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Vanderbilt pregame

Minnesota plays their final non-conference game against a major conference opponent Saturday when they face Vanderbilt (3-3) at the Sanford Pentagon.

The Storyline

Saturday in Sioux Falls is about two things: 1) rebounding from Monday’s loss at Florida State and learning from mistakes made in that game, and 2) giving all of the southwestern Minnesota, northwestern Iowa, and South Dakota Gopher graduates and alums a chance to watch their team in a cool basketball environment.

The Sanford Pentagon Basketball complex is a one of a kind facility that combines basketball history and culture, with today’s modern game.  The old school clock, advertisements, and floor mix with the big screen monitors and outstanding luxury suites to form an incredible place to watch basketball.  Make sure to get there early to walk around the lower and upper concourse just to see the basketball museum like qualities of the building (inside and out actually).

Vanderbilt has entered a new ear of basketball moving on from 17 year coach Kevin Stallings and hiring Bryce Drew from Valpo.  The Commodores improved to 4-3 on the year Tuesday when then defeated Tennessee State 83-59.  Vandy has also beaten Belmont, Norfolk State, and Santa Clara but has lost to Marquette (95-71), Bucknell (75-72), and Butler (76-66).

Junior guard Matthew Fisher-Davis leads Vandy in scoring (15.3 a game). He’s off to a great start shooting at the arc after leading the SEC in three point shooting as a sophomore.  Seven-foot-1 senior center Luke Kornet has made great strides in the last two years and he comes into the contest with 14 points, six boards, and two blocks. 

Finally, junior guard Riley LaChance is a Wisconsin born player that Minnesota recruited but he’s been a shooting guard at Vandy before moving over to lead guard this year because of the NBA departure of Wade Baldwin.  LaChance is scoring ten a game with four plus assists so far shooting an outstanding percentage (59% field goal, made 18 of 26 treys) and has a 4.3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio.  His problems have come more on the defensive end.

Minnesota expects to play game eight of the season fully healthy.  Reggie Lynch started last Monday after missing last week’s Southern Illinois game because of an ankle injury.  Freshman Amir Coffey remains Minnesota’s leader in scoring (14.6), steals, and is second in field goal percentage (49.3%).  Amir is one of four Gophers averaging in double figures along with Nate Mason (12.7), Dupree McBrayer (11.4), and Jordan Murphy (10.1).

The Numbers

Looking over the Gopher statistical numbers so far and comparing them with off-season stories (where I predicted stat lines) this is where the guys compare so far:

Amir Coffey: scoring way more than I expected, rebounding less than expected, everything else is what I expected number wise.  Amir has simply had a bigger impact on the college game right away than I thought. 

Nate Mason: shooting percentages are not as high as people have hoped for so his points per game is about one make less than expected.  Nate’s rebounding well as a guard and his assist to turnover ration remains solid (2.2 to 1).

Dupree McBrayer:  His minutes, scoring, assists, and boards are about what was expected.  He’s shooting better from the field (49 percent overall which is great as a guard, 39% at the arc) but is struggling from the free throw line (56.5%).

Jordan Murphy:  Foul trouble has him playing 25 minutes a game and he’s scoring less than we expected (at 10.1 pg).  Rebounds are solid at 7.6 a night but he’s struggling to score over length so his frontcourt shooting percentage of 46.6 is low and he’s had trouble at the foul line (54.8%).

Reggie Lynch: Playing 20 minutes a game, averaging about 9 points, seven boards, and three blocks a game.  That is about what we expected for the season although you would like him to play closer to 23-24 minutes a game on average. But he used to average 17 minutes a game because of fouls so that’s improved.

Eric Curry: In 25 minutes a contest Eric is giving 7.7 points and 7.3 rebounds a night.  That is much more than I expected from him.  Nice start although he needs to shooting a higher percentage in the paint  (42% so far).

Akeem Springs:  In 19 minutes a contest he’s giving 7.3 points and 3.6 rebounds.  I thought Akeem would play a few more minutes and average 9-10 points.  I think he can come close to that if he continues to play hard and take the right shots.  That is happening now, but he did some wild things early in the year.

Ahmad Gilbert: Seven minutes a game Gilbert is scoring a three a contest and has made 7 of 15 treys.  This is close to what I thought he would do when I did his preview.

Bakary Konate:  In 6.7 minutes a contest he is giving the team 2.6 points, 2.3 boards, and a block.  I’m surprised he isn’t closer to 10-11 minutes a game and I think he needs to be as the Gophers will need to keep bigger bodies on big bodies when Lynch is playing only 20 minutes a contest.

Michael Hurt:  Got his first DNP on Monday and hasn’t made a three yet.  He’s a freshman so you have to give it time (McBrayer missed 24 of his first 26 college treys) but I thought he would be getting more minutes.

Kornet will be the biggest player on the floor and next to him will be the versatile 6-foot-6 Jeff Roberson who can play four spots and do some of everything.  LaChance is 6-foot-2, Fisher-Davis is 6-foot-5 on the wing, and either Payton Willis or Nolan Cressler who are both 6-foot-4.  Willis plays point guard so when he’s in the game LaChance can go back to playing some two.

Vanderbilt’s starting group is 6-2, 6-4, 6-5, 6-6, and 7-1 and it will go against Minnesota’s 6-2, 6-4, 6-8, 6-6, and 6-9.  Vandy will be bigger up front in the first five while Coffey gives the Gophs a size edge on the wing as usual.  Vandy will use 6-foot-10 freshman Djery Baptiste to spell Kornet and 6-foot-8 Camron Justice to spell Roberson although neither will play more than a dozen minutes.

Vandy is an excellent three point shooting team that has made 41-42 percent of their treys.  They allowed Marquette to score 95 points, when Vandy lost to Butler they turned the ball over 16 times and made only 7 of 22 treys, and when Bucknell upset Vandy in Nashville they allowed 51 percent field goal shooting from a mid/low major program.

The Match-Ups

The Gophers need to get Jordan Murphy going and the way to do that is getting him a couple deep post isolations, by running a couple sets that result in him cutting, receiving, and scoring (an alley-opp fits), and by moving the ball more so off ball workers like Jordan can cut into space. 

This is all easier said then done against Roberson who is one of the best defenders in the SEC.  Not to mention Robertson is so versatile he can step out to the arc and hit threes, he can push the ball, and of course at 230 pounds he can score around the basket.  It’s another tough match-up for Murphy this week against a versatile player.

Inside the Gophers need Reggie Lynch on the court to go against Luke Kornet.  Kornet plays 26 minutes a game and most of that time Richard Pitino will want Lynch on him.  When Lynch is sitting Bakary Konate needs to give his team good defensive minutes against Kornet.  As good as Eric Curry has been he’s better suited to be defending Jeff Roberson and Clevon Brown than he is Kornet (Kornet is four inches and 35 pounds bigger than Curry).

Kornet had some off-season surgery to his knee so he and Lynch have off-season surgeries keeping them off the summer floor in common. Kornet is a skilled face-up guy who only became a deep post threat consistently last year. 

This needs to be one of Lynch’s best games in terms of discipline.  Reggie has to A) do not sell out for fakes, B) help over at intelligent times and don’t take excessive gambles helping over, and C) needs to move his feet and stay down with Kornet all over the court.  Reggie is a great shot blocker not just because of size and agility, but because of his timing.  If he stays disciplined the Gophs can limit Kornet.

Riley LaChance is a guard that Minnesota zeroed in on before Nate Mason three summers back.  Gopher fans should be excited because while LaChance is a smart passer and an excellent shooter he has been a very poor defender much of his career.  Mason should be able to get into space consistently.  Once in that space Mason has to take the right shots as he should get several high percentage looks, the key is just not to force the issue too often.  I would expect Mason to be down hill to the rim a lot but he needs to also defend ball screens better the other way and limit LaChance.

It will be interesting to see who defends Matthew Fisher-Davis from Minnesota.  This is one of the best shooters in the south although Fisher-Davis has a history of being extremely hot, or extremely chill.  If you can get chase him around screens well and get a hand up to bother him early, you can potentially bother him for the rest of the game.   Does Pitino go with McBrayer here, or with Coffey? 

Prediction

Judging on the records you would look to Minnesota as a favorite.  Also, the Gophers have not been very good defensively in rotation at times but they are improved with ball screens.  I think they can defend Vanderbilt IF they play a more disciplined halfcourt game.  If they do, they will win.  Vanderbilt is good defensively in the frontcourt but poor through much of their backcourt.

Coming into the game I feel like Minnesota has a backcourt edge but Vanderbilt has the edge up front.  Can Lynch, Curry, and Murphy step up and outplay Kornet and Roberson?  Can Minnesota’s backcourt limit the excellent Vandy shooting?  Minnesota will score on Vanderbilt but there are a lot of factors here.  I think the difference is Minnesota will be motivated after the FSU loss and win by two scores.

Minnesota 77 Vanderbilt 73


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