Game Outlook: The Gophers enter the Big Ten/ACC Challenge with a 6-0 start and a confidence that fits the record. Unfortunately, Minnesota will have to contend to a variety of injuries to Gopher starters. Starting point guard Al Nolen reportedly has a foot injury that could keep him out until Big Ten play in late December. Small forward Rodney Williams is also being held out of the game due to an ankle sprain suffered in the Gophers' last game against North Dakota State.
Replacing injured or suspended players is nothing new for Minnesota who has had to deal with countless personnel issues over the past few seasons. If the Gophers want to walk away with a win over Virginia, the younger members of the team will need to step up and perform.
Possible good news for the Gophers is the possible return of suspended guard Devoe Joseph. If Joseph returns tonight, Minnesota will have a solid fill-in for Nolen. When Nolen was suspended last season due to academics, Joseph stepped in to play at the point. He does not have the court vision or quick hands on defense like Nolen but is a more proficient scorer. The combination of Blake Hoffarber and Joseph on the floor together could prove to be a deadly combination.
Minnesota's front court will have another size advantage when they faceoff against Virginia. Despite the size difference, the Gophers will need to be wary of dominant forward Mike Scott. One of three seniors on the team, Scott is off to a dominant start this season, averaging 16.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-9, 242-pound forward is a big body who will be a force in the paint. Luckily, the Gophers have a bevy of forwards to throw at Scott in order to stifle the explosive player.
Season to Date: The Cavaliers are off to an inconsistent start thus far. Virginia is 3-3 with an impressive 74-56 victory over the Oklahoma Sooners. Two of their wins have been against inferior opponents, William & Mary and the USC Upstate Spartans. The Cavs' losses on the other hand have been nothing short of routes. They have lost by a combined 76 points in their three losses including a 106-63 domination by Washington.
Coaching Preview: The coaching battle will be an interesting aspect of this game. Virginia boasts 2007 National Coach of the Year, Tony Bennett. Bennett is in his second season as Virginia's coach where he led the Cavs to a 15-16 record last season. Prior to taking the job at Virginia, Bennett coached Washington State for three seasons where he had an impressive 69-33 record including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2008.
Quote to Note:Tubby Smith on giving his reserves a chance to play in light of injuries to various gopher starters: "When you have injuries and you have things happen and you don't have your regular people available to you ... you gotta give them an opportunity so they're confident that they can go in the game to get the job done"
Random Fact: The Cavaliers are one of the youngest teams the Gophers will face. Virginia has an impressive seven freshman on the roster. The struggles the team is facing now are partially due to the youthful team who should improve in future under Bennett.
Series History: Virginia leads the all-time series 3-2. The last time the teams met was in the 2008 Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Gophers won that game by a score of 66-56. Coach Tubby Smith is 1-1 against Virginia and 20-14 against ACC opponents.
24 KT Harrell (6-4, 204, Fr.) - 7.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg
12 Joe Harris (6-6, 202, Fr.) – 9.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg
01 Jontel Evans (5-11, 190, So.) – 7.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg
23 Mike Scott (6-8, 242, Sr.) – 16.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg
22 Will Sherrill (6-9, 226, Sr.) – 6.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg