Minnesota tips off vs. Chicago State tonight at Williams Arena at 7 p.m. Watch on ESPN3 (online viewing that requires a subscription) or listen live on 1500-a.m.
Expect coach Richard Pitino to have the team pressing more on defense, perhaps starting tonight. My story in today’s Star Tribune here.
Previewing both teams here.
Other notes from yesterday’s media access, including hints that freshman Dupree McBrayer will start again.
Three storylines to watch as the Gophers try to end their three-game skid:
More than meets the eye? On the face of it, Chicago State is cringe-worthy. The Cougars haven’t beat a single Div. I OR Div. II team this season, and are in the midst of a seven-game losing streak. Analyst Ken Pomeroy has them ranked 339th out of 351 teams and their offense ranked a couple ticks lower. Not a pretty picture. But coach Richard Pitino called Chicago State “scary” in his news conference on Tuesday, pointing to their “chaotic” play and attempts to speed teams up. Minnesota, sped up, can get sloppy pretty quickly, so if Pitino believes the Cougars are capable of doing that, it could be a long night. I admit I haven't actually watched Chicago State play, so I'm looking at the numbers, here. Chicago State did nearly upset Illinois – a team that is probably pretty comparable in talent to Minnesota – in Springfield back on Nov. 23, but the Cougars were run over by Northwestern, 77-35 on Sunday. Are the Wildcats that much better than the Gophers?
Just how tested is this team? Pitino says that this year’s schedule – sturdy, but probably not so frightening for some Gophers teams of the past – has more than gotten the team ready for Big Ten play. “We have been really tested early” he said on Tuesday. “It feels like we’re in the middle of the Big Ten. So that’s kind of good for a young team I guess to kind of see where we’re at right now.” The Gophers have struggled, certainly, but all signs point to the Big Ten being a lot tougher. The definition of being “tested” rather than simple “stampeded” infers that there have been some lessons learned and such along the way. There are two games remaining before the start of league play, beginning tonight with the apparent weakest opponent of the year, so it would be a good time to display the value of that testing.
More progress on defense. Last game out, a 62-60 loss to Oklahoma State in Sioux Falls, SD, Minnesota’s defense looked markedly better than the product that had granted South Dakota and South Dakota State whatever they wanted in the two games prior. The Gophers were far more active and used a matchup zone with some pressing to rattle the Cowboys at times. It was the first time in more than a week that Minnesota looked like they knew what they were doing out there. Now, Pitino is saying he wants to start adding a little more pressing and different things to the defense. Can Minnesota take the next step tonight?
15 – Senior forward Joey King’s national ranking in free throw shooting. The Eagan native is hitting 91.9 percent of his shots from the line so far this season after making 83 percent last year. King said he tries to make at least 25 free throws in a row after practice before leaving the gym, and if he misses more than five out of 100 he’s unhappy. “It’s one of the most important parts of my game,” he said. “I practice it every single day. It’s pretty important to me that I don’t miss – coach is pretty disappointed in me when I do miss one.”