Finally the non-conference game we have all been waiting for. This game against 9th ranked Louisville is the highest ranked, non-conference opponent the Gophers have faced since Rick Rickert, Steve Esslink, Mo Hargrove and company traveled to Eugene, Oregon to face the 5th ranked Ducks. For the record the final was a nine point loss and I believe it was the last time the Gophers were ranked (did not fully check that fact).
So it goes without saying that a match up against a highly ranked non-conference opponent is rare and we should savor and enjoy this game. Chances are good that we will come up short, but the opportunity to face a top level team will expose weaknesses and be valuable as we prepare for Big Ten play.
The Facts Are These...
|Off Reb %
|Def Reb %
Louisville's defensive efficiency numbers are very good. They rank top five nationally in points allowed per possession (.786), Def eFG% (39.4) and Def Reb% (75.7%). Obviously they are very good defensively. They will also throw on a full court press on made baskets, which is more useful for taking a few more seconds off the shot clock than it is for creating havoc and generating turnovers.
|#5 - Earl Clark
|#1 - Terrence Williams
|#24 - Samardo Samuels
|#34 - Jerry Smith
|#33 - Andre McGee
|#2 - Preston Knowles
|#10 - Edgar Sosa
|#23 - Terrence Jennings
Seven guys eat up the vast majority of the minutes with a handfull of players chipping in 4-8 minutes. Terrance Jennings is typically in that mix of guys who play significanly fewer than Knowles and Sosa but I would expect he'll get more time tonight as matching up with Minnesota's twin tower freshmen will likely be necessary. Their three forwards are all very good. Samardo Samuels is a freshman who has been very good. He is big, strong and very quick. This will be a tough match up for Iverson and Sampson. Earl Clark (pictured right) is their other star player. He is a great all around player that
Matching up with the Cardinals...
I was able to watch a significant portion of their game last night. The first things I noticed was that this team is athletic and fast. Much more so than the Gophers. They get up the floor quick, they put on a lot of pressure defensively and their forwards in particular could potentially make ours look like oak trees. Our athleticism is much improved from a year ago but we will still clearly be the slower team in the University of Phoenix stadium.
Their game last night was a little hectic and a pretty average Ole Miss team was able to hang with Louisville, tying the game wiht just over 5 min remaining before Louisville closed out the game with a 10-1 run.
On the Perimeter - Watching their game last night I took comfort as I pictured Absolute Zero (Nolen) handling the ball and defending their perimeter. He is good with the ball and defensively he is very good. Assuming he continues to keep his assists and steals up along with low turnovers he'll be will be extremely valuable.
Westbrook should be find defensively as this will be a good match up for him as well, but the increased speed might mean turnovers and low FG% for him. This is a homecoming game for him so maybe he starts feeling it and lights up the scoreboard, or he thinks he's feeling it and just takes a lot of ill advised shots. He is our leading scorer so we need him to play well.
I think that we'll get plenty of threes off, especially if they come out in their matchup zone, so potentially this could be nice for Hoffarber. But what they seem to thrive on is moving while the pass is in the air, rushing the shooters which results in a rushed shot and low percentages. So, I think we'll see some open looks which hopefully means Hoffarber will get some of those looks and be relaxed enough to drain them.
Air Canada (Joseph) and Bostick will be interesting to watch as this will be the fastest game they have ever seen. For Joseph I think you'll see fewer minutes than usual as this will be an adjustment. Bostick on the other hand has the potential to rise up to games like this. This game just may be the game in which he break out.
Abu-Shamala and "What Else" (Busch) will frighten me when they are on the floor. Busch can possibly be effective if a reserve forward is in the game that he can guard, but Abu-Shamala trying to defend anyone on the perimeter is a nightmare matchup for the Gophers.
In the Paint - Every match up here is going to be really intriguing. To begin with I've gotta believe Tubby will put DJ Swat on Earl Clark to start the game. This will be a great match up to watch. Clark is a future draft pick and DJ is one of the most underrated players in the Big Ten. Johnson will (not should, will) play great defense on Clark and hopefully make him fairly neutral. If DJ can keep Clark to 10-12 points and keep him off the glass that will go a long way towards the Gophers staying in this game.
The next fun match up will be Louisville's athletic center vs. our either of our freshman centers (Colt-45 or RSIII). Samuels isn't as tall but he is more physical and more athletic. Realistically this is a bad match up for us, but it will be great to see how our guys respond to the best player they have had to guard all year.
Finally it wil lbe intriguing to see who starts and likely guards Williams. If he's ready, I'd start Carter here to guard the athletic Williams. But it could be Abu-Shamala (bad for us) or it could be DJ here then RSIII and Colt-45 start at the 4 and 5 spots.
On the Bench - this is more about the coaches than the reserves. Tubby vs. Pitino is the storyline for this game. Their history is well chornicled and I'm not going to be able to bring anything to this discussion that you can't find anywhere else today. Coaching styles are very similar, especially defensively. On the offensive end I would imagine Pitino will try to push the tempo while Tubby will want his team be a little more patient. We can't afford to take bad shots or turn the ball over because we are being hurried. We have to control tempo for Tubby to be successful.
I am more confident in our chances than I was a couple weeks ago. Louisville dropped a game to Western Kentucky, did not look particularly dominant last night vs. Ole Miss and on one day's rest they have to travel to Arizona and play. I'm still not confident enough to predict a victory.
This game has the potential for us to make a lot of mistakes due to Louisville pressure and increased game speed. If we can take care of the ball, take good shots and not get killed on the boards we can stay in this game. I know that is true for most games but there is serious potential that we all three of those areas go very wrong and this game gets out of hand very quickly.
Here is what will happen. Louisville gets out to a quick start because we haven't played in 10 days and they are going to come out ready to go. But I then expect they will have a lapse in the middle of the half. THIS is when we either get back into the game or stay at arms length until the Cardinals go on another run to burry us.
We keep this game close but eventually lose by 7.