The storyline is this Gopher basketball team going for a 12-1 non-conference record, something nobody outside of Richard Pitino’s practices expected them to do. We at GI predicted 11-2 and the fan base thought we were crazy. Minnesota goes for that 12-1 record which would mean zero non-conference upsets which will be huge if the Gophers are fighting for the bubble come NCAA Tournament selection time.
The opponent? A 9-3 Arkansas State team with road losses at North Dakota State (66-76), TCU (54-77), and Alabama (52-67). The Red Wolves were picked 10th out of 12 Sun Belt teams in the preseason but have out-performed their prediction. They have won all five of their home games, won both neutral site games, but in true road games Arkansas State is 1-3. That one win did come at Georgetown though so this is a team that Minnesota must worry about.
The Gophers are expected to have Amir Coffey back from his one game injury that was described as turf toe. Coffey warmed up even though it was said that he wasn’t going to play, and then he did play. Even though he looked as good as usual in warm-ups. Amir is expected to be back in the starting line-up for Akeem Springs who usually comes off the bench.
After a dozen non-conference games here is a rundown of the key numbers:
The Rotation: The rotation is seven strong with Nate Mason, Amir Coffey, and Dupree McBrayer playing between 29 and 33 minutes a night, Akeem Springs, Reggie Lynch, and Eric Curry playing 21 minutes a game, and Jordan Murphy averaging 24 minutes a contest. The hope for Murphy was about 26-27 but foul trouble has held him to about 24. After that Bakary Konate is getting a regular nine minutes and then Ahmad Gilbert and Michael Hurt have gone back and forth with the ninth man role. Hurt seems to have that role right now but sometimes Pitino plays both.
Shooting Numbers: Mason (41%), McBrayer (49%), Lynch (57%), and Konate (48%) are up from previous years, Murphy (45%), Gilbert (32%) and Springs (37%) are down from the previous season, and Coffey and Curry are shooting 44 percent in their first year while Hurt is under a quarter on 17 shots. At the arc Coach Pitino is getting 45.3 percent from Mason, 40 percent from McBrayer, and 38 percent from Springs. Pitino needs better from Coffey (6 of 29), Murphy (1 of 10), and Hurt (1 of 12) at the arc. Ahmad Gilbert has missed 10 of his last 12 threes. The team is shooting 69.7 percent from the foul line meaning if they were 218-310 instead of 216-310 they would be at that 70 percent team foul shooting goal.
PPG. Minnesota has four guys averaging in double figures plus two more right below those numbers. Nate Mason leads (13.2) followed by Coffey (12.4), McBrayer (12.1), and Murphy (10.2). Springs and Lynch are scoring just under nine points a game each with Curry at 6.8.
Misc: Murphy leads the team in rebounding at 7.7 a game with Lynch at 6.5 and Curry at 6.3 a contest. As a team the Gophers are a plus 3.6 which is about a nine board differential from last year’s average….Murphy leads the team in turnovers with 24 in 12 games. Meanwhile Nate mason has a 2.7 to 1 assist to turnover ratio…Mason is averaging 5.5 assists a game while McBrayer is giving his team 3.6 assists a game…Mason leads in steals with 14 while Reggie Lynch of course leads in blocks swatting 40 so far this year. The single season record is 87 held by Randy Breuer and Lynch definitely has a shot at that considering he needs just 48 more in these next 20 games. Lynch is averaging 3.8 blocks a contest.
Devin Carter (6-foot-4, 200 pound senior guard) leads Arkansas State in scoring with 17.3 points per game and Deven Simms (6-foot-4, 200 pound junior guard) is behind him at 13.2 a contest. From there the Red Wolves have four guys averaging between 7 and 9 points a contest. This is a team that has shot the ball very well hitting on 48 percent of their shots for the year and 39.5 percent of the 23 treys they tae a night. The Red Wolves do turn the ball over 16 times a night but guard Donte Thomas (6-foot-4 200 pound senior guard) is averaging 6.7 assists a game.
Arkansas State had one of their worst shooting games of the year at Alabama (34% fg, 25 3pt%, 42% ft) and they weren’t able to get much from instant offense bench scorer Deven Simms either. He scored 15 but needed 16 shots to get there. Simms will likely see a lot of Akeem Springs as they are similar in size, experience, and game, and of course both come off the bench.
The Red Wolves start 5-foot-11 (junior guard Rashad Lindsey), 6-foot-2 (junior guar CJ Foster), 6-foot-4 (Carter), 6-foot-4 (Thomas), and 6-foot-8, 235 pounds in the post (Nelson Nweke, a junior big). The only other guys besides Nweke who ASU will play that are above 6-foot-4 are Tamas Bruce, a 6-foot-7, 200 pound junior forward, and Salif Boudie, a 6-foot-8, 205 pound freshman from Mali, West Africa.
Because the Red Wolves are so much smaller than most teams you can expect Reggie Lynch to have the chance to be a deep post force and this will give Pitino a shot to play Murphy and Curry up front together. Pitino can even go smaller in the line-up with Hurt or Gilbert at the four (although 6-foot-8 Coffey in the backcourt or on the wing isn’t exactly small).
With so much four out-one in action this is a game where Minnesota has to be excellent getting around screens. Especially Murphy and Curry who will be defending the wing with the slowest of feet, but still a player that is a 6-foot-4 division one perimeter player. On the other end once Minnesota gets the Red Wolves in the halfcourt they have to get Jordan Murphy the ball and let him go to work. Arkansas State won’t always be small but they will much of the game so Minnesota must take advantage with patience.
I don’t like this match-up at all for Arkansas State. I get what they want to do with their shooting, spreading the floor with quickness, and such but against a team like Minnesota where the size is agile things should be quite tough. I don’t expect a repeat of Georgetown and I really think Minnesota will just be happy to be out of the books and focused on competing on the court again.
Minnesota 78 Arkansas State 65