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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Utah

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Gophers host Utes in first half of home-and-home series

NCAA Basketball: NIT Final-Penn State vs Utah Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The Gophers opened up the season in dominating fashion, sending the Omaha Mavericks packing in a 28-point blowout on Tuesday, 104-76. And while the easy victory wasn’t surprising, it was nice to see the team get off on the right foot and conduct business as usual, especially in a year where we’re not entirely sure what to expect.

Things get a little dicier on Monday, and the level of opponent increases significantly when the Pac-12’s Utah Runnin’ Utes come to town, representing the first game of a home-and-home series the schools agreed to this summer. For the Gophers, it’s the first game of what will be an eight-game slog that features dates with Utah, Boston College, Washington, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, along with Nebraska and Ohio State.

This will be the third all-time meeting between the two schools, and the first in 15 years. The Utes have taken the last two victories, including a 66-54 decision in Salt Lake City on Nov. 19, 2003. Additionally, it will be the first time the Gophers face a Pac-12 team since defeating UCLA in the first round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament (ah, memories!).

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Utah Utes (1-0)

What time are they playing?

Monday, Nov. 12 @ 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, KTLK 103.5 FM or 1130 AM.

Tell me more about the opponent.

Utah is coming off a 20-win season and NIT runner-up finish, falling to Penn State in the championship game at Madison Square Garden. The Utes were 23-12 overall last season, including a third-place finish of 11-7 in Pac-12 play.

That’s about where the good news ends for the Utes. They lost a trio of double-digit scorers this offseason and four of last year’s five starters. That’s a lot of talent to replace. However, with some younger guys expected to contribute right away, they’re predicted to finish around the middle of the pack in the conference, and could surprise along the way, especially given how hard coach Larry Krystkowiak has scheduled this year.

Sedrick Barefield will do his best to replace some of that scoring, and finds himself as Utah’s top scoring option. Originally a transfer from SMU, he was on fire the latter half of last season and scored 18 points while dishing out eight assists in the season opener against Maine. Though he did commit five TOs and only shot 5-14 from the field. He’s supported by sophomore forward Donnie Tillman down low, who has taken a giant leap this summer to become one of the team’s top scoring options.

What to Watch For

Who’s the starting point guard?
Amir Coffey started the game against Omaha at point and was extremely efficient, leading the team with 18 points and going 5-7 from the field with four assists. But with Isaiah Washington coming off the bench and delivering 11 assists, Pitino may have his hand forced in making a decision of who to start. Coffey gives the team a different look at 6’8”, but it will be interesting to track Jelly’s development in his sophomore season if he continues to deliver.

The bigs vs. a 7-foot opponent
Daniel Oturu and Matz Stockman (he lives!) had solid debuts in maroon and gold as they try to hold off until Eric Curry gets back. With 7-foot center Novak Topalovich down low for the Utes, Minnesota’s posts will face their first challenge of the season.

Predictions

KenPom likes the Gophers in this one, giving them a six-point edge and predicting a 77-71 victory. I’ll take Minnesota, whose offensive advantage should allow them to pull away late for a 10-point victory, 81-71.