The Gophers got off on the right foot Friday, cruising to a 92-77 victory over USC Upstate. The Spartans held on for quite a while thanks to some ridiculous three-point shooting, but in the end the Gophers pulled away with superior physicality and depth.
Minnesota typically has a few ramp-up games to begin the year before they face a tough opponent, but this year is a little different. They head east for their first of two true non-conference road games (the other is against Arkansas in December) against a good Providence Friars team that made it to the NCAA Tournament last year.
This one is part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games, which pits Big East teams against Big Ten teams for eight games each season with four games being played at a Big East school and the other four at a Big Ten school. Last year the Gophers hosted St. John’s as part of the Gavitt Games.
Providence is in the “others receiving votes” category to start the season and should be a tough out in their home gym. It’s a great early test for a veteran Gopher squad who can set a nice precedent in the second game of the season. Oh, and Providence is Richard Pitino’s alma mater!
However, the game promises to be a challenge for a Minnesota team that comes into the season with tons of chemistry and high expectations. Providence is a big, physical team with a lot of weapons, but had problems with inconsistency throughout last season. Still, they present some matchup problems that will challenge the Gophers.
A win would legitimize a lot of things for this team, but a loss doesn’t necessarily mean anything dire is in the works. Games this early in the season aren’t necessarily a barometer of where a team is at, so while a win would be awesome, a loss is far from devastating. If anything, it’s a measuring stick to see how the Gophers compare to a top tier opponent.
Who are the Gophers playing?
Providence Friars (1-0, 0-0)
What time are they playing?
5:30 p.m. CT
Where are they playing?
Dunkin’ Donuts Center (a.k.a. The Dunk)
Can I watch the game on TV?
Can I listen to the game on the radio?
Yes. KFAN 100.3.
Tell me more about the opponent.
While the Friars aren’t getting quite the notoriety the Gophers are before the season, they bring back all five starters from a team that had some big wins last year. Leading the way is senior forward Rodney Bullock who, while inconsistent, put up some big numbers last year, averaging almost 16 points and more than six rebounds per game.
Second team all-conference point guard Kyron Cartwright is also a force. He led the Big East in assists last year (fourth nationally) and averaged more than 11 points per game. He’s got blazing speed and came into his own as a scorer the last half of last season.
The other two returning seniors, Emmitt Holt (an Indiana transfer) and Jalen Lindsey, round out the returning players who averaged in double figures last year. Lindsey is an athletic wing who has vastly improved his three-point shooting, while Holt has grown into a match-up problem as a 6-7 forward who can shoot, though foul trouble has been an issue for him.
Both Holt and Lindsey missed Providence’s opener against Houston Baptist, with Holt recovering from stomach surgery and Lindsey battling a knee issue. It’s unclear if they’ll be on the court for Monday’s game.
Long story short, Providence is the type of team that could give the Gophers problems. They have size, they shoot the three well and they’re a veteran squad that plays great defense. And they’re playing at home.
Keys to the Game
- Hold on to the ball
The Friars were great last year at forcing turnovers and stealing the ball, and in a hostile environment it’s imperative for the Gophers to cut down on the second chance opportunities. The Gophers, conversely, were very good at hanging onto the ball last year, so it’s not unlikely that it carries over to this year. Still, it’s early in the season and there’s some rust to shake off, and turnovers are rampant early in the season.
2. Use that size
If there’s one advantage the Gophers will have in almost every game this season it will be frontcourt size and physicality. The combination of Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch is hard to match and even harder to contain. And with Murphy scoring a career high 35 points in the opening game I’m really hoping that he’s turning the corner into a conference superstar. Providence has a couple guys who ran into foul trouble pretty regularly last season, so if the Gophers can attack and draw fouls they could force some personnel decisions early on. It’s a strategy they deployed effectively last year.
KenPom doesn’t like the Gophers in this one, and it’s hard to blame him. A true road game against a difficult Big East team this early in the season is a tough ask. KP has this at 77-71 in favor of the Friars. I think Minnesota drops this one by five as they get an early reminder that there’s no sneaking up on anyone this year.