It may be just a bit early to decide if the Gophers are real, given recent happenings in the world of Golden Gophers basketball (nothing ever goes strangely wrong, ever!). It isn’t too early, though, to declare that the Gophers are ahead of schedule this season. Prior to the start of the season, I divided Minnesota’s schedule into the categories of must win, should win, and bonus wins. The general theory behind these divisions is that if the Gophers can win all the must wins and slip up a minimal amount in the should wins, they would have a decent shot of making the NCAA tournament without any of the bonus wins, those games that no reasonable person would expect them to win. Eight games into the season, the Gophers are undefeated in the must wins and should wins, and already have a bonus wins. If this keeps up, it might be time to re-evaluate the bonus wins.
The great start is, well, great, but any losses during the remaining home non-conference schedule can quickly undo all the good that the Gophers did for themselves during their 3-1 quasi-tropical road trip. The selection committee, if given the opportunity, would have no problem canceling out any of the good wins for any bad loss that comes along. Even though bad basketball teams don’t get anyone excited, games against them are just as important as games against good teams in determining post-season seeding.
The North Florida Ospreys (Fightin’ Manatees should still be available) are just the type of bad basketball team that can throw a wrench into a good season. And dare I say, even if there is barely anecdotal evidence that they exist, this is a trap game. The team is feeling good about themselves, is more than a little tired, and could get complacent if they are not careful. They have only a 2-4 record against Division I teams, though they managed to play Florida State within single digits and Memphis within 15 points. The Gophers beat both teams semi-comfortably, so the transitive property tells me the Gophers should be fine. Statistics do too.
The Ospreys are not truly pathetic on offense or defense, and are a pretty middle of the road low major basketball team. Their offense ranks 175th in the country due to problems with turnovers, two-pointers, and offensive rebounds. They take a ton of three-pointers, 26th most in the country, and they make 34% of their long range shots. If they are able to knock down three-pointers, the Gophers’ margin for error obviously shrinks. The Osprey defense ranks 134th in the country, aided by the 14th best three-point defense in the country, though this likely has more to do with Florida A&M and Bethune Cookman than North Florida’s defensive prowess. The Ospreys also can’t rebound defensively, or defend two-point shots, or keep teams off the free-throw line. Even if the Ospreys manage to win the three-point battle, they won’t win the game if the Gophers show up.
There are only three Osprey players worth knowing about, and only one of them has the capacity to really change a game. That player is Parker Smith, a super-skinny 6’3” senior scoring 16 points per game and 48% from the field and 52% from behind the three-point line. The crazy thing is that he attempts nearly nine three-pointers per game. With that type of shot volume, he has the capacity to put up a ton of points. He’ll get Austin Hollins’ attention. Travis Wallace, a 6’6” forward, has been remarkably consistent in his time with the Ospreys, averaging 10 points per game, like he did last year, on 56% shooting. He won’t be playing far from the basket, and attempts about one three-pointer per season. He is also his team’s leading rebounder at just over four per game. Jerron Granberry, despite the amazing name, has been amazingly bad shooting from the outside this season. He attempts just over eight three-pointers per game, but is 9-42 for the season (21.4%). He is a decent rebounder, very accurate when not jacking up ugly three-pointers, and shoots almost 88% from the free throw line. If he could realize his limitations, he might actually be good.
The Gophers should walk away with a relatively easy win, and should be able to give some of their most tired players a bit of a rest. South Dakota State is right around the corner, and so is the return to competitive basketball after a one week break.