Minneosta-Western Illinois BB Preview

Minnesota will face Western Illinois at home on Saturday at 1:00. The Leathernecks are 0-6 under first year head coach Derek Thomas, who was an assistant at Minnesota for the 1999-2000 season. The Leathernecks lost to Southwest Missouri State 82-71 and to San Francisco 96-67 in the Guardians Classic in Springfield, Missouri. They fell to Illinois 94-66, UNLV 75-55 and UW-Green Bay 70-55 on the road and at home Tuesday to Drake 73-64.

The Leathernecks finished 7-21 last season and 3-11 in the Mid Contnient. Western Illinois is the second conference team that the Gophers have faced. Minnesota played UMKC in the season opener in the preseason N.I.T.

Western Illinois has just one double figure scorer this season. 6-5 junior college transfer Doyle Cole is averaging 11.8 points per game. 6-3 senior guard Bobby Carter is averaging 9.8 points and 6-3 senior guard J.D. Summer is adding 9.0 points. 5-9 freshman guard T.J. Gray and 6-6 junior forward Will Lewis are both averaging 8.3 points per game.

The Leathernecks have struggled with their shooting this season as they have made just 38.3% of their shots. Only one player on the team is shooting better than 50% (reserve 6-8 senior Andre Charles has made eight of 13 shots 61.5%. None of their top four scorers is shooting 40% from the field. Conversely, their opponents are shooting 47.3% from the field.

Another sore spot for the Leathernecks is rebounding. They do not have a player that is averaging more than 5.2 rebounds and they have only one player averaging more than four caroms per contest.

They have been outrebounded by eleven rebounds per game and will have a difficult time matching up against the size of the Gophers.

Derek Thomas, unfortunately, landed the job too late in the spring to add much talent to this year's squad. Thomas has a good reputation as a recruiter and has landed a strong five-man recruiting class for next year. The last two Western Illinois head coaches, Jim Kerwin and Jack Margenthaler (whose son, Matt, is the head coach at Minnesota State Mankato), lasted eleven and 15 years, respectively.

Thomas, who is viewed as an up-and-coming coach, will probably not be at Western Illinois for a decade. If he is able to turn around the program around, he will likely move up to bigger and better things. However, Leatherneck fans who have never seen their program in the NCAA Tournament or with a conference title since 1983, would be willing to lose their coach if it meant more success on the court.

Unfortunately, that success is not going to happen this year in what should be an easy win for the Gophers. Western Illinois is ranked #307 out of 326 NCAA Division I teams in the most recent Sagarin rankings.

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