Minnesota is coming of a very important 17 point victory over UT-Arlington, a team that many pick to win the Sun Belt Conference and make noise in the NCAA Tournament. The hometown Gophers were only favored by three, the local pundits predicted a loss, and we at GI thought it would be a ten point win with a late surge. We were all wrong.
The Gophers exploded with a 28-3 second half run fueled by an outstanding defensive effort. Minnesota had six guys in double figures led by 14 points from Reggie Lynch. Now they get ready for Mount St. Mary.
The Mountaineers have put forth one of the most difficult starts to a season that you could imagine. They begin their year with nine road games that includes five major conference programs and two excellent mid-major teams. Mount St. Mary has already lost by 28 to West Virginia and 18 at Iowa State. Minnesota is their next road game and this is a team that was 14-19 last year and had their best player BK Ashe transfer to Longwood University.
Six-foot sophomore guard Elijah Long has had a nice start to the season with 16.5 points per game attacking the cup to score his ten field goals as well as 11 of 12 foul shots. Long is getting help from 6-foot-4 East Carolina transfer Greg Alexander and 6-foot-5 freshman Miles Wilson who are also scoring in double figures.
The Mountaineers have high expectations for returning all league 5-foot-5 junior guard Junior Robinson (featured in the video at the bottom of the page) but Robinson has made just 3 of 21 shots through two games thus far. Also, 6-foot-6 senior shooter Will Miller is just 2 for 9 this year and 6-foot-9, 235 pound sophomore Mwado Sallah has made just 1 of 9 shots in 41 minutes of play so far.
“The Mount”, as they are nicknamed, have had a lot of trouble finishing possessions. They shot 35 percent against West Virginia and 26 percent in Ames, Iowa. The Mountaineers were hammered on the glass 45-32 by the WV Mountaineers plus turned the ball over 21 times against Bob Huggins team. The Cyclones outworked them on the glass 50-38 and outran them for 16 points while Mount St. Mary’s scored zero points in transition in Ames.
Numbers to Like (Gophers): Dupree McBrayer hitting 11 of his first 18 shots this year, Nate Mason with 14 assists to 6 turnovers (26 to 7 if you count the DePaul mock game), Gopher bigs (Lynch, Eric Curry, Jordan Murphy) shooting a combined 22-26 at the foul line, holding opponents to 35 percent shooting.
Numbers to Improve (Gophers): Minnesota’s end of the season three-point shooting total is not going to rank very high. They have made 14 of 48 so far for a mark of 29.2 percent. I would say that a goal of 33 percent would be good for them. Mason (8 of 22), Murphy (5 of 16), Amir Coffey (6 of 16), and Akeem Springs (3 of 14) all need to shoot better. And as good as Dupree has been during live play, his foul shooting is ugly (3 of 8).
Minnesota isn’t a top 25 team like the Cyclones and West Virginia but they still have some quality edges matching up.
Junior Robinson had a lot of trouble scoring over bigger guards in the first pair of games and Nate Mason needs to keep his struggles going. Mason and the Gophs had trouble with 5-foot-8 Erick Neal’s speed in the first half on Monday but once Mason locked in defensively the team shut Neal down.
Robinson is not quite the player that Neal is and is off to a difficult start. Minnesota needs to lock in defensively earlier this evening and be prepared for his ball pressure. Mason ended with 13 points, seven boards, and seven assists against two turnovers facing the small, quick Neal and Minnesota should look for something similar this evening. With maybe improved shooting numbers (4-12 on Monday).
The aggressive Elijah Long has faced high major athletes twice already this year and had success. Long is playing as an undersized two next to Robinson and finding ways to get to the cup. Reggie Lynch needs to send him a message early with his rim protection while Dupree McBrayer and Akeem Springs need to move their feet with Long and cut off his attack. Back the other way McBrayer is ultra confident and his numbers should continue.
The Gophers have a massive edge up front in talent, production, and momentum of play. The Mountaineers have often went small with a combo of Alexander, Wilson, and Miller on the floor at the forwards and these guys are all in the 6-foot-5/6-foot-6 200 pound range. They then play next to Sallah who has struggled as has 6-foot-8 200 pound junior Chris Wray who is the starting power forward but is playing less than half the game.
Minnesota is piling up the points inside with Curry, Lynch, and Murphy all building to double-double area numbers. I would expect each of them to have good nights once again as physically The Mount doesn’t have the players to compete with them. Tonight would be a good night for Lynch to play more than 20 minutes and stay away from fouls, Murphy to shoot around 60+ percent, Curry to give what he has, and it would be a good night to see Bakary Konate come off the bench and play well in about ten minutes as I think they will need him at times this year.
I believe the Gopher win over Texas-Arlington will give them confidence but how will they handle it? Will they look at the box score of previous Mount St. Mary games and not work as hard in half one? Or will they come out and compete defensively like they did in the second half on Monday?
I’ve said it many times over, this season will go as the Gopher halfcourt defense goes. Pitino has to get this group locked in and working hard as a collective unit in team defense and that starts tonight. That’s the first item to watch this evening because if they do that this game will be a blowout. If not, they will be sweating things at times.
Yes you want the Gophers to stay out of foul trouble and shoot better at the arc but Minnesota has a serious physical edge up front and they should exploit that with huge scoring numbers in the paint. They will win by a similar score to what West Virginia did as long as they bring the halfcourt defensive effort early.
Minnesota 84 Mt St. Mary’s 58