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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Georgia Southern

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Final stretch of non-con games continues Friday night.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Southern at Duke Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

The Gophers survived a mild scare Tuesday night against NJIT and didn’t have the cakewalk that so many predicted. I guess it goes to show that in college basketball there are no gimmes, and even the most unassuming games can quickly turn into a trap. Heck, even Ohio State lost to Florida Atlantic that night, so there might have been a full moon or something. Still, after last year, we’ll take any win we can get, even if it means a single-digit victory over an A-Sun team.

Minnesota will try to shake off the lackadaisical effort and get back to business against Georgia Southern tonight. The Eagles are the second of three Sun Belt teams the Gophers face this season, having already dispatched a sneaky UT-Arlington team and with Arkansas State still on the docket.

The Eagles returned all five of their starters from last year’s team, which was primarily made up of freshmen and sophomores, so you’d expect them to have quite a bit of continuity heading into this year. But that hasn’t played out thus far. They come into the game at 4-4 with three wins over some of the worst teams in the nation and losses to Akron, Mercer, Florida Gulf Coast and NC State. The NC State loss, to be fair, was only by two points in the first game of the year. However, as the NJIT game showed us, you can’t look past anyone these days, and Georgia Southern is no exception.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Georgia Southern Eagles (4-4)

What time are they playing?

8 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.

Like NJIT, the Eagles do not match up well with the Gophers. They love to shoot the three, averaging 25 attempts per game, but aren’t entirely great at hitting them. They’re also pretty small, with two forwards at 6-8 who haven’t been doing much.

Georgia Southern has been particularly bad on defense, ranking 245th in the nation in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They’ve been decent at defending the three, but horrendous closer to the basket and give up a ton of offensive rebounds. The Gophers should be able to use their size advantage to bully the Eagles down low.

The Eagles are led by Ike Smith, who is averaging 21 ppg so far this season and is shooting 55% from the field. Along with fellow guard Tookie Brown, the two were the third-highest scoring freshmen tandem last year. Brown is averaging 15 ppg and four assists, though he’s been prone to turnovers so far.

Keys to the Game

Brown and Smith can score in droves, and have been on fire the last two games, so the Gophers could have their hands full if they continue to not take their opponents seriously. However, with a significant size advantage they should be in position to have their way with the Eagles.

  1. Rely on Lynch and Murphy - Jordan Murphy has been in something of a sophomore slump, but he should be in a good position to get back on track against an undersized Eagles team. Reggie Lynch has been one of the biggest disruptors in the nation on defense and has been effective close to the basket. The Gophers will be wise to use their big men.
  2. Get Dupree back on track - After scoring 80 or more points in their first five games, Minnesota hasn’t cracked 75 since. And that’s coincided with a bit of a slump from Dupree McBrayer. He looked inspired and hungry early in the season, so it’d be nice to get his confidence back and reposition him as a backcourt weapon alongside Nate Mason.

Predictions

KenPom is giving this one to the Gophers, predicting an 79-67 win. I like Minnesota to finally crack 80 in a comfortable 83-73 win.