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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Texas A&M

Gophers open up Vancouver Showcase against beatable Aggies

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Gophers passed their first test of the young season last week, holding off the visiting Utah Utes and showing, at the very least, they can solidly beat a middle-of-the-road Pac-12 team. That’s not nothing.

Things get a little more interesting this week, as they head out west to the Vancouver Showcase to take on Texas A&M, Santa Clara and Washington in a round-robin event. For those keeping track, the Showcase was originally supposed to be a bracketed tournament, so the Gophers are actually sort of benefitting by getting a guaranteed game against Washington now that it’s a different format.

First up is Texas A&M, who provide another good, P5 test for Gophers early in the season. The Aggies were a surprise Sweet Sixteen team last year but have lost much of the firepower that helped them make the special run, and having to change their team identity in the process. Instead of big and physically imposing, they’re now smaller and more up-tempo.

For the Gophers, it represents a winnable game to pad the early season resume and build momentum in what is shaping up to be a tough non-conference slate of games.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Texas A&M Aggies (1-2)

What time are they playing?

Sunday, Nov. 18 @ 9:30 p.m. CT

Where are they playing?

Vancouver Convention Centre

Can I watch the game on TV?

Yes, ESPN2

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes, KTLK 103.5 FM or 1130 AM.

Tell me more about the opponent.

The Aggies are 1-2 on the young season, having beaten Savannah State by 15 points to open the season before losing at home to UC Irvine by a single point and getting shellacked on the road against Gonzaga. Not an ideal start.

A&M went to the Sweet Sixteen last year behind the twin towers of Tyler Davis and Robert Williams, both of whom they lost to the NBA Draft. That’s a lot of firepower to replace.

This year? It’s all about the three-ball and up-tempo play. Coach Billy Kennedy is asking his team to play to their strengths, which is no longer having a ton of size, and try to beat teams from long distance. They attempted 38 three in their opener, 28 against Irvine, and 18 against Gonzaga. The problem is it hasn’t gone well, as the team is only connecting on 23% of their attempts.

Sophomore forward Savion Flagg has taken the reins so far this year, leading the team in scoring, rebounds and three-point scoring, and has been supported by sophomore guard TJ Starks, who has also been scoring at a nice clip.

Still, the Aggies lost a ton of firepower from last year’s successful team, and appear to be quite beatable, especially in a neutral venue.

What to Watch For

Three-point shooting
The Gophers have been shooting the deep ball extremely well this season, ranking 28th in the nation in percentage at 43%. That’s thanks in part to Gabe Kalscheur, who is 7-9 this year from behind the arc, including 5-6 in the game against Utah. Still, Dupree McBrayer and Brock Stull have also connected on a few shots, and Amir Coffey is always capable. Can they keep it up? Keeping the defense honest will allow guys like Jordan Murphy and Daniel Oturu to operate with a little more freedom and spread things out a bit.

Keep Daniel Oturu on the floor
One thing I’ll be watching for tonight is Oturu’s continued adjustment to the college game and his ability to play aggressive but in control. He’s racked up four fouls in each of the two games this year, mostly from over-hustling and not quite knowing when to let up. That’s something that comes with experience, but with Eric Curry on the shelf, Oturu needs to realize that he’s much more valuable on the court than off it. He’s had a great start to the season, but keeping him out there to bang down low alongside Murphy is key over the next few weeks when front court depth is thinner than usual.

Predictions

KenPom likes the Gophers in this one, giving them a narrow one-point edge. I’ll take Minnesota, who appears to match up pretty well with the Aggies, in a 6-point victory, 80-74.