And now for the non-conference doldrums. There isn’t anything particularly inspiring about the Appalachian State Mountaineers, the Golden Gophers opponent on Tuesday night at Williams arena, and there won’t be much to look forward to until the Big Ten season starts the day after boxing day, and this break of sorts is just what the team needs.
Ralph Sampson III, continues to be hobbled by a bad ankle, and the Gophers will need two healthy centers when Big Ten play rolls around. Austin Hollins has been playing through the pain a bone bruise on his knee sustained moments after Trevor Mbakwe was lost for the season. Now, Andre Hollins is slowed by a twisted ankle and could see limited action against the Mountaineers. At least injury was humorous, or as funny as an injury to a starting guard can be. Never question the audacity of Hollins, who attempted to dunk on a player a foot taller and hundred pounds heavier. The ball went one direction, he went the other, and his ankle went a third. It doesn’t sound serious, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays on Tuesday, though we’ve probably seen the last time he sacrifices his health on a meaningless play.
Besides giving the team some time to physically heal, the less than exciting opponents will give the team time to relax a bit for the first time since Trevor Mbakwe’s injury. I’ll actually feel better about this season if they can blow out a team in what could be considered a trap game, and Appalachian State fits the bill coming after the two biggest non-conference games of the season. Playing with energy on national TV or on a Saturday afternoon against a big name opponent is one thing, getting psyched up to play a team basically unheard of in basketball is entirely another.
The Mountaineers are not a good team and the Gophers should beat them handily regardless of who is available. This is not the basketball equivalent of the football team that shocked some of the world when they won at Michigan a few seasons ago. That being said, the Mountaineers could pose some interesting challenges mostly because their players are the size of old, run down mountaineers.
You won’t find many mid to low major front lines in either basketball or football that go 6’10” 285 and 6’7” 245. Throw in a pair of 6’5” guards, a 6’0” point guard and a 7’0” center off the bench and Appalachian State is the biggest line-up the Gophers have faced this season. Minnesota has been relatively lucky in playing teams with small front lines with their front court injury situation but that luck has run out.
Isaac Butts may be the biggest player the Gophers will play this season as the aforementioned 285 pound giant. He is averaging nearly 10 points per game and gets the automatic seven rebounds per game to which someone that tall and wide is entitled. Andre Williams, at 6’7” and 245 pounds is a solid presence on the low post as well, and is the 42nd best defensive rebounder in the country so far this season. Jamaal Trice, a transfer from Connecticut where he never cracked the rotation, is averaging 14 points per game but has scored in single digits in the last three games. He is the team’s best three-point shooter and will demand attention. Omar Carter is a former shooter who lost his touch and is much more of slasher, who still has averaged double digits in scoring his first three seasons. Rodney Millum, a turnover prone point guard, rounds out the starting line-up.
Against Division I opponents, Appalachian State has only a 2-3 record (they have two wins over Division II opponents) and it is pretty obvious why. They couldn’t hold on to the ball if it was welded to them. They rank 342nd in turnovers, giving the ball away on an astounding 29.6% of the possessions. When they aren’t self-destructing, they are an average three-point shooting team and a much above average two-point shooting team thanks to their size. They also get to the line frequently though make only 60.7% of their free-throws.
On defense there is a fair amount of self-destruction too. They foul a ton and can’t defend the three-point line. Yes, since I know you were going to ask, they defend the three worse than Minnesota, but not by much. Despite what I imagine is aggressive defense with so many fouls, they rank only 259th in forcing turnovers. They do excel at defending two pointers, again, most likely due to their size. However, they haven’t played a team with Minnesota’s size and skill, even if Ralph Sampson III is out again, and there should be plenty of points scored in the paint.
If the Gophers show up with any sort of energy and any level of interest, they should win easily. If East Carolina can beat Appalachian State by 20 so can the Gophers.