Monday, November 17, 2014

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Western Kentucky

For what it's worth, Western Kentucky is the Gophers biggest test at home in the non-conference this season.  So I guess I'll write a preview.  For what it's not worth, the Gophers are favored by 12.5.  This is not exactly a killer slate here.  And despite that spread, this team does have the potential to score an upset.  I'll explain why.

The two best ways to pull of an upset are to slow the game way down and limit the possessions, or to shoot and make an assload of three pointers.  Well, the Hilltoppers aren't really a slow it down team and the Gophers will probably speed them up so that's out, but they do shoot an assload of threes, so that's still in play.  As a matter of fact WKU had three guys shoot over 100 treys last season, and overall 39.7% of their FG attempts were from behind the 3-point line, a number that ranked 39th in the country.  That's about as often as mad bombers Michigan last season, though far less successfully.  

Two of those three gunslingers are back in guards Chris Harrison-Docks (9.9ppg, 36% from three) and T.J. Price (15.5ppg, 36% from three).  They're joined by a third guard in the starting lineup in Trency Jackson, who isn't shy from 3 either (10.2ppg, 32% on 62 three-point attempts) and he'll get more time as their third guard with the departure of that other 3-point shooter guy. Since the Gophers have shown the ability to get torched from three before, this does worry me.  

Of course, there is a dark side to these guards besides the possibility of them combining to shoot 2-18 from 3 in a game.  Check these numbers (per game last year):  Harrison-Docks 2.2 assists, 2.3 turnovers.  Price 1.9 assists, 2.1 turnovers.  Jackson 1.8 assists, 1.8 turnovers.  Those are the Hilltoppers three starting guards combining for 5.9 assists and 6.2 turnover per game.  Gross.  They did beat Austin Peay in the opener (who isn't very good) 77-70 and the three combined 8-15 from three (15-31 overall) with 6 assists (but 8 turnovers) so it looks like not much has changed.  They're gonna bomb, they're not really gonna pass, and they're going to be sloppy.  Hope those three don't get hot, and the rest should take care of itself.

They've got four bigs, but none should be much of a concern.  George Fant, who averaged 13.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game last season, would be but he really struggled against high major opponents this year and Eliason, Walker, and Konate should have the size to overwhelm him at just 6-6 (though at 250 lbs. if he ends up with King on him he could become an issue.  Aleksej Rostov is the muscle (6-10, 225) who fits in well since he's a turnover machine.  Rob Marberry and Justin Johnson are the promising freshmen with good size (both 6-7 to 6-8 and 230-240 lbs.).  Marberry led the team in scoring off the bench last game, and Johnson turned down teams like Auburn, BC, and Providence to stay home and be a Hilltopper.  WKU overall has the size that they won't be overwhelmed, and they rebounded extremely well last year and have the same basic big man core, but their offense in the paint shouldn't be the main scariness.

That, as I said, remains guards who love to shoot and have little to no conscience.  Once chucker is always a little scary just in case he hits that zone.  Three is slightly terrifying.  For both teams.  It's all going to come down to how often the Gophers get WKU to turn it over and how many threes the Hilltoppers hit.  If either team can win both battles this game is all theirs.  Personally, I think it's a split with the Gophers forcing plenty of turnovers, but getting torched behind the arc as well.  Talent wins out:

Minnesota 70, WKU 61.  

[NOTE:  Even though Franklin Delano Pierce threw a scare into St Johns tonight I'm still not doing a preview on Thursday and you can't make me.]

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