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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Oral Roberts

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Gophers open final non-conference stretch with Summit foe

Oral Roberts v Creighton Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images

The Gophers were flying high for the first six and a half games of the season, looking borderline unstoppable and playing at a very high level. But after they had their brains scrambled by a 5-on-3 tabloid game they’ve looked out of sync, unmotivated and excruciatingly pedestrian. Just what is going on with this team?

For one, their lack of depth has been exposed and taken advantage of. Teams know they just have to wear down one of the starting five players to poke a giant hole in the Minnesota armor. Lately that has meant luring the team into a game of brute force, where the same five players can only last so long.

Second, the team is being exposed on pick and rolls and closing out on three-point attempts. After 12 games its clear that the Gopher defense needs major adjustments if they want to beat better teams. Right now they just look lost.

And third, the team is just plain getting out-hustled. They clearly believed their Top 25 ranking and continue to look like they think talent alone will win them games. The Drake near-embarrassment would have been a brutal wake-up call. Thankfully it was just a stark reminder that they’ve got to do more than just show up to win games this year.

The Gophers come back from a much-needed 10-day finals break to tackle the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles. Three games remain in the non-conference season, and if the team goes anything other than 3-0 then something will have gone truly wrong.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Oral Roberts Golden Eagles (4-10, 0-0)

What time are they playing?

Thurs., Dec. 21 @ 7 p.m. CT

Where are they playing?

Williams Arena

Can I watch the game on TV?

Sort of. It’s on BTN Plus, which requires an online subscription.

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes, 1130-AM | 103.5 KTLK

Tell me more about the opponent.

Oral Roberts is in the throes of a program rebuild. They fired the winningest coach in program history and have handed the reins over to Paul Mills, who is in his first year. They finished last in the Summit League last year and prospects aren’t looking so good for 2018 either.

While the previous regime didn’t leave much in cupboard, the Eagles have found some success with their frontcourt. Senior Albert Owens and sophomore Emmanuel Nzekwesi are averaging a combined 25 points per game while Javan White is putting up 11 points and nine rebounds per game.

Beyond that, though, depth has been an issue for ORU, which is a major reason they’re 4-10 on the season. Their defense has been particularly atrocious, and they rank near the bottom of the nation in eFG%, forcing turnovers and allowing offensive rebounds. In short, the Gophers should clean up on offense if they can play their game.

Not that the Eagles have turned a corner, but they’ve won three of their last five games, including one over a decent Missouri State team. Nzekwesi has scored 17 or more points in three straight and is shooting 64% during that period. Meanwhile, White has secured a double-double in five of his last seven. So, while their prospects are waning, ORU is coming into the game with more confidence than they’ve had all season.

Keys to the Game

Get back on track in the half-court

The Gophers haven’t been particularly effective running a half court set lately. Bad shot selection, running an ineffective offense and straight-up lazy execution has turned the season upside down and nearly doomed Minnesota against Drake in what would have been an inexcusable loss. In short, they just don’t look organized. We know it’s there, deep down somewhere.

It won’t take much to topple the Eagles, but the most recent game left a lot to be desired.

Predictions

KenPom likes the Gophers in this one, predicting an 18-point win, 85-67. I think the Gophers get back on track after a nice break and win by 15.