December 28, 2007

Las Vegas Duel in the Desert Preview

Steaming Video of games (not on TV anywhere) -

The Golden Gophers head to Vegas for the New Year's Weekend. This is the last chance to get things working right before the Big Ten opener vs. conference favorite Michigan State. The Duel in the Desert is a nice little round robin tourney that has the gophers facing two teams they "should" dominate and then a decent UNLV team on their home court. Anything less than 3-0 will be disappointing in my mind. Going 2-1 and losing a close one to UNLV won't be the end of the world but it will be a bad loss come Selection Sunday.

Based on KenPomeroy's tempo-free stats Here is our percent chance to win each game...

v. Nicholls St - 97%
v. Kennesaw St - 100%
v. UNLV - 53%

RPI: 30
KenPom Rank: 29
SOS: 150

As I said above this is a dress rehearsal for the B10 season. Tubby has implemented a new defense, offense and attitude. As a fan I love it and I think the players have adapted well. This year the weak schedule has been a good thing for these gophers to learn their roles and come together before January. Playing a good team would certainly have been a guaranteed loss for this year's squad. Give them some time to figure things out and down the road they'll be capable of pulling out an upset or two (and equally as capable of dropping a few they shouldn't). Anyway, this should be a 3-0 weekend for the gophers. Shoot, just 1 win and they equal 2007's win total (not like that should be any sort of a goal here).

What concerns me: Defensive Rebounding. Just saying rebounding isn't accurate, this team hits the offensive boards very well. We rank 17th in the country rebounding 41% of our own missed shots. What we suck at is rebounding our opponents misses. In that category we rank 200th in NCAA basketball. This needs to improve quickly.

What I like: This gopher team takes defense very seriously. We turnover our opponents at a great rate. We are 9th in the nation for defensive turnover percentage, we turnover the opponent on nearly 28% of their possessions. We also rank highly on steal % and block %. Defensively we seem to do everything very well EXCEPT rebound the misses.

Offensively we are coming together. Coleman seems to have turned a corner and is now a factor that opponents have to gameplan around. What I'd like to see is the senior trio all show up for the same game. Hopefully with Coleman on track, we can now focus on getting McKenzie into the action. We have gotten by without his production in the non-conference portion of the schedule but we will need him to score if we want to win more than 1 or 2 B10 games.

Nicholls St - 4-8
RPI: 109
KenPom Rank: 226
SOS: 20

The Colonels return 4 starters from last season's 8-22 team (sound vaguely familiar?). A team with balanced scoring from essentially 8 regulars. The team's two leading scorers...

Ryan Bathie (Jr-F) - 11.9 ppg
Michael Czepil (Soph-G) - 11.8 ppg

What to Expect: Judging from stats and box scores I would expect the Colonels to apply pressure to the gopher guards, but I don't expect they will rebound particularly well. Defensively they turn teams over pretty well but they also give up a pretty bad defensive effective FG% (ranking 315th nationally). So I would expect that if the gophers can handle what I assume will be full-court pressure they should be able to score fairly well on offense. I also expect that the gophers will force many turnovers to get some easy baskets.

Prediction: Nicholls St doesn't have much size and it doesn't look like they have any dynamic scorers. The only thing that concerns me is that last week they played North Carolina to within 10 points on the road. In that game C-Tyler Hansboro had a monster game in the paint and SG-Wayne Ellington chipped in 23 points on 75% shooting. If that translates the the gophers then Coleman/Tollackson should be fine inside and maybe McKenzie can have a big game to get himself going.

Gophers win by more than 15.

Kennesaw State - 2-8
RPI: 339
KenPom Rank: 335
SOS: 340

I'm not going to waste much time on this one. I know that if we were watching a National Geographic special a gopher would be no match for an owl, but thats not how this works. The Owls have 2 players that are worth keeping an eye on...

Ronell Wooten (Sr-SG) - 17.0 ppg
Shuan Stegall (Jr-F) - 14.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4.0 apg

What to Expect: a win for Minnesota. Other than that I think you'll see an up tempo game and a lot of 3-point attempts for the Owls. Wooten has attempted nearly 100 3's already this season. By contrast Hoffarber and McKenzie have combined for the same amount of 3-point attempts. This will be another game of 20+ turnovers forced by the gophers, and another chance for the guards to have big games.

Prediction: Gophers by 20+ and if healthy From the Barn just might get to see Ryan Saunders glisten from a little sweat, not just hair gel.

UNLV - 8-3
RPI: 33
KenPom Rank: 57
SOS: 23

Finally a game worth watching (except it won't be on TV). UNLV is coming off a 2006-07 Mountain West Championship and NCAA Tourney season. They graduated 4 of their top 5 scorers from last seasons team, but they are still balanced, playing well and ready to make another run at the MWC title.

Wink Adams #1 on right (Jr-G) - 14.5 ppg, 4.1 reb, 3.2 ast
Joe Darger (Jr-F) - 12.8 pnts, 6.0 reb
Curtis Terry (Sr-G/F) - 12.0 pnts, 3 reb, 4.2 ast

A nice trio of players who contribute scoring, on the boards and with assists.

UNLV recently lost a very close game to Arizona, beat Fresno State and dominated UT-Martin. But they also have been killed by Louisville and lost to UC-Santa Barbara. Which team will show up?

What to Expect: Statistically the Running Rebels play solid defense, get balanced scoring and don't turn the ball over. What they don't do well is rebound well on either end of the floor and they don't shoot very well. So the question is can the gophers turn them over and can they dominate the glass? Wink Adams is a solid little guard who needs to be stopped. Fortunately the gophers have been successful stopping potent guards this season by switching Westbrook, Nolen and McKenzie on and off the opposing threat.

Prediction: Gophers win in a very tight game, maybe even OT. I like our matchup but it is on the road and it will be the 3rd game in a row for a team that is lacking depth. I expect that our defense will not be turning the Rebels over because our legs will be a bit tired and they take good care of the ball. But we should be able to own the paint and if we play solid defense that makes them have to use the shot clock before they get a good shot, that should favor us.

Gophers by 4

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