Golden Gophers vs. Akron Zips

7:30 pm (CST) at Williams Arena (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

TV: Big Ten Network

Tickets: Row 9,  corner, upper deck

Another game, another milestone for Blake Hoffarber. When the Golden Gophers take on the Akron Zips (which is a female kangaroo, thank you Wikipedia) Hoffarber will have the opportunity to become just the 36th Golden.Gopher to join the thousand point club. If he keeps up his current scoring pace, he should score around 1,300 career points, and rank 16th on Minnesota’s career scoring list between Lou Hudson and Ariel McDonald.

Not bad for nothing but a three-point shooter, right?

The thousand point club isn’t what it used to be. Freshmen are eligible to play all four years. The shot clock has sped up the game and increased scoring (much to the chagrin of Bo Ryan). The season is longer. The three point line has put plenty of extra points on the scoreboard. All that being said, the Gophers aren’t exactly swimming in a sea of  1,000 point scorers. Since Dan Monson took the reigns of the scandal ridden program, the Gophers have had only five thousand point scorers: Dan Coleman, Lawrence Westbrook, Dusty Rychart, Maurice Hargrow, and Michael Bauer. Coleman leads them all with 1,317 career points, and depending how many times the Gophers play in the post season, Hoffarber may eclipse that. Go ahead and damn Hoffarber with the faint praise of calling him a three-point specialist, but you’ll also have to call him the best Gopher scorer of the decade.

Minnesota’s other senior co-captain and Hoffarber’s backcourt-mate also received some good news. Al Nolen was officially diagnosed with a stress fracture (despite dubious and irresponsible reports to the contrary) and is officially on the mend. He will likely dress for Wednesday’s game, and may even see a bit of playing time. If he isn’t back against the Zips, he should have the opportunity to  shake off some rust in the last non-conference home game against South Dakota State.  And shaking off rust is key, because key contributors rarely play well in their first game back . Evan Turner and John Leuer, two players that are frankly better than Nolen, scored only eight and four points respectively in their returns from injury last year.  It is going to take Nolen a few games to get used to playing again, become accustomed to his teammates, and most importantly gain confidence in the health of his foot.  As long as he is healthy enough to play, it is essential that he clock some minutes before the Gophers open the Big Ten season at Wisconsin and at Michigan State.

Before, we get too far ahead of ourselves, the Gophers have to get by Akron. The Zips enter Wednesday’s game with a 4-3 record. Their best win was by 8 points over Detroit, but that hardly makes up for their worst loss, a 35 point thumping against Temple. Last year the Zips won 24 games and played in the CBI tournament (yes, one of those tournaments worse than the NIT) but graduation was cruel, decimating their roster.

The Zips are led by Nikola Cvetinovic, who I hope scores plenty of points so the Polish Eagle can butcher his name over and over. The 6’8” center scores better than 13 points per game while collecting more than 5 rebounds per game. He isn’t a threat to play around the perimeter, missing his only three point attempt of the season. Brett McClanahan, a 6’4” guard averages 12 points and 6 rebounds, and 2 assists per game, but his offensive production has fallen off dramatically since he scored more than 20 points in back to back games against Dayton and Youngstown State. Zeke Marshall, a 7’0” sophomore center is the third and final zip in double figures. Like most young big men, he struggles with foul trouble, and has 3 or more fouls in 4 games this season. DarrylRoberts, a 6’0” guard shoots half of his field goal attempts from behind the three point line, and could give the Gophers fits if he can get loose. Steve McNees, a 6’2” guard is the chief distributor, and has a 2-1 assist to turnover ratio along with six points per game.

Akron would be another blow out candidate if the Gophers were capable of blowing anyone out. They can’t shoot, making only 32% of their three point attempts even though they insist on taking more than 38% of their shot attempts from behind the three point line. Their two point shooting is just as bad, making 46% of their shots inside the three point line. Their inside and outside shooting each rank #221 in the country. They can’t rebound offensively (334th in the country) and don’t get to the free throw line (321st in the country). Offensively, they are a strictly jump shooting team.  On defense they are merely average. They don’t steal the ball, don’t force turnovers, and don’t prevent offensive rebounds. However, they also defend the three decently well and keep their opponents off the free-throw line.

What to watch for the Gophers:

Can the Gophers close out on jump shooters. Akron won’t blow by them to the basket, so they should have no reason to give Akron any room to shoot. This will be especially important early into the game. Once a jump shooting team gets going, their success seems contagious.

Who to watch for the Gophers:

Streaky Ralph Sampson had a good game last time out with 19 points and 8 rebounds. His confidence is always shaky, and it would be nice if he could enter the Big Ten season with a few good, aggressive games in a row.

What to watch for the Zips:

Can their offense adapt to Minnesota’s multiple looks? Tubby Smith is more than willing to change up his defensive scheme, and doing so might throw off Akron’s shooting. Eastern Kentucky couldn’t adapt or score for the first half of the second half on Saturday. If they can knock down some shots, you’ll hear some nervous groans in The Barn.

Who to watch for the Zips:

Daryl Roberts is a pure shooter, knocking down better than 42% of his three pointers and 92% of his free throws. Note to the Gophers, guard him.

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