Thursday, December 9, 2010

Game Preview: Minnesota Gophers vs. Eastern Kentucky Colonels

Another bad team makes the trek to the Barn to take on your beloved Minnesota Gophers, this time in the form of the Eastern Kentucky Colonels, an Ohio Valley squad that comes in at 5-4 on the year, although that winning record is a bit misleading.  Since I just had a rather large, fancy meal (appetizers = meat & cheese plates, calamari with roaster red peppers (best calamari I've ever had), salad = romaine, red apple, red onion with a gorgonzola dressing (outstanding), main course = pan-seared swordfish (mushy texture and underseasoned, quite subpar, dessert = 20-year tawny port (tasty) so I don't have a ton of time to bang this out, so let's just hit the most important parts.  According to, they have played nearly the worst schedule of any D-I team this year, and those two wins include games against two non D-I schools with "Christian" in the name, with Indiana State the only recognizable school in the bunch.  They also have registered losses against TX-Pan American (ranked #302) and Presbyterian (#296), the same team that got beat by 40 against Vanderbilt.
On the flip side, however, their only game against a decent team was against Murray State and they played well, falling 74-72, so they do have some fight in them and that mainly comes from their offense.  They are an above average offensive team, mainly due to good shooting (uh oh) and their ability to get to the line - they rank 15th in the country in Free throw attempts per field goal attempt.  They do turn the ball over often (232nd) and don't get offensive rebounds (287th) so they could struggle to get shots and if they get one it better go in.

Of course, the Gophers' biggest weakness has been when an opponent gets hot, and the Colonels have some candidates to do just that.  Five players average between 8.8 and 12.9 points per game, and their best player, Justin Stommes, hasn't even hit his stride yet after being suspended for the team's first three games for a violation of team rules.  Stommes is a 6-7 wing who plays like a point guard, distributing (led the team in assists both this year and last), driving (led the team in free throw attempts and makes last year), and shooting (42% from three both last year and this year).  To add to that, he's from Cold Spring, MN so you know this is going to be a big game for him.  Even if he's only the fifth leading scorer this year, he was the leader last year and he is absolutely the guy the Gophers have to watch out for.  And don't forget about that pesky super accurate from three-point land thing.  Not that that could ever hurt the Gophers.

Along with Stommes, four other guys can score the basketball with regularity:  guards Willie Cruz (9.9 pg), Josh Daniel (11.9), and Joshua Jones (10.0) and forward Spencer Perrin (12.9).  Daniel (41%) and Jones (46%) are excellent three-point shooters, as is guard Jeff Allgood (41%) off the bench.  As you could have guessed, they shoot an excellent percentage from three as a team and use it as a major weapon in their offense - so yes, there is reason to be nervous.  They have a lot of shooters to cover, and a guy like Stommes is going to be able to penetrate and find them open looks.  I have a feeling the Colonels are going to score a respectable amount of points.

The good news is EKU is an absolutely brutal defensive team, ranking 292nd in overall defensive efficiency and they've put up those kind of awful numbers against terribly bad opponents, so the Gophers should be able to score more.  They can't cover the three (teams actually shoot just as well against them as against Minnesota) so Blake Hoffarber and Devoe Joseph should have open looks, and their overall lack of size means that Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson should have plenty of chances in the paint.  Freshman Jeff Johnson (6-8, 228lbs) and sophomore Ruud de Jong (6-9, 245) are the only players with any real size, and de Jong hasn't played this year and may still not be playing - I can't find anything definitive.

So, in summary, EKU will turn it over but will also score some points, both at the line and behind the three-point stripe, but when they miss the won't get many second chances, while on the other end the Gophers should have open shots all day by dumping it in to the big guys and either letting them go to work or having them kick it out for open jumpshots, and then should be able to crash the glass to rebound their misses.  Sounds like an easy win for the Gophers, but it all depends on if they actually go to the bigs and just how many threes the Colonels can make.  To say my faith has been shaken is an understatement.  Gophers grab the win to secure a sweep of directional Kentucky schools, but it's going to be closer than it should be:

Minnesota 78, Eastern Kentucky 69.

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