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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Western Carolina

Gophers go for fourth straight win to begin the year.

NCAA Basketball: Western Carolina at Cincinnati David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

There were a few minutes in Minnesota’s most recent game against Niagara, specifically during a 14-0 run by the Purple Eagles, where I was like, “welp, here we go.” Facing a team that brings back all five of its starters is never easy, and it can be complicated with good three-point shooting. That’s often where upsets happen — hot shooting and veteran leadership.

Still, the Gophers recovered shortly after that and never looked back, racing out a humungous lead and winning 107-81. Ustreet said it best - the fifth gear on this team is fun to watch. The Gophers now sit at 3-0 with back-to-back games against the two worst teams on their schedule - Western Carolina and Alabama A&M.

Western Carolina is probably best remembered for an almost historic upset as a 16-seed against Purdue in 1996. Two last-second three-point attempts almost sunk the Boilermakers, but it wasn’t meant to be. Since then it’s been a whole lot of nothing for the Cats, though they did play in the CIT in 2010 and the CBI in 2016.

Oh, they were also on the court in perhaps basketball’s worst-ever free throw attempt:

So far this year they’re 1-2, with a win over the NCCAA’s Hiwassee College and losses to Clemson and Cincinnati.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Western Carolina Catamounts (1-2, 0-0)

What time are they playing?

Sunday November 19th at 3:30 p.m. CT

Where are they playing?

Williams Arena

Can I watch the game on TV?

Yes, FS1.

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes. 1130 AM and 103.5 FM.

Tell me more about the opponent.

First off, what exactly is a catamount? Apparently it’s any of various wild cats such as a cougar or lynx. The southern Appalachian mountains are home to many wild felines. There’s your lesson for the day.

Basketball-wise, the Catamounts are picked to finish near the bottom of the SoCon, despite returning all five of their starters from last year. They had a terrible injury bug last season, which left the personnel cupboard pretty bare and forced a lot of young guys into action. That resulted in a nine-win season and a lot of uncertainty going forward.

They still seem to be trying to find an identity, and so far haven’t had anyone take a leadership role in terms of performance. No one on the team averages more than 10 points, and their leading scorer is a true freshman. In fact, 10 players average 10 or more minutes, so there’s a lot of mixing and matching with the lineup.

Still, WCU does return all five of their starters from last year and, like Niagara, is led by a bunch of upperclassmen. In terms of being a dangerous team, the Catamounts are hardly that, but do have experience. Oh, and they have a guy named Haboubacar Mutombo. That’s just awesome.

Keys to the Game

No one get hurt

Let’s get in, get out, beat Alabama A&M next week and get to New York for some holiday basketball.

Predictions

KenPom likes the Gophers in this one, predicting an 87-63 drubbing and giving the team a 98 percent chance of winning. I’ll take the Gophers by 15.