This is the last game that a casual fan would consider a warm-up. Come next week, the Gophers host Virginia of the ACC and we'll really begin to learn what we're dealing with in the 2008-09 Gophers.
But don't sleep on North Dakota State. We might think of them as the red-headed step child to the west, but it's a team that will pose more of a challenge than Eastern Washington did.
A Summit League member (ex: Oakland, IUPUI, Oral Roberts), North Dakota State came to Minnesota last year and was dispatched rather easily, 88-56. But returning to Williams Arena again is senior guard and Albert Lea native Ben Woodside (who led the Bison with 17 points last year). Fellow senior and Minnesota native (Brett Winkleman of Morris) had 16 points last year. Both NDSU seniors will be playing in Williams Arena in front of family and friends for the last time. That's some motivation.
Expect the Gophers to do what they did to Eastern Washington and run the offense from the inside out. NDSU, like most low majors, lacks size. Seniors Lucas Moormann stands 6'10, but plays rather sparingly.
As Myron Medcalf writes, the Bison have had their share of big victories since joining the D1 ranks, and that this year they are eligible for postseason play. This is a team that is more experienced than our Gophers and while I think we win, it could be close.
Keys for the Gophers:
- Get the ball to the basket. That means our guard penetrate and draw fouls and we get the ball inside to our big men. The perimeter-oriented team that Colorado State almost upset could lose to NDSU.
- Create turnovers. NDSU turned the ball over 19 times last year against Minnesota. Whether it's a full-court press or high-pressure half-court defense, we need to create turnovers.
- Ball movement on offense. In watching more college basketball than I should admit this weekend, the one weakness I see in Minnesota is our inability to move the ball on offense and create shots. Our halfcourt game has been hard to watch at times, stretching back to last season. Clean, crisp ball movement.
Keys for the Bison:
- Play error free. Minnesota is at its best when they are creating turnovers and scoring in transition. Forcing Minnesota to play half-court basketball by protecting the ball is paramount.
- Rebound. Minnesota is a taller team, but isn't vastly superior to anyone on the glass. Minnesota's offensive rebouding barrage against Colorado State was more of a statistical anomaly than a sign of things to come.
- Second half run. Minnesota has let teams back in the game all season in the second half. Staying close enough in the first half to make it count is important.
Prediction: Minnesota 82, NDSU 74.
If you weren't aware, sophomore Paul Carter is not playing today due to a sprained ankle he suffered against Eastern Washington. And I was very interested to see that Spencer Tollackson is apparently serving as an analyst for the BTN today.
Should be fun!