Okay, so the scary part is over. After five games against BCS-level opponents and an MVC team, the Gophers head back to Williams Arena to resume the softer part of their non-conference schedule and gear up for Big Ten play. Minnesota is actually feeling pretty good about themselves these days, having dispatched Arkansas and St. John’s while holding on for a wild neutral-court victory over Vanderbilt on Friday. The low point was a road loss to Florida State where the Gophers were clearly outmatched, but after nearly a month of real games it’s clear that they’re a team that should be in the mix night in and out this season, and that’s exciting.
The Gophers square off against the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) Highlanders in their return home. NJIT is an interesting program and fairly new to the D-1 ranks. They’ve steadily risen from being absolutely terrible for several seasons (like, the worst in the country) to being one of the favorites this year to win the Atlantic Sun. In fact, once upon a time they were so bad that I actually wrote my first-ever blog post just to chronicle their then 37-game losing streak. It would eventually reach an amazing 51 games.
NJIT is now on the up and up, though. They found a conference to join with the A-Sun after having played as an independent for a while and have a new coach in Brian Kennedy. They roll into town at 5-4, though with no wins of note. Their best win is over UMass-Lowell while they got decked by Purdue and Georgia State.
Who are the Gophers playing?
NJIT Highlanders (5-4)
What time are they playing?
7 p.m. CT
Where are they playing?
Can I watch the game on TV?
Yes. BTN (finally).
Can I listen to the game on the radio?
Yes. ESPN 1500.
Tell me more about the opponent.
NJIT does not match up well with the Gophers. They turn the ball over a ton, they can’t really play defense and they don’t do well on the offensive boards. The Gophers should be able to use their size to a huge advantage and bully the Highlanders on both sides of the ball.
NJIT does shoot the three pretty well and could give the Gophers problems if they get hot. However, as we saw with Vanderbilt, Minnesota is actually doing a much better job this year on defense and closing out on three pointers. They have the 24th ranked defense in the nation according to KenPom.
The Highlanders are led by Damon Lynn, who is far and away their best player. He’s averaging 23 ppg and already has six games of 20 points or more, including 33 and 34-point outbursts. He shoots A LOT and jacks up a lot of threes. The problem is he hits them. He actually has an outside chance this year of setting the NCAA record for most career three-pointers. The guy can light it up.
Also watch out for guards Tim Coleman and Rob Ukawuba, who are both averaging double figures. Coleman is 6-5 and can battle on the boards.
Keys to the Game
Outside of Lynn and Coleman, the Highlanders really don’t have much to rely on. The Gophers need to use their size and strength to have their way on both ends, but really shouldn’t have much trouble establishing themselves.
- Slow down Lynn - He’ll get his shots up, but you don’t want the guy getting hot to the point where he’s dropping 40 points and changing the game. The Gophers can afford to face guard him and make NJIT’s other guys try to beat them.
- Practice free throws - Minnesota should have no trouble getting to the line, but they’ve been god awful in actually making free throws this year. We’re talking 238th in the nation. This should be a good game to maybe start to gain some confidence at the line.
KenPom is giving this one to the Gophers predicting an 80-64 win. I actually think the Minnesota offense explodes in a big way, and am expecting an 88-68 victory
I don’t want to rag too much on NJIT, but their losing streak in 2007-08 is actually a historical footnote. In fact NJIT set the record as the most winless team in D-I history with a losing streak of 51 games, breaking Sacramento State’s old D-I record. Check out the rundown of the fateful 2007-2008 season, where their nearest thing to a victory was a 9-point loss to Stony Brook. Amazing.