For the Gophers it’s all about pushing to that 12-1 goal and keeping their post-season resume without any upset losses. Minnesota has four games to go with Northern Illinois, Arkansas, LUI-Brooklyn, and of course the Eagles tomorrow.
Today in speaking to the media Gopher Head Coach Richard Pitino elaborated on how his team needs to refocus in these next four games after - as he put it - sleep walking through the NJIT game. Pitino also discussed how his team needs to fight around/through screens better and how the bigs have to move better to cut off the ball handler.
Also being talked about is Minnesota in the NCAA Tournament. Yes it’s early but certain websites that predict who is in and who is on the bubble are now including Minnesota in their early predictions. Part of the reasoning for that is they have won all the games they were supposed to and won all their 50-50 games. The Gophers need to stay strong and pick up these last four wins and those projections will continue to include them heading into January.
Georgia Southern seems to have a similar resume on paper to NJIT. The Eagles don’t play like NJIT but Georgia Southern gave a good team a run (NC State), they have a guy ranking with the top scorers nationally (sophomore Ike Smith), and are sitting at .500 (4-4) with wins over low major teams and losses to Mercer, Akron, and Florida Gulf Coast.
Six-foot-4, 195 pound sophomore Ike Smith is scoring his 21.4 points per game in 28 minutes a game shooting 55 percent from the floor on 14 attempts a game. Smith is an 82 percent free throw shooter and a guy who will make about a three a game.
Five-foot-11 point guard Tookie Brown, another sophomore, is averaging 15 points and four assists a contest. Brown is not a good shooter at all (38 percent on his 13-14 shots a contest, 29 percent at the arc even though half his attempts are from the arc) but he creates for others. Six-foot-3 junior Mike Hughes scores 11 a contest but is also struggling from the floor shooting in the low 30s percentage wise.
The Eagles do not turn the ball over much (10 a game) but they will force mistakes from opponents (14-15 turnovers forced on average). Georgia Southern losses the rebound battle by about 1.5 a night and they are struggling as a team from the foul line (64%).
The Eagles stayed with NC State because they didn’t turn the ball over (7), won the rebounding battle (46-44), and forced NC State into a tough shooting night (4-24 at the arc, 42 percent shooting overall). Six different Eagle players grabbed three or more offensive boards in Raleigh and that is what kept them close until the end.
When you think about who should defend Ike Smith the best player on Minnesota right now for this responsibility seems to be senior Akeem Springs. Akeem is similar in size and he’s been the toughest wing defender the Gophers have. Richard Pitino will match-up Amir Coffey and Dupree McBrayer with Smith and Hughes early and while it’s tough to guess who will be on who, I think McBrayer is likely better for Smith right away. The best match-up though will be Springs on Smith.
Up front Georgia Southern starts 6-foot-8, 210 pound Shawn O’Connell and 6-foot-8, 235 pound Montae Glenn. Neither is a true center but O’Connell is the four man and Glenn the low post five. The team’s best rebounder is Coye Simmons who is 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds. Simmons comes off the bench as he’s extremely limited offensively.
O’Connell is an energy guy who gave the Eagles a lot of momentum with backside explosive baskets against NC State. He’s a guy Jordan Murphy and Eric Curry have to be focused on behind the play. Up front Reggie Lynch should dominate the match-up with Glenn and Simmons as long as he stays out of foul trouble.
This is a game I believe that Murphy should be able to have big double-double numbers if he plays with energy. O’Connell’s length could be difficult and he’s fairly agile but if Jordan can get a foul or two on him it could be a big night for a Gopher that needs a big night.
Tookie Brown is the playmaker for the team at point. Nate Mason is coming off a great game defensively against Damon Lynn and if he can give the same performance the Gophers will be in great shape. Mason stepped up in key spots on Friday and made clutch plays.
I thought the Gophers would hammer NJIT but they slept walk. If Minnesota sleep walks again with Georgia Southern it could be another fight (they proved they can score major conference opponents already). That said I think this is a match-up that on paper Minnesota should dominate up front and at the guard spots. Ike Smith’s ability to score is what scares me but Springs has the ability to defend him. Would love to see Amir and/or Dupree lock in and have a great defensive game here as well. If Minnesota plays hard defensively, which they did not do for long stretches on Tuesday, they will hammer this opponent.
Minnesota 79 Georgia Southern 61