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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Vanderbilt

Gophers try to get back on track after first loss of the season

NCAA Basketball: Butler vs Vanderbilt
The Gophers meet the Commodores on a neutral court in Sioux Falls Saturday.
Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

The Gophers are smarting a little bit after their first loss of the season Monday against Florida State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It was a bit of a wake up call, and we learned a few things about the team that I, for one, was looking forward to getting more clarity on. Namely, this team really isn’t as far off as we think in terms of sniffing the NCAA Tournament this year. Those hopes should be realistic, which is astounding after only one year removed from the worst record in school history. But, they also have some work to do and are going to have to really clean some things up if they want to compete in the Big Ten this year. Going up against Florida State’s bigs was a nightmare and Minnesota couldn’t stay out of foul trouble. Granted, it’s early in the season but it was concerning to see how off their game they got when they couldn’t out-physical their opponent. And, my God, the free throw shooting. That’s not the first time foul shooting will sink this team this year. It’s an unequivocal disaster at this point.

The Gophers have their work cut out for themselves again on Saturday, facing off against the Vanderbilt Commodores at a neutral site in Sioux Falls. Minnesota lost a close one to Oklahoma State last year in a similar contest at The Pentagon but should be better equipped this year to take one away from home. Vanderbilt represents another opportunity to see where the Gophers stack up against equivalent competition. Vandy snuck into the tournament last year, exiting in the first round, but has renewed optimism with new head coach Bryce Drew and certainly has postseason aspirations. They’re 4-3 on the season with expected wins over a few low-majors. However, they had a disappointing Las Vegas Invitational, dropping games to Bucknell and Butler before salvaging their trip with a win over Santa Clara. They also got dominated by Marquette in the first game of the year.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Vanderbilt Commodores (4-3)

What time are they playing?

7 p.m. CT

Where are they playing?

Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Can I watch the game on TV?

Sort of. It’s on ESPN3.

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes. ESPN 1500.

Tell me more about the opponent.

Florida State was a team composed of huge, physical guys who bullied the Gophers into submission. Vanderbilt will not be that sort of team, but will challenge Minnesota in other ways. They love the three and are really good at shooting it; something the Gophers have had trouble defending in Richard Pitino’s tenure.

The Commodores are led by 7-1 senior forward Luke Kornet, a true inside-outside threat. He led Vandy in rebounding last year and tied for third in the nation in blocked shots per game. He can also shoot the three and is averaging a career-high 14 ppg this year.

Also watch out for Matthew Fisher-Davis, who is bound to give the Gophers fits from beyond the arc. He was the best 3-point shooter in the SEC last season and loves to shoot the three. He attempted 177 shots from behind the arc last year and has already jacked up 40 attempts this season. He’s made at least three 3-pointers in all but three games this year for Vanderbilt and leads the team in scoring.

Keys to the Game

This is definitely a winnable game for the Gophers if they can stay out of foul trouble, own the physical game and close out on three-pointers. Oh, and stop leaving double-digit points at the free throw line, please.

  1. Stop the three - Vanderbilt loves to play away from the basket and the Gophers have been effective on defense so far this season. If they can keep the Commodores off balance and continue to force turnovers they can keep control of the game.
  2. Force turnovers - You can probably say this for any game; forcing turnovers is key. But Vanderbilt has been especially turnover-prone this season, making them vulnerable to giving up a lot of points off at the other end.
  3. Immobilize Kornet - Luke Kornet can give teams fits because of his length, but with Amir Coffey and Reggie Lynch, the Gophers are in great position to make him a non-factor. Stopping him is key.

Predictions

KenPom is giving the edge to the Gophers in this one, predicting a 72-70 win for Minnesota. I like the Gophers in this one too, but expect them to bounce back offensively, winning 78-70.