The Minnesota Golden Gophers have proven themselves to be one the dark horses in this incredibly young college basketball season. Their unhindered 7-0 record is the result of a few easy victories, but also two impressive wins over Providence and Alabama. Neither of those games coming on their home floor, mind you.
Tonight, they welcome the equally faultless Miami Hurricanes to Williams Arena. The Gophers will finally receive a high-profile, non-conference game on their home floor. An advantage that should not be overlooked by any stretch of the imagination.
This evening’s game will be what defines this Minnesota team moving forward. A win signifies their ability to truly be considered a National Championship contender. However, a loss may prove the opinions of many to be true, that this team, although good, cannot take care of business in their most important games.
Let’s unpack all this game has to offer us:
In terms of which team trots out a better starting five each night, it is hard to vote against Minnesota’s unit. While Jordan Murphy has stole much of the spotlight, the other Gophers have served their roles without attracting too much attention. Nate Mason and Amir Coffey, the two touted preseason darlings for Minnesota, are not at Murphy’s level of play yet. However, both are averaging over 12 points per game and are shooting 45 percent from the field as a duo. Not to mention they are shooting a combined 41 percent from beyond the arc.
Reggie Lynch has also been incredibly impressive so far this season. He is one of four Gophers averaging double figures in the scoring column, he is also leading the NCAA in blocks per game. Most importantly, Lynch has yet to foul out of a game this season. Lastly, Dupree McBrayer is averaging just under 10 points a game while shooting 44 percent from three. If anything, the Gopher starters have been incredibly consistent all season.
As for Miami, they feature only two double figure scorers, with their other three starters flirting with ten points per game. They are led by Dewan Huell, who is posting 13 points and seven rebounds per contest so far. The 6-foot-11 forward will most likely be matched up with Reggie Lynch. As Huell scores most of his points near the basket, this could lead to some early foul trouble for Lynch. It is vital for Lynch to stay disciplined on the defensive end. If the Gophers lose him, that is the one exploitable match-up the Hurricanes can key in on.
The rest of the match-ups, from a starters perspective, weigh heavily in Minnesota’s favor. Outside of Huell, Minnesota has the advantage, at least on the offensive side of the ball.
The one sticking point for the Gophers so far this year has been their bench play. Minnesota has yet to find that consistent option off the bench. Isaiah Washington has been good in bunches, but no one has been consistently impressive in the second unit. On the other hand, Miami has gone deep into their bench in every one of their games, with nine players averaging at least 15 minutes of playing time in their five wins.
What gives the Hurricanes the edge off the pine is their scoring distribution. While Washington is the only Minnesota bench player averaging over seven points a game, Miami has four averaging at least seven per contest. Focusing too heavily on Washington may prove hurtful to the Gophers.
Here is where we see a little separation between the two teams. While Miami has had impressive wins on the scoreboard (they have yet to give up over 65 points in a game) they really have not played any quality teams. Their best win came against La Salle, who is currently ranked 127th in KenPom. Other than that, they only have played one other team inside the KenPom 200.
Meanwhile, the Gophers have played their share of feeble opponents, but they actually have wins over quality competition. To date, they do have two wins over teams in the KenPom top-30. Not only that, both of those wins came away from Williams Arena! Surely their previous experience against top NCAA programs will prove useful come tip-off.
Currently, Minnesota ranks 22nd in KenPom to Miami’s 20. The Gophers are ranked higher in offensive efficiency (20th) compared to the Hurricanes (57th). Those ranks are flip-flopped when defensive efficiency is discussed with Miami being one of the best schools in the country in that category (7th in the nation). However, Minnesota is no slouch either in that area (30th).
Yes, Miami has been incredibly impressive so far this season, but take a look at their opponents. Per KenPom, their adversaries combined offensive efficiency equaled out to 338th best in the nation (out of 351 potential slots). The Hurricanes combatants were just as bad defensively, ranking a cumulative 336th in opponent defensive efficiency. To say that did not play a factor in Miami’s quality of play both offensively and defensively is a stretch.
Quite frankly, Minnesota has one of the best all-around starting fives in the country. They are experienced and they have actually battled with tough opponents. Perhaps their lack of worthy opponents will become Miami’s downfall this evening. That is why the Gophers will win this game tonight.