We're less than 30 minutes from tipoff in Orlando between the Gophers and Dayton in the title game of the Old Spice Classic. Minnesota, of course, is trying to put the finishing touches on an early-season tournament championship for the second season in a row. Last year, the Gophers knocked off Western Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia to win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off title. Some pregame notes:
*From an overall tournament perspective, things have gone very well for Minnesota. Not only have the Gophers won their first two games so far to improve to 6-0 on the season, but the teams they defeated -- DePaul and Indiana State -- are each 2-0 in games here not against the Gophers. Indiana State has victories over Texas Tech and, in Sunday's third-place game, over Fairfield. DePaul, meanwhile, also defeated Texas Tech and followed that up with a win in the consolation final Sunday against Arizona State. Those might seem like small things right now, but remember them in February and March when RPI starts becoming a daily buzzword. It also means that even if DePaul and Indiana State aren't great teams in the grand scheme of things, the Gophers can feel good knowing they defeated two teams who otherwise didn't lose at this tournament.
*Excluding the Mount St. Mary's game, when the Gophers didn't need to turn on the jets in the second half after racing to a 51-18 lead at the break, Minnesota has been a different team in the final 20 minutes of games. Tubby Smith chalks it up to depth wearing teams down and his finding hot combinations down the stretch. The raw numbers are interesting: Outside of MSM, the Gophers are minus-8 in point differential in the first halves of games -- leading Bucknell and South Dakota State by 2 apiece and Fairfield by 5 while trailing DePaul by 10 and Indiana State by 7 at the break. In the second half of those five games, the Gophers are plus-54, having outscored four of the five opponents (including both at this tournament) by double-digits in the second half. We'll see if the Gophers follow a similar script tonight.
*There's no reason to anticipate any lineup changes tonight. Those of you who keep asking about Mo Walker -- he's on the trip, but he's still out indefinitely as he continues to recover from last year's knee injury.
*Dayton is certainly not to be taken lightly. The Flyers play in the Atlantic 10 and are 13-5 (including 7-1 in their past eight games) against men's hoops teams from BCS schools. They are 4-1 overall this season, and their lone loss was in overtime at Miami (Ohio). Four starters average in double-figures in points, led by 6-4 senior guard Paul Williams at 12.6. Of particular note: Williams is 14-for-27 on three-pointers this season, helping Dayton to a 43-for-119 (36.1 percent) performance from beyond the arc as a team. Minnesota has struggled to defend the three-pointer in the first halves of both tourney games here. Overall in six games, Gophers opponents have made 38 of 107 three-pointers this season (35.5 percent).
*Radio play-by-play man Mike Grimm has been up in the air more than George Clooney. He flew from the Twin Cities to Orlando for the start of the tournament, called the first two games on Thursday and Friday, flew back to Minneapolis to call the Gophers/Illinois game on Saturday, flew back to Orlando for Sunday's title game and of course will fly out of Orlando again when the tournament is over.
*I'll post something quick post-game and something fresh again tomorrow. After that, beat writer Amelia Rayno will be back on the scene and ready to dig in for the long haul. It's been fun interacting with you guys, and it should be another fun one tonight.