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Previewing Minnesota v. St. John's

The Gophers return to Madison Square Garden to take on St. John's.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Key Information

Last time Minnesota was in New York City, they won the NIT Championship. Tonight, they return to Madison Square Garden for the NIT Season Tip Off. It's almost like there's a theme to these appearances.

Opponent: St. John's Red Storm

Time: 6pm CST

Where: Madison Square Garden

Watch: ESPNU/WatchESPN

Listen: 1500 ESPN

Three Points

1. Size

St. John's only has three players on the roster over 6'6" and only two of them play any real minutes. Mo Walker will face his second test of the season against Chris Obekpa. Obekpa a potential NBA draft pick, is an imposing center who stands 6'9" with a 7'4" wingspan. He is the main rebounder for the Red Storm and leads the team in blocks. Obekpa will certainly provide rim protection*, but does not have a strong offensive game.

Besides Obekpa, there is not a single Red Storm player capable of matching the size of the Gophers front line. Even taking into account their inexperience, the Gophers have more players on the bench that are taller than 6'7" than St. John's has total. If the Gophers can get Obekpa in foul trouble early, they should have a major advantage in the paint.  That does not mean that St. John's will not

*It is an open question in the sense that currently this statistic is not tracked how valuable blocks are. Blocks are a tricky statistic because they are likely to be inflated at home, and a block may not change possession. There is a decent amount of research suggesting that blocks are a weaker proxy than expected for judging rim protection.*

2. Efficiency

It is no secret that the Gophers generate a lot of their offense from their defense, but in the last game against UMBC Minnesota was unable to execute in the half court consistently. St. John's is a good team that will make the Gophers work on both ends of the floor. Because St John's is guard dominant, Minnesota's guards, led by DeAndre Mathieu, must play efficiently and under control. This means avoiding unnecessary turnovers and cheap fouls early on.

If they avoid silly plays, St. John's is vulnerable to outside shooting. Against Franklin Pierce (they of the worst fight song of all time), St. John's SB Nation blog Rumble in the Garden noted

[St. John's] allowed wide open looks from three both playing man to man and in zone sets. This led to Franklin Pierce shooting 8-14 (57%) from downtown and a combined FG% of 55%. When the Red Storm adjusted, the Ravens recognized the close defense and penetrated into the paint for finishes against the Obekpa-less defense.

That's exactly how the Gophers would like to play. Keeping the starters on the floor and avoiding taking bad early shots will be imperative for Minnesota to come out with a victory.

3. Bench Play

Minnesota's starting five has played well in the first four games, but outside of Nate Mason the bench has been subpar. The second team has an opportunity to play meaningful minutes tonight. This season, St. John's has played six players more than 10 minutes per game. In contrast, the Gophers play eight. Eliason should present a tough matchup for the Red Storm's backups, and If either Konate or Martin can stay on the court, they should be able to do damage. The suspension of Daquein McNeil has hurt Minnesota's depth at wing, but expect to see more Charles Buggs. Buggs should be an interesting matchup against St. John's smaller but experienced wings.

Predictions

  • Gophers win 82-70. I'm rejecting KenPom's prediction of a 71-68 loss.
  • Mo Walker finishes with 12 points at least 5 of which come from the line.
  • At some point, Pitino rolls out Mason, Mathieu, and Hollins at once.
  • DC residents buy all of the dairy products in the grocery store because it is snowing outside. This isn't a prediction so much as a weird truism about the area.