The most important thing is that this is the season opener and that Minnesota will have Nate Mason back from a concussion and outside of the season ending injury to junior Davonte Fitzgerald, they will be fully healthy.
Richard Pitino starts his fourth and most important season as Golden Gopher Head Coach and he needs to have a year that will satisfy the fans of the University. After winning just eight games last season no opponent can be taken lightly.
Louisiana-Lafayette is one of four Sun Belt teams that the Gophers will face this year. The Ragin’ Cajuns graduated last year’s league player of the year Shawn Long as well as second leading scorer Kasey Shepherd.
The Ragin’ Cajuns do return three starters in Johnathan Stove (a 6-foot-4, 224 pound junior guard), Jay Wright (a 6-foot-1 senior point guard), and Bryce Washington (6-foot-6, 245 pound power forward) who all averaged between 8-9 points a game last season. Wright led the team in assists while Washington was the second leading rebounder.
On a side note, Louisiana-Lafayette added three D1 transfers for next year getting JaKeenan Gant from Mizzou, Malik Marquetti from USC, and Marcus Stroman from South Carolina. That does nothing for this year but help in practice and eat at their depth as they will only have ten guys on scholarship to use max.
Louisiana-Lafayette has had one scrimmage and that was with West Florida who they beat 94-72 (the Argonauts are a D2 team that went 7-19 last season). The game was a turnover filled, ugly shooting disaster with 39 turnovers (L-L had 19) and combined 9 of 46 three-point shooting (L-L made 6 of 21).
Washington was dominant with 25 points and a dozen boards in 25 minutes time and all of his attempts were around the basket. Stove had tough night making 1 of 7 threes and turning the ball over five times but the physical wing scored 13. BYU transfer Frank Bartley (6-foot-3, 240 pound junior wing) gave the team 13 points.
The Ragin’ Cajuns started 6-foot-1 at guard (Wright), 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-4 on the wing (Bartley and Stove), and with two 6-foot-6 frontcourt players (Washington and 222 pound freshman Jerekius Davis). They do bring 6-foot-11 junior college transfer Larenz Stalcup off the bench but he only played 13 minutes. Stalcup had a good showing though with eight points and six boards on four attempts.
What Minnesota needs is more shooting of course. They scored 50 points in the paint against Bemidji State and another 19 from the foul line meaning only 14 of their 83 came on jumpshots (a three from Ahmad Gilbert, two Dupree McBrayer jumpers, and a pair of threes from Michael Hurt). They must shoot better than 4 of 19 from the arc and not go the first 19 minutes without making a jump shot.
Where can you look for shooting? McBrayer scored 18 points and that included a pull-up jumper and a three. He should improve there plus Michael Hurt’s second half treys should push him to take a couple more shots. Nate Mason back will of course help and then there is senior Akeem Springs. If Akeem gives them something half as good as the seven threes made against DePaul in the scrimmage, things will be great. On the other hand, he had 0 for 5 shooting donuts in both the Maroon/Gold scrimmage and the Beaver victory.
Get used to me saying this because it will be my go to line all year, Minnesota will only go as far as their team defense can take them. Sure the nine man rotation has six underclassmen, and the team needs to shoot better, and they need to stay out of foul trouble, but team defense will be everything.
Richard Pitino has assembled one of the most athletic, long, and laterally agile teams we’ve seen at Minnesota in some time. They have the ability to be an excellent defensive team pressuring above the halfcourt line and defending inside the arc. But will they be good? How Coach Pitino gets them defending will tell the story of the season because if they are turning defensive boards and turnovers into quick pushes the other way getting high percentage shots will be much easier.
I don’t see how the Ragin Cajuns can deal with Minnesota up front. They are shorter and not as explosive as Jordan Murphy, Reggie Lynch, and Eric Curry. Yes Washington is a bull and based on the way that Bemidji State’s Ben Best scored on Murphy and others, Washington will get his numbers. But Louisiana-Lafayette should not be able to keep this Gopher frontcourt from another 50 points in the paint.
The experienced lead guard match-up is Nate Mason against Jay Wright. Mason is a low turnover rate guy while Wright had a 1.5 to 1 assist to turnover ratio as a junior. Mason and the Gopher guards should be able to turn Wright over plus he’s not a good shooter (37% from the field last year, 34% at the arc, 61% at the foul line).
Watch four things closely: 1) Minnesota’s team defense, 2) what will the Gophs get for perimeter shooting, 3) can Lynch and Murphy stay away from fouls, and 4) what will the rotation look like?
Minnesota will be as motivated for this opener as they’ve been in awhile. Sure the Louisville game a couple years back was big, but this is a different type of motivation. The Gophers will have something to prove against everybody they face. There will be rocky times tonight but the Gophers will get this game by 24 points.
Minnesota 87 Louisiana Lafayette 63