Golden Gophers vs. St. Joseph’s Hawks

6:00 pm (CST) at Hagan Arena (Philadelphia, PA)

Radio: WCCO AM 830

Game three without Al Nolen doesn’t get any easier. For the first time all season, the Gopher’s travel to another team’s gym as they face St. Joe’s and their never dying, endlessly flapping hawk.

I don’t know anyone who is completely sure why this game is even happening. Ostensibly, this game is the second half of a home and home agreement with the Atlantic 10 cellar dwellers. However, the Gophers should have been able to secure a home game against an opponent the caliber of the Hawks without giving up a home game, or at least received an extra home game out of the deal. This is the second strange road game against a mid-major in the last three seasons. Early in the 2008-2009 season the Gophers traveled to Colorado State, and barely escape with a 72-71 win.

The risk-reward ratio doesn’t make games like this worth scheduling. Strange things always seem to happen on the road. Upset wins happen more often on a team’s home court. Young players lose confidence. Routines are ruined by transportation drama, bad weather, and worse hotels. Obviously, road games against elite teams increase exposure, raise a teams profile, and can add a nationally televised game to the schedule. Low-major teams rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars by getting dismantled in the home gyms of national powers.

But what do the Gophers’ get? Absolutely nothing. If they beat St. Joe’s, they’ve traveled a thousand miles and spent thousands of dollars to beat a team that they should easily beat. If they lose, they lose to a team predicted to have its worst season in decades, and that they would have had a much better chance to beat at home. Throw in that the game isn’t on TV anywhere, and this whole venture is pretty pointless. Let’s just hope that the Gophers can pull out a win, and this game goes down in history as strange and unnecessary and doesn’t actually impact the season.

The Hawks come into Wednesday’s game with 3-5 record. They were blown out at home by Western Kentucky, who the Gophers blew out in Puerto Rico.  They followed that with a nine point loss at Penn State. They won their three games, all in a row at home, over Norfolk State, Fairfield, and Rutgers. They will try to end a three game losing streak on Wednesday after losing to Drexel, Villanova, and Princeton.

The Gophers won’t gain much from this game, but the good news is that St. Joe’s just isn’t very good. The Gophers haven’t been very good lately either, but someone must have spent years designing a team the Gophers should beat.

Minnesota’s strength is in the middle with their never ending supply of height and width. St. Joe’s has exactly two players 6’9” or taller. Todd O’Brien has a Big Ten body at 6’11” and 248 pounds, but he averages less than 10 minutes per game. C.J. Aiken is 6’9″, but remarkably weighs 25 pounds less than Rodney Williams. clocking in at a cool 175 pounds.

Around the perimeter, the Hawks are much better, but still young and small. Carl Jones leads the way with 17.5 points per game and makes 35% from behind the three point line. He is the one player the Gophers need to keep track of, and even they know they can’t let him get loose, they might not be able to stop him. If one thing is certain in the world of Gopher basketball, it is that an opposing guard is going to have a big game. Jones isn’t much of a threat to get teammates involved, averaging two assists and three turnovers per game. He is first and foremost a scorer, and if he doesn’t score, he won’t do much of anything at all. Langston Galloway is the distributor, and judging by his name, a pretty good blues guitarist in about 50 years. He is a 6’3” freshman averaging 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. He has struggled in recent games against increased competition, and hasn’t scored in double figures in three games this month. Daryus Quarles rounds out the list of St. Joe’s contributors. The 6’6” guard/forward is very streaky. In his best two games he scored 12 and 17 points respectively. In his other six games he has scored a total of 10 points.

The Gophers have run into two hot shooting teams in their last two games. St. Joe’s has struggled shooting the basketball all season, and should give the Gophers a nice respite. They rank 306th in shooting three pointers. The Gophers rank 296th in defender the three pointer, so in this area the Gophers should somehow have an advantage. The Hawks make 47% of their two point attempts, but Minnesota’s size should cause all sorts of problems underneath the basket. St. Joe’s doesn’t get to the free-throw line, and is one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country.

St. Joe’s will occasionally run a 2-3 zone, which they have been able to get way with because their opponents have been making only 30% of their three point shots. Their inside defense is weak, allowing opponents to make 51% of their two point attempts. Despite their lack of size, they rank 33rd in the country in blocking shots, but force few turnovers and rarely steal the ball.

Who to watch for the Gophers:

Devoe Joseph will be starting his first game since returning from suspension. He is out of Tubby’s dog house for off the court issues, but may soon be back in the dog house for his on the court performance. Joseph has always seemed to play better when he doesn’t come off the bench. We’ll see if a start can shake off whatever rust is left from his absence.

What to watch for the Gophers:

Maybe a change of scenery and background will be enough to make a few more free-throws. I’m not betting on it, but stranger things have happened.

Who to watch for the Hawks:

Carl Jones must be a site to behold. He is generously listed at 6’0” and 146 pounds. Only, he isn’t a Scandinavian ski-jumper, he is a shooting guard. The offense truly runs through him as he takes 30% of his team’s shots which has translated into at least 10 shot attempts in all but one game and scoring in double figures in every game.

What to watch for the Hawks:

How do they match-up? They don’t have enough size to play the Gophers straight up. They’ll try to force the Gophers to go small, but even a three-guard Gopher line-up would be bigger than the Hawks. If they do go small and can knock down outside shots (like everyone else) Minnesota’s big-men will see a lot of time on the side-lines.

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