Golden Gophers vs. Wofford Terriers
7:00 pm (CDT) at Williams Arena (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Radio: WCCO Radio 830 AM
TV: Streaming at http://www.bigtennetwork.com/
Everyone clamoring for a tougher home non-conference schedule finally has their wish. Wofford may not be a big-time traditional power house, and Terriers are hardly the most intimidating of mascots (right up there with Salukis and Gentleman), but make no mistake, this is a good opponent, and the Gophers will need to play well to win.
Devoe Joseph, the Golden Gopher’s most versatile perimeter player has been suspended indefinitely for reasons that are unspecified but most likely entirely of his own creation. This is of course a sour way to start the season. However, if the Gophers are the potential Sweet 16 team they claim to be and the Big Ten title contender that they hope to be, they should beat Wofford, Joseph or not.
The Terriers nearly took the college basketball world by storm with a near-upset against the hated team from the wrong side of the St. Croix in the first round of the NCAA tournament. They finished the season with 26 wins, beating Georgia and South Carolina along with a three point loss at Pittsburgh and a 12 point loss at Michigan State.
Wofford isn’t your typical near Cinderella either. If you look back at many of the mid-major teams that have pulled upsets or near-upsets, their teams are loaded with seniors hoping for one last shot at glory. A year later they are back to earth. North Dakota State came up just short against eventual champion two years ago Kansas, and came crashing back to earth last season. Cornell had a magical run last year. This year they’ll be lucky to be play in any post-season tournament. The Terriers will likely be back in the Big Dance this year and ready to do some real damage. God help whatever disappointing BCS conference team is matched up against them.
They return four of their five leading scorers including local boys made good Noah, I’m better than Isaiah, Dahlman along with Jamar Diggs and Cameron Rundles, both out of De LaSalle. Dahlman is the best of the bunch, averaging better than 16 points and 6 rebounds per game despite his 6’6” frame. Luckily for the Gophers, he isn’t the most mobile of big men and plays close to and decidedly under the rim. There is a well-founded fear among Gopher fans that the best way to beat the Gophers is to drag Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson to the perimeter, and either beat them off the dribble or fill the vacuum under the basket with cutters. If Dahlman does start to drift to the outside, the Gophers should let him be. He missed the only three pointer that he attempted last season. Wofford does have a few outside threats, making 34.5% of their three pointers as a team. Diggs and Cameron both shot over 37% from behind the three point line. The three-pointer can occasionally be an afterthought for this team, as they ranked in the bottom third in the country in percentage of shot attempts that are three pointers.
On offense, Wofford tries to slow the game down,averaging nearly two fewer possessions per game than the Gophers did a year ago. For comparison’s sake, they play at about the speed of Northwestern. Like most solid teams, they hang on to the ball and get to the free throw line. Unlike most solid teams, they only managed to make 67% of their free throws.
On defense, they excel at preventing offensive rebounds and preventing three pointers, ranking in the top 35 in the country in both categories last year. Interior defense can be a big problem, especially with a 6’6” starting center. They ranked 313th in country in blocked shots.
Terriers may be small, but they sure can be feisty. If the Gophers can put their distractions aside and play up to their potential, they can pick up a solid win tomorrow that could loom large in March. If they come out flat and distracted like they did against Winona State, well, maybe the NCAA selection committee won’t care about November.
Who to watch for the Gophers: With Joseph out, this is Al Nolen’s team, now more than ever. Not only does he need to play well tomorrow, he needs to stay on the court. If he gets into foul trouble or become a turn-0ver machine, we might see a lot of Maverick Ahanmisi or whatever Tubby’s emergency master plan might be.
What to watch for the Gophers: I want to chalk up the poor performance against Winona State to equal parts rust, lack of focus, and not being particularly excited to play a Division II team. The best gauge for where the team is mentally will be turnovers. If they can keep them around 15, we should be okay.
Who to watch for the Terriers: Noah Dahlman is the heart and soul of this team. If he struggles, I don’t think Wofford has much of a chance. He will need to get off to a quick start and force the Gophers to double team him, which should open up space for his teammates. If Colton Iverson or Ralph Sampson III can play him straight up, Wofford will have a miserable night.
What to watch for the Terriers: How do they handle the Gophers size? Size isn’t everything, but it does matter. Will they be overwhelmed, or will they use Minnesota’s size against them?