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Minnesota vs. Western Kentucky Preview - Gophers Home Opener Against The Hilltoppers

Gopher basketball looks for its first win of the season against Western Kentucky

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota returns to the Barn to take on Western Kentucky in the first game of the NIT Season Tip off. This tournament almost did not happen because of scheduling concerns, but it represents a great chance to get a few decent non-conference wins before Big 10 competition.

Opponent: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Game Time: 7:00 CST

Watch: ESPN3

Listen: 1500 ESPN Twin-Cities

Three Points

1. Minnesota's Aggression on Offense

Minnesota plays a style of offense that produces quite a few free throw opportunities. Unfortunately, the Gophers were putrid from the free throw line against Louisville. We will get more information tonight about whether that was an aberration or a season long worry. DeAndre Mathieu, Andre Hollins, Nate Mason, Carlos Morris, and Mo Walker should all have plenty of opportunities to get to the free throw line.

A second aspect of watching free throws is as a proxy for offensive aggressiveness. The Gophers attempted 19 3-point shots against Louisville. On the one hand, we should expect to see this offense shoot threes as the majority of the players on the court can shoot them. On the other hand, an over-reliance on the three prevents looking for easy baskets through post-ups. Mo Walker had a very quiet 12 points against Louisville and will be playing against decidedly weaker competition in the paint tonight. He should be getting to the line frequently, so too should the guards.

2. Defense

This season, Western Kentucky is Minnesota's 4th best non-conference opponent by KenPom's current rankings. Western Kentucky returns their top four scorers from last year's team. The Hilltoppers have a three guard attack led by T.J. Price. Price has averaged 15 points and almost 5 rebounds for most of his career. Price also shoots around 6 threes a game. The Hilltoppers lack size, having just three players 6'8" or above (two of whom are freshmen), but have the potential. Consequently, they will shoot a lot of 3s. Last year Western Kentucky was 61st in the country in 3-point attempts, and began this season by shooting 21 against Austin Peay.

Minnesota must defend the 3-point line. That means that all of the guards and likely whoever is playing the 4, will have to run Western Kentucky off the 3-point line. Western Kentucky is prone to turning the ball over, and the Gophers can make this game easy if they can get lots of transition points off turnovers.

3. The Bench

It was great to see Nate Mason be so productive against Louisville, and Minnesota fans should be legitimately excited about his potential. Bakary Konate, Josh Martin, and Daquein McNeil were less impressive. Konate and Martin both looked like true freshmen playing their first game. McNeil had a poor 18 minutes on the offensive end, and was uncharacteristically average on defense.

In order for the Gophers to have success, they will need some level of production from the bench. Western Kentucky presents an opportunity for these players to get quality minutes in a live game situation.

Predictions

  • Gophers win 75-61.
  • Dre Hollins scores more than 20 points for the second straight game.
  • DeAndre Mathieu has an assist to turnover ratio greater than 3.
  • Bakary Konate averages less than a foul a minute.