Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hoops Preview: Gophers vs. Richmond

Now we learn.  Home wins over Lehigh and Montana were nice, but expected even if the final margin were bigger than I had anticipated.  Going to Richmond, a team with NCAA bid aspirations, is going to tell us a lot about this Gopher team right now.  Not just because of the step up in class of the competition, but also the whole first road test thing.  Richmond does sit at 2-0, but neither win was particularly impressive (by 2 over Delaware, by 8 over Belmont) so although the Spiders are the best team the Gophers have seen this year, Minnesota can, and should, win this game.

Richmond only loses one starter from last season's CBI team, but looks significantly different anyway.  The starter they lost was Darien Brothers, their leading scorer, and their top post threat, Derrick Williams (not that Derrick Williams) has been battling injuries most of the season and has been able to play just 15 mostly ineffective minutes per game.  The bench is thin, and, like the other Gopher opponents' main strength lies in their guards.

It starts for the Spiders with Cedrick Lindsay, who's leading the Spiders in points (17.5 per), assists (3.5), and steals (3.0).  He's not much of a three point shooter but will take it when open, but Lindsay scores most of his points creating his own shot, usually a jumper.  Richmond runs a modified Princeton offense, which means a ton of back cuts and off the ball screens, but the guards have a lot of freedom to make something happen on their own and this is what Lindsay will do.  If the Gopher guards can stick on him and not give him high percentage looks it will be tough for Richmond to get anything going.

Also starting on the perimeter for the Spiders are junior shooting guard Wayne Sparrow and likely 6-5 wing Trey Davis.  Sparrow has really stepped up his three point shooting this year with an average of five attempts per game after averaging less than 2 the last two seasons, but unfortunately for Richmond he can't really shoot hitting just 10% this year and 29% last season.  He does rebound well for his position, and overall Richmond is a pretty solid rebounding team.  Davis is good in that regard as well, leading the team with 10 per game.  He's not much of an offensive weapon but if the Gophers forget about him he could kill them on the boards.

Up front with Williams hobbling the job of big guys has fallen to 6-8 sophomore Terry Allen (no not that Terry Allen) who has responded in a big way, averaging 14 & 8 after putting up just 4 & 4 a year ago.  He's quickly developed into one of their go to guys on offense.  Next to him is Alonzo Nelson-Ododa who gives the Spiders a defensive presence.  At 6-9 he's versatile enough to lead the team in blocks with 2.0 per game (and led the team last season at 1.8) and also chips in with 1.5 steals per game.  Like Davis he's not a focal point of their offense, but can get going on the boards and does have the ability to score when necessary.

Speaking of ability to score, Richmond has a major weapon coming in off the bench in 5-8 Kendall Anthony, who is pure instant offense as a sixth man, averaging 11.5 per game this year after putting up 11.5 last season in the same role.  He's very much a chucker who never saw a shot he didn't like, but unlike most players in that mold he also takes very good care of the basketball and rarely turns it over.  He's struggled with his shot a bit this year, but if he gets going he can score a ton of points in a hurray.  He's also Richmond's only really reliable three-point shooter, so it's imperative the Gophers don't let him get going.

The way I see this game happening the biggest key is going to be the Gophers' half court defense.  Richmond doesn't turn the ball over much, so even though the press may create more turnovers than usual odds are that the Spiders will have plenty of opportunities to run their offense.  If Minnesota is able to not get lost on the plethora of back cuts they'll see and can keep the guards out of the lane it'll push Richmond outside and they'll end up shooting a lot of long 2s and three-pointers.  Given that they're not a particularly good shooting team, this is good for the Gophers.  They're also not a good rebounding team, so the Gophers should be able to control the boards.

The alternative is they get shredded by the Princeton offense (wouldn't be the first team that's happened to) and Richmond gets a ton of easy baskets.  The Gophers' offense is good enough against a so-so Princeton defense to still make it a game or even win if this happens, but it's going to be a lot easier and more fun if they can shut down the Spiders.  I'm betting it happens.

Minnesota 71, Richmond 62.

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