This game is a great game for this golden gopher team that is coming together. On Monday night they played a North Dakota State team that was guard heavy. Ben Woodside, Mike Nelson and Brett Winkleman are perimeter oriented players who combine for 57 points per game. The Bison had very little inside game to speak of. But the gophers played great perimeter D and dominated the paint and won going away.
The rams of Colorado State offer a different contest. While the Rams primary scorers are their PG and SG (Marcus Walker and Willis Gardner), they also get plenty of production from two 7' post players.
- Soph - Stuart Creason - 7'0" starting center averages 12.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg and 1.5 blocked shots per game.
- FR - Ronnie Aguilar - 7'0" reserve center who does not score much but has been solid on the boards at nearly 5 reb/game
- FR - Flynn Claymon - 6'9" reserve gets limited time but is another big body in the paint
Nothing about this game leads me to believe we should be fearful of an upset. This current gopher squad is getting better every game as they are learning their roles in Tubby's offense and most importantly they are learning to play aggressively-together on the defensive end. Playing a team that will present different challenges than the last team did is good for the gophers. Monday night they were up to the challenge of stopping a perimeter oriented team that was capable of lighting up the scoreboard. Tomorrow they'll have to work harder to control the paint while they still have to shut down a couple of good guards.
PG - Westbrook vs. Marcus Walker - Walker is the ram's leading scorer at around 16 points per game. It is quickly becoming apparent that Westbrook is going to be called upon to guard the opponents best perimeter player to start the game. And he has done a fine job. The further we get into the season the more I think Nolen should be starting. Westbrook has exceeded my expectations and has really helped us this year the numbers below show me that Nolen really should be your starting (and finishing) PG.
Back to the matchup, Walker has been the rams best player but the gophers have done a nice job defending guards this year. Florida State's Isaiah Swan had a nice burst of scoring early but was essentially shut down for the 2nd half. And NDSU's Woodside was held to his lowest point total since the first game of the season. My money is on the gophers keeping Walker below his season average. But I also think Walker will give CSU more than Westbrook will give the gophers so the rams get the slight edge.
SG - Lawrence McKenzie vs. Willis Gardner - Gardner leads the team in assists, is 2nd leading scorer at 12.8 ppg and most importantly rebounds really well for being a 6'1" guard bringing in almost 5 rpg. I don't know what kind of defense he will offer McKenzie, but Lawrence has 2 jobs. One - box out Gardner, don't let him give the rams a handful of extra possessions. Two-score within the context of the offense, if he can be patient and take what is given to him I expect that he will have a 20 point game.
SF - Johnson vs. Adam Nigon - I took a stab at putting Johnson in the lineup last game (and was wrong), but with Abu-Shamala
PF - Coleman vs. Andre McFarland - it seems like every game Coleman has the most intriguing mathcup. McFarland is a freshman forward who will give a couple inches to Coleman but he looks to be a very strong kid. In the NDSU game Coleman was able to face up his defender, get by him in one dribble then rise up and score within 5 feet of the rim. DC looks to have the height advantage to get his shot off inside again but the question is can he get by McFarland? I anticipate that McFarland will be physical with Coleman and the biggest question of the night is how will DC respond? Will he shy away and play on the perimeter, which will likely put him in Tubby's doghouse? Or will he be mentally tough enough to take the contact and still play the game to his strength? Since DC is coming off his best game of the 2007-08 season and McFarland is a freshman learning the ropes I'll tentatively give this one to the gophers.
C - Tollackson vs. Stuart Creason - another very interesting matchup. Tollackson is savvy in the paint and has played well against bigger centers in the past (especially big guys who are not Greg Oden). Creason has been aggressive on the offensive glass, a good shot blocker and has been a consistent scorer. Tollackson has been solid this season but not spectacular. I'm going to give this edge to Creason. Tollackson will give a lot to the gophers without dominating his man but if the rams stay in this game it will have to be because of Creason's inside presence.
Bench - what I once thought would be a gopher weakness is quickly becoming a strength. With Nolen on the bench, the shooting of Abu-Shamala & Hoffarber and the rebounding of Williams there is excellent balance and productiveness from the bench. The rams bench has good size but it is young and not very deep. Key guys to watch for are...
- Ronnie Agular - 7'0" sophomore center
- Jesse Woodard - 6'1" freshman point guard
- Josh Simmons - 6'4 freshman shooting guard
- Flynn Clayman - 6'9" freshman forward
This will be another solid win for the gophers. I don't see this as a "trap" game and I think they will come out focused and improved. I really expect that they will be focused on Creason in the paint right away and set the tone that he won't be getting anything easy. In the end our guards get this one for us and the gophers improve to 6-1.
Minnesota - 78
Colorado State - 63