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High Hopes for Gopher Hoops, Season Tips Off Tonight

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Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

The long wait for Gopher hoops is over, the season tips off tonight as the Gophers host the American University Eagles coming to this Big Ten venue from the Patriot League.

TV: not (Gopher All-Access)
RADIO: 1500 ESPN
TIME: 7:00

American Minnesota
PG Daniel Munoz SR, 6-0 Andre Hollins SO, 6-1
G Austin Carroll SO, 6-3 Austin Hollins JR, 6-4
G John Schoof SO, 6-5 Joe Coleman SO, 6-4
F Stephen Lumpkins SR, 6-8 Rodney Williams SR, 6-7
C Tony Wroblicky JR, 6-10 Elliott Eliason SO, 6-11

The Gophers actually have a pretty challenging non-conference schedule, this game is not one of those. The Eagles are an experienced team and one that will finish near the top of the Patriot League but likely they are battling for third place. Daniel Munoz is a play-making point, Stephen Lumpkins is a potential first team all-conference player and Tony Wroblicky returns after being the team's leading rebounder a year ago (and he brought down 18 in their exhibition win). This is a solid low-major team, not a great mid-major test.

So I am fully expecting a win tonight, I believe it will be relatively close with the Gophers slowly pulling away throughout the second half.

But more than anything else there are specific things I am really looking for tonight.

  1. Improved shooting from Joe Coleman and Rodney Williams. Coleman has had two very good exhibition games averaging 18 in those two games but can he hit enough jumpers to keep better defenses honest and opening up the lane for him to penetrate. Williams's jumpshot isn't as critical in my opinion now that he has found his niche in the paint, but it would be a huge boost if he could hit from the top of the key. Defenses would have to guard him and this would open up what I am anticipating to be a deadly high-low game with Mbakwe.
  2. Defense, Defense, Defense. The exhibition games saw a full-court pressure defense. I desperately hope we see this not just in the non-conference games but in the Big Ten as well. I think we have a well-rounded offensive team of shooters, bangers, rebounders and even penetrators. What will separate us from the pack in the Big Ten is if we can be a great defensive team.
  3. Limit Turnvers, please! This has been a nagging issue last year without a game-managing point guard. I love Andre Hollins and his play-making ability, but we need to keep turnovers to a minimum. A year ago we turned the ball over on 22.8% of our possessions which ranked 301st in the country! This issue needs to be fixed this year.

I really don't fear our ability to rebound, that should be a great strength of this team. I think we will be able to score, not at will but this should be a good offensive team. We need to be significantly better defensively and limit our turnovers. Tonight is the first real opportunity to see what kind of progress has been made.