I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this because High Point is terrible and the NIT is the NIT and there's a lot of gambling and game picking going on this time of year and my time is better spent on that, but I will do a preview because then I can tweet it out and people can remember that this blog exists and I didn't die and I was just on vacation.
Anyway, High Point is terrible. They did go 12-4 in the Big South, but the Big South was not very good this year even by Big South standards, with kenpom ranking it 29th out of 32 conferences. Yuck. The Panthers totaled four wins outside of the Big South and two of them were to non D-I teams. They had losses to terrible James Madison and terrible Morgan State, and lost to Georgetown by 35, Arkansas by 41, and were dropped by a stunning 28 points by Wofford. They did win 10 of their final 11 regular season games before losing in their first conference tournament game, and that included a 3-point road win at Coastal Carolina - who made it to the NCAAs. So maybe they just hit a slow start and are putting it altogether at the right time. Or maybe their just the best of a bad lot.
The Panthers are pretty terrible defensively, giving up 1.12 points per possession, one of the worst marks in the country. Their mainly a zone team from what I can tell, but teams absolutely lit them up hitting 35% from three and 54% from 2, the latter putting them in the bottom 20 in the entire country in that metric, and the former not much better. They have a couple of decent shot blockers in 6-9 John Brown (more on him later) and 6-5 Devante Wallace, but obviously given that 2pt % number they didn't do much to deter scoring. Worth noting that teams take a large percentage of their field goal attempts from behind the arc against High Point, and given not much turnover creation I'd assume the zone is more saggy than pressure-y. They also rebound like crap on both sides of the ball.
The offense is better, tallying 1.05 points per possession, slightly above the national average, and mainly that's because of Brown. He's a versatile big man who can post up or step out and hit the mid range jumper (not a 3-point threat) to the tune of 19.5 points per game on 54% shooting, although it's worth noting that he failed to break double digits against Arkansas, Georgetown, or Syracuse. He also grabs 8 boards per game and chips in 2 assists, 1.5 steals, and 2 blocks. He ranks in the top 500 in every kenpom metric other than assist rate, although his 14.4% is awfully good for a post player who shoots as often as he does (Austin Hollins is 14.8% and Dre Hollins is 16.8%, for comparison). He's an awesome player against low-mid major defenses, but hasn't proved it against a big time team. Hopefully the Gophers' shreddable defense doesn't give him that chance.
Two other double digits scorers join Brown in Wallace (12.4ppg) and 6-3 guard Adam Weary (11.9ppg). Wallace is a good shot blocker as referenced above and is second on the team in rebounding (4.6ppg) so I'm going to assume he's a pretty good athlete, but his best skill might be his three point shooting. Wallace took a team high five attempts per game, and ended up on the year making exactly 50% of them. He got better and more aggressive as the season went along, with 4+ makes in seven of the team's final 15 games. It would be a good move to not let him get hot. Weary is coming off an ankle injury and the game against the Gophers will be just his third game back after missing five, and he's scored just five and nine points in those two. There was a chunk of games where he scored 20+ in four of six in the middle of the season, and he scored 14+ in three straight before the injury. It'd be better if he's still hurt a little.
The rest of the team is balanced with six other guys getting at least double digit minutes. Lorenzo Cugini, who I bet is Italian, is probably the best of the bunch and can knock down some threes. Anthony Lindauer is a three point specialist. Jorge Perez-Laham is a pretty good point guard when he's on the floor. Cliff Cornish has some size although he doesn't play much, though he most likely will against the Gophers. He's a good shot blocker. High Point would be better but they caught a bad break when Allan Chaney had to retire due to heart problems - he was averaging 15.4 points and 8.6 rebounds at the time. You can read more about it here if you'd like.
Basically High Point won the Big South regular season title so if the Gophers come out flat or play poorly they are certainly capable of winning. But they shouldn't. The Gophers should win this game with relative ease, but the NIT is a weird animal because you never know how a team will perform because the mental state can be anywhere from pumped to keep playing to bummed to be in the NIT so who cares. I think the Gophers, with a first year coach and low expectations for the season, will be up for this one.
Minnesota 77, High Point 57