And now for the cupcake we have all been waiting for. There was at least a reasonable chance that the Golden Gophers could have lost each of their first three games. Bucknell and Fairfield are decent teams that both could make the NCAA tournament. South Dakota State can shoot well, and they have several players who feel they have something to prove against the Gophers. Mount St. Mary doesn’t have anything to prove, and they aren’t very good at basketball.
The Gophers need to win, and they should win by a lot. The Mount started their season with a 54 point loss to Marquette, beat a Hartford team that lost to Little Sister of the Poor in a three possession game that wasn’t as close as the score suggested, and lost to Siena by 12. There are 345 teams in Division I basketball, and The Mount ranks 300th or worst in offensive efficiency (number of points per possession), turnover percentage (only four teams are worse), and getting the ball stolen. They are an average free-throw shooting team, but rank 288th in getting to the free-throw line, so it almost doesn’t matter that they can shoot free-throws if they never take them in the first place. They are a slightly above average offensive rebounding team, and considering their horrid shooting, their best offensive strategy might be to throw the ball in the general direction of the basket and hope someone gets a tip-in.
There will be gnashing of teeth and clamoring for change if the Gophers don’t blow out Mount St. Mary’s but their defense might keep things respectable for a while. They have held opponents to 21.6% three-point shooting, which is 21st in the country and they can block some shots. The Gophers should be able to completely abandon any semblance of an outside game if The Mount’s three-point defense is as good as advertised, because their two-point defense allows opponents to make 52% of their shots inside the three-point line. Minnesota’s turnover woes should also be assisted by their inability to force turnovers.
I’m not convinces there is a method to the non-conference scheduling madness, but if there is, this game is supposed to be something of an exhibition. After two solid mid-majors and a local semi-rival, and right before a half empty arena/warm weather tournament, Monday night’s game is wonderful opportunity to address specific weaknesses and experiment with different combinations of players. Part of me hopes the coaching staff focuses on fixes and not putting impressive numbers on the score board. There is no free taco promotion for scoring 100 points. The Gophers could easily win by thirty by pressing every possession of the game and continuously dumping the ball into Trevor Mbakwe, but what does that prove and how does that team benefit in the long run. Then again, the Gophers haven’t beat a team by more than 20 points in over a year, so maybe it is time to put a team to bed early.