Thursday, November 8, 2012

Game 1: Gophers vs. American Preview

The Gophers get started here by taking on the American Eagles (fitting, right?) and although they sound like a complete cupcake they've actually been a pretty decent team for a low-major for years.  They've finished fourth or better in the Patriot League every year since they joined in 2001.   Their RPI last year was a not-horrendous 142.  The year before they were 127.  I mean, yeah, they were always an automatic win for a high major, but they weren't an RPI killer.  At least in the past.  This year may be different, because American will be looking to replace three starters (including their two top scorers).

That's not to say it isn't an interesting team at least.  Unlike most mid-majors they have the size to hang with bigger programs.  They have two centers over 6-10 and 230 lbs., one of whom (Tony Wroblicky) is the team's leading returning rebounder.  They also have PF Stephen Lumpkins back and he should be their best player despite not playing last season.  Yeah, see, in both 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 Lumpkins averaged 13 points and 8 rebounds for the Eagles, but after being drafted as a pitcher by the Royals decided to try his luck at baseball.  Given that the Royals can't develop pitching to save their lives, it did not go well (baseball reference page here) and Lumpkins is back to do what he's better at.

Along with that size, American also returns Daniel Munoz, the Patriot League leader in assists last season.  Although he hasn't been much of a scorer or shooter in his career, he did drastically improve his three point shooting to 44% last season after hitting just 35% the year prior (and 28% before that).   He may have to take on more of a scoring role with those two dudes who scored almost half American's points last year gone, but I don't really know because who the hell knows jack about American, really?

Here's what we do know:  they're going to work their asses off on defense, play slow, and take care of the basketball.  That combination can always make a team dangerous, particularly against a better team that is sluggish and/or not playing in rhythm - you know, like a team trying to work their best player back in after a major injury.  They also have enough size that they won't be overwhelmed in the paint and a very good lead guard who can handle pressure.  That being said, the Gophers are overwhelmingly more talented.  There is no real reason for this to be a game.  I expect American to jump out ahead early like 12-4 or so before the Gophers put the pedal down and lead 30-22 at half before exploding in the second and coming out with a 20+ point victory.

Minnesota 74, American 50.

Close enough, right?

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