Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Game Preview: Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. St. Joseph's Hawks

I am not going to mess around here.  The Saint Joe's team your Minnesota Gophers are playing tonight is not a good team.  Not remotely.

They sit at 3-5 with double-digit or nearly double-digit losses to some bad teams:  Western Kentucky (by 28), Drexel (by 12), Penn State (by 9), and Princeton (by 9).  Their three wins are against a horrible group of teams - Norfolk State, Fairfield, and Rutgers.  Really, other than a 9-point loss to Villanova, which I should point out is a heated rivalry game, they've shown almost no signs of life.

They don't really do anything well, either.  The can't shoot (244th in effective field goal percentage), they don't get offensive rebounds when they miss (293rd), although they allow their opponents to do so with some frequency (216th).  They never turn their opponents over (256th) and allow them to score at will (51% 2-pointers against, 264th).  Even the Gopher kryptonite, perimeter shooting, shouldn't be too much of a concern since St. Joe's doesn't shoot them often (32% of attempts are threes, 187th) or well (27.8%, 308th).

THAT BEING SAID, keep in mind this:

What you might notice is that every team other than Wofford, UNC, and NDSU (two of which were cold as ice) shot the 3-better against the Gophers than they have as a whole this season.  What this tells me is you can't count out anybody against them because they can give up open looks in bunches and if one player (Siena) or multiple players (Virginia) are knocking them down, they're going to be able to stay in the game (Cornell) and maybe even snag the win, as long as they have somebody who can hit.  Natually, since the Hawks are still technically a division-I team, they do.

They have their chuckers of course, every bad team does.  "Shooting" guard Justin Crosgile is 4-21 this year after shooting just 31% last year, while freshman Patrick Swilling (I think related to the LB) is an admirable 0-12 and CJ Aiken (more on him in a bit) is 3-13.  But then there's Carl Jones and Langston Galloway.

Neither shoot a great percentage (35% and 32%, respectively), and neither shoot ridiculously often (tied for the team lead at 34 attempts, which is half as many as Hoff has shot), but they are the two leading scorers and two leading shot attempters on the team, and against a defense that has zero idea how to defend the three-point line this worries me.  It's not like these guys can't get hot:  Jones averages 17 points a game and hit 4 of 5 three-point attempts the last time out against Princeton and Galloway is the hot-shot freshman who averages 10 a game and hit 4-of-5 from three against Rutgers.  What if they're both hot?  You know they're going to get open looks, and you know we've mediocre three-point shooters light it up when they're open already this year against the Gophers (Ferry, Wroblewski, Farrakhan, Joe Harris, Clarence Jackson, etc.).  Scary.  And I didn't even mention Daryus Quarles, a freshman who doesn't shoot a ton but went 4-for-5 against Norfolk State from behind the line and is shooting 50% on the year.

Inside, the Gophers should have the advantage as they will against most teams.  Idris Hilliard is St. Joe's leading post scorer (9.9 per game) and the team's leading rebounder (5.1 per).  He's not going to overwhelm you with his size or strength (6-7, 220), but he's a smart senior player who knows where his strengths lie and isn't going to start wandering about the perimeter.

Of more interest is freshman center C.J. Aiken, considered one of the top freshmen centers in the country coming into the year.  He's played fine for a frosh (7 pts, 5 rebs per game), but has mostly made his mark defensively with 3.5 blocks per game.  Ralphie boy better bring his A-game, because if he gets a couple shots swatted I can see him shutting down for the night.  Not that Trevor Mbakwe and the rest of the offense shouldn't have their way with St. Joe's, but if that's so obviously the case then why am I so nervous?

Really, there's very little reason to worry about this game.  St. Joe's is a bad, bad, bad, bad team.  However the Gopher shortcomings on the perimeter open the door a crack for any team to step through, as we saw against both Virginia and Cornell, and being on the road for the first time all season is always an interesting adventure, and this team doesn't strike me as particularly mentally tough.  And what happens if Aiken gets the best of Sampson early?  So many things can go wrong.  I wish this game wasn't on the schedule.

Minnesota 69, St. Joe's 65

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