The potential record of 12-1. For Minnesota. Nobody would of expected it coming into the year but now it’s a very realistic goal, if the Gophers can be focused and not get upset by their December opponents. Challenges are still present as Northern Illinois and Arkansas State have some talent plus tonight’s opponent NJIT has one of the top scorers in the nation, Damon Lynn a 5-foot-11 senior guard.
Damon is scoring 23 points per game shooting 91.5 percent from the foul line on 47 attempts and 40 percent at the arc on 101 attempts (takes 11-12 treys a game). NJIT is 5-4 on the season with wins over Colgate, Idaho State, and St. Francis among others. They’ve lost to Utah State (84-93), Lafayette in overtime (by a single point), Georgia State (53-74), and Purdue (68-79).
The Gophers are coming off a 56-52 win over Vanderbilt that wasn’t pretty but it was a win over another major conference team (a team that’s expected to be top five in the SEC). Jordan Murphy exploded for 16 points and 14 rebounds and was the lone Gopher in double figures although Amir Coffey took over late with key scores. Reggie Lynch took just three shots but blocked six shots and limited Luke Kornet to a dozen points on 4 of 18 shooting.
Damon Lynn is the NJIT lead guard (5-11) and he starts with guard Tim Coleman (a 6-foot-5 senior), guard Osa Izevbuwa (a 230 pound senior), guard Rob Ukawuba (a 6-foot-4 guard), and 6-foot-10, 225 pound sophomore center Abdul Lewis. NJIT plays those four guards with a center and then brings another three 6-foot-4/6-foot-6 wings off the bench along with backcourt center Mohamed Bendary and all will play between 11 and 16 minutes a game.
Purdue was only up 37-34 on NJIT half. Why? Because they couldn’t stop Damon Lynn. The explosive scoring guard hit eight treys for the game, made 10 of 18 shots total, and scored 33 points against the Boilermakers. The rest of the four starters shot a dreadful 7 of 27 for the game so Lynn didn’t get much help (although Chris Jenkins did play well off the bench). Purdue turned NJIT over 17 times and beat them 37-25 on the glass.
NJIT is a good rebounding team as they are a plus three on average on the season. Abdul Lewis pulls down seven a game at the center spot. Tim Coleman is an interesting talent averaging 14.6 points a game shooting 37% at the arc, grabbing seven boards a contest, and leading the team in blocks despite being listed as a guard.
So how is Minnesota going to defend Damon Lynn? First off they must find him in transition. Lynn will catch a pass in transition and quickly launch without hesitation so Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer must get back and locate him instantly. Lynn also pulls quickly off ball screens going left off the screen and then shooting while the defense tries to chase over, go under, or help over. Also, NJIT will dribble pitch or dribble hand off to him often so the Gophs need to have a special rule or a consistent plan of attack for that. To be honest he will pull from anyplace on the floor.
Watching film of NJIT they’ve played a lot of zone in games, especially against Purdue. One thing that I’ve thought all year is that despite not being a great three point shooting team, Minnesota would be a tough team to zone against because of their interior passing, explosive backside potential scorers, and athletes that can attack gaps off reversals.
If NJIT continues with the zone expect a lot of Jordan Murphy, Eric Curry, and Reggie Lynch flashing high post and looking high low. The key to beating the zone is ball movement and if the Gophs get smart ball movement they will kill a zone because of the high-low looks, the flashing cuts to the free throw line area that open the floor, and the attacks off reversals. Not to mention its tough for wings to block out Murphy, Curry, and Amir Coffey on the backside.
This is a game where you could see Minnesota go smaller for the first time in a long time. Why? NJIT plays a five out offense often with the big starting mid-lane or high and setting high ball screens. Reggie Lynch and Bakary Konate will be needed to defend ball screens constantly. Abdul Lewis will get some deep post touches but he hasn’t been very good with them at all and he’s the only low post threat. This is a game where Pitino could go with Eric Curry on the floor as the five more often than he has recently.
The Gophers will need all of their wings and forwards to defend at a high level away from the basket. Tim Coleman is coming off a player of the week level pair of performances so Murphy and Curry have another strong and versatile but undersized player to defend.
On the other end Minnesota should score and should score often as long as they move the ball intelligently. And if they play the ball screens with energy and discipline they will force 18-19 turnovers and get several open floor buckets.
I pretty much started predicting this game already as I believe that Minnesota will pick apart the NJIT zone will ball movement and activity, I believe they will force several turnovers and get open floor shots, and I don’t believe Lynn will shoot the percentage he wants to keep this game close. If Minnesota plays with low energy and a lack of discipline this game will be close but if they move the ball, be patient with their attack, and defend with energy they win by 20 plus.
Minnesota 82 NJIT 61