The Gophers start to wind down their non-conference schedule Saturday against the St. Peter’s peacocks, and I can’t help thinking this game was scheduled a year too late. For almost all of last season, Fairfield was the trendy pick to go on a deep NCAA tournament run, and break all the brackets of those not in the know. Then out of nowhere, the Peacocks won the MAAC tournament along with the right to get crushed by Purdue in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Fairfield was a good team, but maybe we shouldn’t have been shocked that the 19th best defensive team in the country could string together a few gems and make the dance.
Alas, that was last year, and St. Peter’s is bad again. On Saturday they’ll join a long line of non-conference opponents coming to The Barn a year too late. Fairfield was fantastic last season but produced one of the ugliest games in recent memory this season. USC made the tournament last season, and will be lucky to win 15 games this year. Last year it was Sienna and Cornell that had gone from great to awful. Non-conference scheduling is neither art nor science, and until mid-majors are able to be consistently successful, scheduling quality mid-major teams is a matter of luck.
Defense continues to be the Peacock’s relative strength, but it is much worse than last year, 123rd in the country, and the offense is a putrid 314th in the country. They’ll avoid pushing the ball up the court but still commit a lot of turnovers. They can’t make three-pointers, two-pointers, or free-throws or get to the free-throw line. They are a good offensive rebounding team though, which is rather convenient given the large volume of basketballs ricocheting off the rim in random directions. Their three-point shooting, which is always a concern, ranks 320th in the country and they attempt a below average number of three-pointers per game. The Gophers have played against some horrible offenses this season. Mt. St. Mary’s is 303rd for example. and they only managed 18 points in the first 20 minutes of their game against the Gophers. St. Peter’s is a bad offensive team.
While St. Peter’s offense has never been particularly good, their defense had been a point of pride. This season they rank 123rd in the country, and have not been able to keep teams from shooting well. Last season they were the second best field-goal defending team in the country. They’ve now fallen all the way to 198. They allow opponents to make nearly a third of their three-point attempts and nearly half their two point attempts. Keep in mind that the Gophers are making nearly 55% of their two point attempts, and then compare Minnesota’s to that of St. Peter’s, whose toughest opponent is Seton Hall and then maybe Buffalo, and their defensive struggles become more apparent. The Gophers will need to take care of the ball as St. Peter’s forces a lot of turnovers, but opponents rebound about 40% of their own misses, then even if they are major turnover problems, they’ll still likely end up with more field goal attempts.
As you might imagine, a team this bad doesn’t have many compelling players. Chris Prescott, a 6’2” guard is the Peacocks leading scorer by way of taking more shots than anyone else and has more turnovers than assists. He does make a third of his three-point attempts, and isn’t shy about letting them fly, so they shouldn’t ignore him. Yvon Raymond has a girl’s name, and is an excellent rebounder at 6.6 per game despite being only 6’3”. Darius Conely averages 10 points and 8 rebounds per game and had 14 rebounds in their loss to Seton Hall. Karee Ferguson also has a girl’s name, and also makes a third of his three-point attempts and at 6’7” should be a good player down the road. Brandon Hall is an excellent defensive player who actually ranks 5th in the country with steals in 6.4% of his possessions.
St. Peter’s is bad, which is good considering how banged up the Gophers continue to be. Ralph Sampson III and Andre Hollins should be back in the starting line-up, and Austin Hollins still hasn’t looked quite right since banging his knee in Orlando. Time is running out to get healthy and get ready for the Big Ten season.