The Gophers head into tonight’s game against Wofford (6 p.m. tipoff and it’s on Big Ten Network – no more complaining!) coming off the worst performance of the season, especially defensively.
To add injury to insult, they will also now be without forward Joey King, who fractured his jaw after colliding with Andre Hollins’ skull in Tuesday’s win over Coastal Carolina. That loss has Minnesota’s frontcourt looking awfully thin, with center Mo Walker still two games away from returning after being suspended six games for violating university policy.
By all accounts, Wofford shouldn’t provide much of a challenge on their own accord – the Terriers have the 282nd ranked offense in the nation, according to Kenpom.com, and the 191st ranked defense – but because of the timing and the lack of depth for Minnesota, the Gophers will need to pick up the steam in their last game before the Maui Invitational.
Three things to watch tonight:
1. Can the Gophers keep their focus? The Maui Invitational – which happens to take place in a warm, beachy, sunshiney location – is just a few days away. Minnesota leaves for Hawaii this weekend, and will play No. 9 Syracuse on Monday. Both events – going to paradise and playing a top-10 team – make for a couple of long days before then. Can the Gophers postpone their tropical sights and buckle down on Wofford? “I’ve had it in the back of my head for a while, thinking about going to Maui and playing Syracuse,” Andre Hollins said after Tuesday’s game. “That’s kind of a distraction for us as 20-year-olds, young adults, going to Maui, but these are some big games so we can fine-tune some things going in.”
2. Were the defensive issues a fluke? The Gophers played their worst defense of the year against Coastal Carolina, allowing the Chanticleers to covert a 60.2 effective field goal percentage. Coastal Carolina hit nine three-pointers and abused the thin interior defense. To be sure, the Gophers are at a bigger disadvantage there this game with King out, but that makes it all the more important that they lock down the perimeter and fluster the slow-paced Terriers with the press. Better to not give Tuesday’s performance a chance to become habit.
3. How will the frontcourt fare? Without King, the Gophers are down to center Elliott Eliason and power forward Oto Osenieks? Both will have to play big minutes and step up their defense and offensive production. Can they rise to the task? Beyond those two, coach Richard Pitino will likely have to play a four-guard lineup at points as well, meaning that it would serve the Gophers well for Austin Hollins to conjure up the Hollins of the Montana and Richmond games, where he grabbed double-digit rebounds.