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NIT Preview: Minnesota vs. Saint Mary's- Can the Gophers Stay Alive at Home?

Can Minnesota continue their run through the NIT field?

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

In their first game, the Gophers were able to survive a scare from High Point by outlasting them 88-81. The positive from that game was obviously that Minnesota was able to advance, but Richard Pitino cannot be pleased with allowing 52 second half points at home to a Big South team. The good news is that Minnesota has a short turnaround and gets to play a streaking Saint Mary's team in the NIT second round. With that, let's preview the teams:

Saint Mary's: The Gaels were able to take down Utah 70-58 at home on Tuesday night behind 21 points from James Walker III and 15 from Stephen Holt. Saint Mary's matches up very well with Minnesota, starting 6'9 center Brad Waldow and 6'8 forward Dane Pineau. Waldow is a big body who can step out to 15 feet and shoot, but does most of his damage down low. In the last game, Pineau only played 5 minutes, and center Matt Hodgson and forward Beau Levesque combined to play 45 minutes off the bench. This could be a problem for Minnesota, so it will be extremely important for both Eliott Eliason and Maurice Walker to stay out of foul trouble.

Minnesota: As stated before, the Gophers got a real scare from High Point in their first game and should be extra motivated to not take a very solid Saint Mary's team lightly. Minnesota's strength is in their guard play, evidenced by the fact that both Andre and Austin Hollins played 36 minutes against High Point. The reason that the game was so close, however, is that the Hollins' combined to shoot 5-16. Pitino was able to establish some of his bench, with Maverick Ahanmisi leading the bench with 21 points and Maurice Walker adding 13. If Pitino's stars are not playing well, it could be a huge lift to bring in guys off the bench that can continue to help Minnesota in the scoring chart. If this is the case for today's game and the remainder of the tournament, Minnesota should remain one of the favorites to cut down the nets in New York.

Prediction: Saint Mary's is one of those sneaky teams that could give Minnesota trouble, both on the offensive and defensive end. Brad Waldow is excellent at drawing fouls, and Stephen Holt is one of the better players in the West Coast Conference. But Andre and Austin Hollins will not combine to shoot as poorly, and the Barn will be absolutely rocking for today's game. I expect Minnesota to come out red hot and with a chip on their shoulder, and the early start time for Saint Mary's (12:00 in California) could also pose a problem. In the end, Minnesota has too much talent to lose this game on their home court. Final score: Minnesota 79, Saint Mary's 68.