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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Arkansas State

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Gophers face one final test before conference play

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas State at Baylor
The Red Wolves come into town with a Georgetown upset to their credit already.
Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

We’re almost there, guys. After 12 games of pretty good, surprising basketball, the Gophers have their final non-conference game tonight at The Barn. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be a cakewalk. Minnesota faces a pesky Arkansas State team that received national attention early in the season for knocking off Georgetown. In what promises to be a sleepy, empty barn the day before Christmas Eve, Minnesota will have to fight the emotional battle to avoid looking past a beatable Red Wolves team and towards a matchup with Michigan State.

The Gophers have been off since last Wednesday when they beat LIU-Brooklyn, so rust could be an issue. However, Amir Coffey is now fully healthy and the team has scored at least 74 points in their last four games, so their trajectory is headed in the right direction. Up to #43 in KenPom’s rankings, Minnesota’s defense has been outstanding so far this year as well.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Arkansas State Red Wolves (9-3)

What time are they playing?

6 p.m. CT

Where are they playing?

Williams Arena

Can I watch the game on TV?

Yes, BTN.

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes. ESPN 1500.

Tell me more about the opponent.

If Arkansas State hadn’t upset the Hoyas early in the season it’s highly doubtful this game would even be on the radar as a potential “watch out”. But when you make national noise like that people stop and take note.

However, the Red Wolves came into the season with low expectations in the Sun Belt, and were picked to finish pretty low in the standings. In fact, they went 11-20 last year overall and didn’t make the conference tournament. With a first-year coach and three starters they lost from last year, there’s a lot of transition.

The Wolves haven’t done much since the G-town victory either. They’ve been beaten handily by TCU and Alabama, and also mixed in an opening night loss to NDSU. As the season plays out, the Georgetown win looks more and more like a fluky victory than the sign of a dangerous team.

Still, ASU has a dangerous backcourt, and is led by a couple of guys named Devin (with different spellings). Devin Carter might be the best scorer in the Sun Belt behind Georgia Southern’s Tookie Brown (who the Gophers know). A preseason all-conference pick, he’s a true chucker but is averaging more than 17 ppg this year, and has five games of 20 or more points. JUCO transfer Deven Simms has been a nice addition as well, and has contributed a solid 13 ppg so far this season. They’ll light you up if you’re not careful.

Keys to the Game

Arkansas State is not a big team, but does a good job of scoring near the basket. They’re turnover-prone, are one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the nation and do not defend well near the basket. They’re excellent at three-point defense, but the Gophers don’t rely too heavily on the deep ball, which makes it a moot point.

  1. Keep up the energy — It’s winter break and people are gearing up for Christmas, so it’s going to be a snoozer at The Barn, which evens the playing field. The Gophers are a superior team, but if they get caught daydreaming about conference play they could find themselves in the danger zone.
  2. Use the size advantage — The Gophers are a bigger, more physical team, and have enough length to shut down ASU’s scorers. If Reggie Lynch and Jordan Murphy can stay in the game and out of foul trouble they should make short work of the Wolves.

Predictions

KenPom is giving this one to the Gophers, predicting a 75-64 win. I think Arkansas State used up its magic early in the season and am taking the Gophers by 14 in the non-con finale.