Watching the Gophers, it’s clear this team has significantly improved on defense since last year.

In three games, a Minnesota opponent has managed to make 30 percent of its shots in a given half just once. For the most part, the Gophers have been shutting the opposing offense down:

Against American: 26.1 percent in the first half; 20 percent in the second
Against Toledo: 22.2 in the first; 44 in the second
Against Tennessee State: 29.6 in the first; 18.8 in the second

It seems like the Gophers have gotten better across the board, and that intensity has shown. But Coach Tubby Smith said Thursday that he believes the biggest improvement he’s seen with Minnesota’s defense is in contesting shots.

“I think we’re really doing a better job of not giving anyone an open shot and when they do get it, we’re really flying at them and challenging their shots,” he said.

The team’s effectiveness at doing so will be tested tonight against Richmond, by far the Gophers' toughest opponent to date and a team that has been very efficient from three-point range.

The Spiders have hit 30 three pointers so far (compared with the Gophers 15), and have made 41 percent of the shots they’ve taken. Richmond has three players on the roster with five or more: Darien Brothers (8; also making 59 percent of his shots from the field), Kendall Anthony (7) and Wayne Sparrow (5).

Whether or not the Gophers can move to 4-0 will have a great deal to do with their ability to stop the three.

More notes on tonight’s game:

  • Tonight’s game against Richmond is the Gophers last matchup before heading to the Bahamas for Battle 4 Atlantis. Their first opponent is Duke, which recently beat Kentucky –so if the Gophers struggle tonight, it could spell trouble in paradise.
  • The Gophers most consistent offensive player so far has been Rodney Williams (15 ppg), but Austin Hollins (14.3) and Joe Coleman (10) are also averaging double digits. Coleman had a bit of down game offensively against Tennessee State (finishing with six points), but defensively he looked more sound, and he added three assists.
  • Turnovers have remained a problem for the Gophers, who have had 17 or more blunders in two of their three games (17 against Tennessee State; 19 against American).
  • Trevor Mbakwe still isn’t getting many minutes (he had just 10 on Thursday), but he is being efficient with what he gets. The sixth-year senior is averaging five points and four rebounds in 12.7 minutes a game. Mbakwe also has four steals and five blocks on the year.

Extra points:

*Tonight’s game is on Big Ten Network
*Listen to tonight’s game live on 1500-a.m. here.
*In today’s Star Tribune: Austin Hollins’ steady approach has been a major factor for the Gophers.
*On the blog: Tubby Smith calls Mo Walker the biggest surprise for the Gophers early.

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