, who will return to the team after an unspecified rules violation. He might not get a bunch of playing time, but at least he will be an option. Tubby Smith wanted to use his full court press more often this season. Without the depth that this high tempo, high energy style of play requires, Smith had to resort to a more traditional approach. The added depth that Bostick provides will be a significant contribution regardless of the points he puts on the score board.
Miami comes in Wednesday’s game undefeated, though none of their wins are particularly impressive. At this point the Gophers have a better NCAA tournament resume with their win over Butler. The Hurricanes have a win over South Carolina. However, the only significant thing about this win is that South Carolina lost their second leading scorer in the opening moments of the game. In addition to the win over the gamecocks, Miami has wins against North Carolina Central, Nova (not Villa), Tulane, UNC-Wilmington, Florida Gulf Coast, and South Carolina upstate. That is hardly murderers row, and should be reminiscent of a geography test.
Given the level of competition, Miami’s statistics are a little inflated, but they should give us a hint of what to expect. The Hurricanes average 68 possessions per game, a pace similar to Michigan if you are looking for a reference point. They are slightly better on offense than the Gophers, averaging 1.03 points per possession compared to 1.02 points per possession for Minnesota. They shoot extremely well inside the three point line, 58.7%, which ranks #10 in the country. The are slightly worse than the Gophers from beyond the arc making only 35.4%, but unlike Minnesota are terrific at tracking down their own misses. They secure an offensive rebound on 43.7% of opportunities, #7 in the country. Michigan State hasn’t even rebounded that well in recent years.
By now you should have noticed a bit of a disconnect. How could a team that shoots so well and gets so many extra shots have an offense within a whisker of Minnesota’s putrid attempts to score? In short, they love to give the game away. In Division I basketball there are 347 teams. The Hurricanes rank #329 in turnovers and #332 in free throw shooting.
On Defense Miami is a much more solid team, with excellent numbers across the board. They rank #10 in the country giving up .83 points per possession, though that is still not good enough to surpass Minnesota #2 ranked defense that gives up .75 points per possession. The Hurricanes keep teams off the free throw line, force a lot of turnovers, and limit their opponents to one shot. They also hold their opponents to a dismal 24.5% from behind the three point line. Miami is susceptible to inside scoring, allowing opponents to shoot 45% in two point territory.
Miami is a short team by most standards, with no players taller than 6’9” though they are rather thick. For instance, freshman Reggie Johnson is as big as a school bus at 6’9” and 316 pounds. The Gophers will have a height advantage, but they might get pushed around.
The Hurricanes are led by Dwayne Collins, a 6’8” junior forward averaging 13.4 points and 8 rebounds per game. He is shooting 61% from the floor, but has been remarkably inconsistent. He hasn’t scored in double figures or in single figures in consecutive games. Fortunately for the Gophers, he’ll have another rough scoring night if the trend continues. Durand Scott is second on the team in rebounding and leads the team in assists but is shooting only 35% from the floor. Malcolm Grant is the third leading scorer for his team, averaging 11 points per game, 3.6 assists, and almost as many turnovers.
The Hurricanes haven’t been tested, the Gophers have and the results were disappointing. Both teams need this game now. It should be a good one.
Keys for the Gophers
- Play as a team, pass to the open man, stay positive, and don’t get frustrated.
- Damian Johnson needs to start rebounding. By now it is obvious this won’t happen, but a senior (nominal) power forward needs to average more than 2.8 rebounds per game to be competitive.
- Make free throws, at least 70%, please?
Keys for the Hurricanes
- Attempt more shots than the Gophers. In short, make sure the turnovers don’t cancel out the offensive rebounds. This has happened only three times in their games against Division I competition.
- Force the Gophers to shoot from the outside. Don’t be surprised if they pull out a 2-3 zone.
- Make free throws, though a realistic goal might be 60%.