After a thrilling, entertaining, and way to close for comfort win over DePaul, the Golden Gophers will take on Indiana State at 11 am on ESPN in the second round of the Old Spice Classic. How the Gophers react to the first round win, and how quickly they recover from the game that was played at a break neck pace, will be just as important as the match-ups on the court.
It is fair to say that Minnesota would not have won a game like that last year, or at least at the end of last year. In fact, the Gophers have been notoriously poor closers in recent seasons, either blowing late leads or never quite completing comebacks. This year’s team has played better in every second half that has mattered (sorry Mt. St. Mary’s, they took it easy on you after the 51-18 half-time lead). In the three previous competitive games, the Gophers were able to stretch precarious half-time leads to double-digit wins, outscoring their opponents by ten or more points in two of those game. They outscored DePaul by 11 points. It is very early in the season, especially for a very young team, but the team’s identity is already being formed. They appear to be, at least for now, the exact opposite of last season’s team. They can overcome adversity and themselves to play better as the game goes on and make the big plays when they need to.
Against Indiana State, they’ll need to show some maturity. They’ll take the court less than 24 hours after a nearly miraculous win, and there is more than a little danger for a let down. Young teams can be very up and down emotionally, and if the Gophers think their work is done because they beat the Blue Demons, they could lose to a pretty good basketball team. Senior leadership is important in situations like this. Trevor Mbakwe won’t give up even when he should. Ralph Sampson on the other hand needs to dig deep. His galant effort with a bum wheel may have been his best game as a Gopher considering the circumstances. He isn’t a chest pounder or a yeller, though can show leadership by playing hard. The team fed off his energy.
The physical quick turnaround will be just as important as the emotional quick turnaround. The Gophers and DePaul pressed on nearly every possession, and there wasn’t much time to stop and breathe on either end of the court. Ralph Sampson III was clearly playing hurt, and no one knows what kind of effort he’ll be able to provide against Indiana State. They should benefit from their deep roster even if Sampson III is limited. No Gopher played more than 30 minutes, and in what could be a blessing in disguise, Andre Hollins played only 10 minutes. If Sampson can go, his 15 minutes of action means he won’t be tired as long as his ankle lets him play. Despite a comfortable win in their first game, Indiana State played all of their starters 27 or more minutes and three played at least 30. Fatigue could be a factor tomorrow and should be even more of a factor by Sunday.
The Sycamores will be a good challenge for the Gophers and are arguably the best team they have played so far. They come into the game undefeated, though none of the wins are particularly impressive, and made the NCAA tournament last season losing to Syracuse. Just about everyone is back from last season, and Indiana State looks like they’ll be headed back to the dance.
It is more than a bit ironic that a team named after a tree lacks trees on the inside. They don’t have anyone taller than 6’8” that plays significant minutes. This may be a curse in disguise as the Gophers have struggled to rebound against smaller and quicker opponents. Indiana State is a great defensive rebounding team and not great corralling offensive rebounds. Minnesota’s athleticism should get them more than a few put-back baskets almost by default. Too many second chance points would more than neutralize the Gophers’ height advantage, and we’d get into the scary territory of hoping outside shooting and avoiding turnovers will be enough to win.
The Sycamore size problems also manifest themselves on offense. They really struggle scoring inside, making only 45% of their two point attempts. Their shots aren’t getting blocked but they aren’t going in either. Luckily for ISU, they aren’t overly dependent on two point shots, making enough outside baskets to keep the defense honest and ranking 52nd in the country in the percentage of points scored from the free-throw line. In always terrifying three-pointer categories, they are slightly above average shooting and slightly below average defending. What that means when any team plays the Gophers is anyone’s guess.
The Sycamores have a very balanced team with a very short bench. Three players score in double figures, and five more score between five and eight points per game. Carl Richard is the most versatile player on the team scoring 12 points with 6 rebounds per game. He is a 40% three-point shooter and could shoot a few more out there. Dwayne Lathan is a 6’3” slasher and a surprisingly good rebounder averaging around five boards per game throughout his career. Jordan Printy average six points per game during his first three seasons in Terra Haute and has bumped that up to 10 points per game this season. He’ll shoot most of his shots from the outside. Jake Odum is Indiana State’s most well-known player thanks in part to his awful chin strap rather Amish looking beard and three straight double-digit scoring games in last season’s Missouri Valley Conference tournament. He finds a way to make big shots.
In an early season tournament without any elite teams, reading too much into a win or a loss is easy to do. However, we don’t know nearly enough to know more than a win being good and a loss being bad. Where the Gophers, DePaul, or Indiana State will be three months from now is unknowable. The Gophers, along with the rest of us need to move on from the previous game, avoid looking ahead, or risk losing in the present.