JF

Golden Gophers vs. Virginia Cavaliers

6:00 pm (CST) at Williams Arena (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

TV: ESPN2 and streaming at ESPN3.com

Tickets: Row 10, behind the basket, upper deck

It is now time to add injuries to the long list of issues preventing the Gophers from playing at full strength.

On the night that Devoe Joseph is expected to play his first game of the season after completing the various tasks mandated by Tubby Smith, both Al Nolen and Rodney Williams are expected to miss Monday’s game. Rodney Williams sprained his ankle midway through the first half, and it was pretty obvious he would miss another game or two the way he hobbled off the court. Al Nolen’s injury was more of a surprise and appears more serious. He is expected to miss at least two weeks with what has been described as something close to a stress fracture. We will have more on his status and his injury as we learn more.

This is obviously not good news, especially coming right when the team would be at full strength for the first time in nearly a year. It also isn’t good news that the Gophers are playing an ACC opponent. However, the news would be much worse if Joseph was not coming back and the mini-rash of injuries occurred just before the Puerto Rico Tip-off or just before the Big Ten Season. And if there is one ACC team for the Gophers to play without Nolen and Williams, it is the Cavaliers.

The loss of Nolen will be felt the most on the defensive end. The senior point guard is a shut down defender and can force bad shots and turnovers better than anyone in the Big Ten. Virginia’s back court is not particularly offensively oriented. Mustapha Farrakan and Jontel Evans are awful outside shooters and commit 2.3 turnovers per game each. The Cavalier have some bigger guard/forward types, but Nolen likely would not have guarded them anyway. Rodney Williams would have been nice have at the small forward position, but Blake Hoffarber, Austin Hollins, and Chip Armelin should be able to hold their own against Joe Harris, Virginia’s best three point shooter.

While a higher profile team playing in The Barn on national TV would have given the team great exposure, playing Virginia gives the Gophers a great chance to win. The Cavaliers already have double-digit losses to Stanford, Washington, and Wichita State, and double digit wins against William and Mary (who just lost by 15 to Western Carolina), South Carolina-Upstate, and Oklahoma (who lost to Division II Chaminade). Even the banged up Gophers should win rather comfortably.

Virginia’s long list of problems begins and ends on the defensive side of the court. They just can’t keep the ball out of the basket. Opponents make 48.4% of their two point attempts and an implausible 46.6% of their three point attempts. For those keeping track at home, that ranks 339th out of 345 Division I teams. A lot of teams give up some gaudy shooting percentages, but they can usally make up for it by forcing a lot of turnovers. Virginia is not one of those teams, forcing turnovers on only 18.5% of possessions, ranking 282nd in the country. They rank 304th in the country in blocking shots.

Offensively Virginia is a decent team. They are an above average three-point shooting team, which is always a concern given the number of three point attempts the Gophers give up. They are merely average at shooting on the inside, but haven’t faced a team with the length and depth of the Gophers on the block. They aren’t particularly prolific at getting to the free-throw line, and struggle to pull in offensive rebounds.

The Gophers have consistently shown they can handle adversity, and Monday is another test of that. Tubby Smith loves to shuffle line-up and shuttle multiple substitutes into the game. We will find out if that strategy pays off. Don’t panic if things don’t go well without two starters in a line-up. Even if the Gophers struggle, this will make them a better team in the long run, like in March when it really matters.

Who to watch for the Gophers: Blake Hoffarber, one of the better three point shooters in the country, has to be salivating at the prospect of playing one of the worst defending teams in the country. He will have plenty of open looks tomorrow night. More importantly, the Gophers will depend on him to be the primary ball handler for a large portion of Monday’s game. This isn’t a new role for him, and how he balances distributing the ball and looking to score will go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.

What to watch for the Gophers: How much zone do the Gophers play? It should be plenty, especially without Nolen in the line-up. If the Cavaliers can shoot the Gophers out of the zone, things could get interesting very quickly.

Who to watch for the Cavaliers: Mike Scott is averaging nearly a double-double with 16.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. He already has three double-doubles in the young season. He is especially a weapon at the charity-stripe where he makes 88.6% of free-throws, and made 13-15 against Oklahoma.

What to watch for the Cavaliers: Minnesota will be short a player in the back court, and if the Virginia guards can get the Gophers in foul trouble and get to the line, they should be able to create serious match-up problems.

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