Excellent win for our Golden Gophers over the weekend, beating Richmond 74-59 on the road. Winning a road game against a quality opponent. I'm not sure where exactly where Richmond will land this year - currently in the top 100 in RPI (mostly meaningless right now) and they did beat Belmont who just beat North Carolina (although the transitive property is mostly worthless outside of math). In any case, beating a decent mid-major on the road is always a positive sign, and closing with a 19-2 run after trailing in the second half is an excellent sign for a team that wasn't known as the type of team that often battled back when the chips were down in the past. I won't comment on individual players since the game conveniently wasn't on TV, but it's nice to see that Malik Smith hit a few threes (3-7) and the Hollins brothers are just pure studs.
Up next is Coastal Carolina, and although the ratings say they're pretty terrible (kenpom has them at 242) they've played a couple of decent teams pretty tightly this year and they do present a new type of challenge to the Gophers than they've seen so far. The Chanticleers (mmmmm......pizza) are 1-2 so far with their sole win over non D-I Guilford, but their two losses were both close games to teams with tournament aspirations (72-63 vs. Akron, 72-70 vs. Ole Miss). It's a tough team to get a true read on right now - are they an upper tier low-major squad or just more schedule fodder - but they will present a new challenge: defense, and big men.
So far every team the Gophers have played has the same basic profile: decent guards, zero big men with experience/skills, slow paced, and middling or worse defense. Coastal Carolina lost both their excellent guards from last year's team, has plenty of returning size, is known for their defense, and is always looking to speed things up. Should be interesting. Maybe.
Not to say the Chanticleers don't have any guards, given that their top 3 scorers so far this year are perimeter players in freshman Elijah Wilson (15.0 ppg), returnee Warren Gillis (11.0 ppg), and Juco transfer Josh Cameron (9.3 ppg). Coach Cliff Ellis usually ends up with an offense dominated by guards, and despite the new faces this year is no exception. The three dominate the shot attempts put up by the team, although none of them shoot the ball particularly well. None of the three have an effective fg% greater than 44%, and combined they've shot 9-35 from three this year. Expect these three to shoot early and often, but as you could imagine when your three main shooters are not very good at shooting, Coastal Carolina's offense has been downright putrid this year (ranked #317 in offensive efficiency).
Where the Chanticleers can make things interesting is on the defensive end. They like to play a 1-2-1-1 full court defense that creates turnovers, and it's something that works - they rank 75th in the country in creating turnovers this season after ranking 61st last year. They have four players ranked in the top 330 in the country in steal percentage, so it'll be imperative the Gophers take care of the basketball and probably that Maverick stays off the floor altogether. The Gophers have done well taking care of the basketball so far this season, a welcome change, but this will be their first true test against a team looking to create turnovers.
One major advantage the Gophers have had against their opponents this year is rebounding, as they've basically been crushing teams on the boards. That may change against CC, who held their own with Akron and actually out rebounded Ole Miss, which isn't easy to do when you're throwing up a whole mess of bricks when you try to shoot. The Chanticleers rebound hard as a group, with five guys averaging 4.7 boards per game or more, and what's more interesting to me is that there are several big guys who get limited minutes but manage to put up decent rebounding numbers. Against a bigger team like Minnesota, these guys may get more of a chance. 6-10 El Hadji Ndienguene (7.3 rpg) and 6-5 Michael Enanga (5.3 rpg) are the main big guys, but look for 6-5 Colton Ray-St. Cyr (5prg in 18 mins), 6-7 Tristian Curtis (5.0 rpg in 13 mins), 6-8 Uros Ljeskovic (3.0 rpg in 10 mins), and 6-10 Kyle Buffkin (2.0 rpg in 9 mins) to all get some run. Ndienguene (6.3 ppg) and Enanga (9.3 ppg) are the only real offensive threats out of the group and both shoot a very high percentage, although they don't get a chance to shoot much. Enanga can step out and hit the three.
It's an interesting match-up and a fun one, just because this game should look significantly different than any of the others the Gophers have played. Both teams will look to speed the game up and create turnovers, and both are capable, but the main difference is Carolina turns the ball over a ton all on their own, while the Gophers have handled themselves well this year. I expect the difference in turnovers will more than make up for any loss of extra rebounding possessions due to the Chanticleers size, and unless those three guards suddenly get hot the Gophers should be able to handle this game without too much difficulty, and it should be fun to watch.
Minnesota 90, Coastal Carolina 68
BRING ON CIRCUS BALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!