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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Alabama

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Gophers get their stiffest test yet in Barclays Center* Classic finale

NCAA Basketball: Texas-Arlington at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The Gophers won their opening game in the Barclays Center* Classic on Friday, taking down the Massachusetts Minutemen in convincing fashion 69-51. Jordan Murphy had continued his impressive streak of double-doubles, racking up 16 points and 11 boards to notch his sixth in as many games. The Gophers spread out the scoring, and Amir Coffey was the only other double digit scorer as he had 10 points. The game was played at LIU-Brooklyn’s campus, due to a “scheduling conflict,” which felt more like a high school gym than anything, and the sleepy atmosphere seemed to rub off on the players, who were on the sloppy side. But in the end, the Gophers dominated UMass from end to end.

Saturday’s finale won’t be quite such easy sledding as Minnesota wraps up with the Alabama Crimson Tide, who are arguably the best team the Gophers have faced thus far. The No. 25 Tide bring two five-star freshmen guards to the table and are 5-0 on the season, having beaten BYU most recently and slipping by UT-Arlington by a single point on Tuesday.

I provided some thoughts to BamaHoops.com prior to the game. Check them out here.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Alabama Crimson Tide (5-0, 0-0)

What time are they playing?

Saturday, Nov. 25 at 4 p.m. CT

Where are they playing?

The real, actual Barclays Center

Can I watch the game on TV?

It’s not on TV. I mean, it kind of is, but you have to watch it on Facebook. All of the games will be available ​for free ​on Facebook Watch through the Live: Stadium College Basketball show page.

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes. 1130 AM and 103.5 FM.

Tell me more about the opponent.

Alabama represents the first team from a P-5 conference Minnesota has played this season. The Avery Johnson-led program is coming off back-to-back NIT appearances and is ready to make the leap to legitimate NCAA contender. So far, that transition has been going well.

The Tide come into 2017-18 with high hopes thanks to the addition of two blue-chip guards Collin Sexton and John Petty. Sexton is already taking the league by storm, averaging more than 25 points per game which ranks him #7 in the nation. Petty is also having a nice start to the season, averaging nearly 16 points per game.

The biggest blow to Alabama came earlier this month when it was announced that sophomore PF Braxton Key, the team’s leading scorer last year, would miss time due to a meniscus tear. That leaves a glaring hole in the Alabama frontcourt as Key was not only an effective scorer, but also stretched defenses to the three-point line. He would have presented mismatches with Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch.

The Crimson Tide are expected to finish very high in the SEC, and a neutral court matchup will offer a great early season test for the Gophers who haven’t faced stiff competition since going on the road to Providence.

Keys to the Game

Establish the interior

Lynch and Murphy have been a terrific tag team so far this season, and with Key missing from the Alabama frontcourt, the Gophers have the opportunity to own the paint and make life difficult for the Tide. Sexton and Petty are going to score a fair amount of points but if the Murphy/Lynch combo is allowed to run wild then they’ll have a distinct advantage. We know Nate Mason, Amir Coffey and Dupree McBrayer will score points and can largely match the production of the Tide backcourt. The inside battle will determine who walks away with the win.

Predictions

KenPom sees this one as a toss-up but is giving a narrow edge to the Gophers predicting an 74-73 win. I think the Gophers have a slight advantage with their inside game, and will take them by two in a nail-biter.