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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Arkansas State

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Gophers return to non-conference schedule after splitting conference pair

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas State at Wichita State Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

And just like that, we’re back to regularly scheduled non-conference programming. The Gophers may have turned their season around on Wednesday, picking up a huge game against 25th-ranked Nebraska in a thrill come-from-behind victory. It’s one of those games that has you smiling for days after and showed that, when they’re on, Minnesota can play with just about anyone. Amir Coffey looked like an NBA player, Gabe Kalscheur showed he can score without taking three pointers, and Richard Pitino showed again that he can adjust on the fly to keep things competitive.

For the Gophers, a loss would’ve been devastating, both in the standings and from a morale standpoint. Starting 0-2 in the current scheduling framework means you’ve got a rough start hanging over your head for weeks on end. But even more importantly, it would’ve implied the Gophers couldn’t get the job done at home against similar competition.

Now, they begin a four-game homestand against some pretty bad non-conference opponents, and it starts with Arkansas State. If it seems like the schedule has been unnecessarily brutal to this point, it’s because it has. The Gophers have the 23rd hardest SOS, according to KenPom, and have the ninth-hardest schedule of teams ranked in the top 100.

Now, they get four games in a row they should win by double digits, facing the Red Wolves, North Florida, North Carolina A&T and Mount St. Mary’s. Time to go.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Arkansas State Red Wolves (3-5)

What time are they playing?

Saturday, Dec. 8 @ 3 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 a subscription.

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes, KTLK 1130 AM/103.5 FM

Tell me more about the opponent.

The Red Wolves finished 11th out of 12 teams in the Sun Belt last year, in what was a challenging first year for head coach Mike Balado. And while they’re expected to improve in his second year, Arkansas State is still nowhere near challenging for a conference title.

It begins and ends with Ty Cockfield for the Wolves. A senior guard, Cockfield is averaging 21.5 ppg and already has six games with 23 or more points this year. He’s also shooting an impressive 50 percent from the field.

Defense has been the issue for Arkansas State this year, and they have some of the worst numbers in the country. Balado had them running a matchup zone last year, which didn’t go well, and it looks like that’s carried over to this year. The Gophers should be able to use their size advantage to overpower the Wolves inside.

Predictions

The Gophers are the clear favorite in this one, which isn’t surprising. KenPom likes Minnesota by 19, giving them a 86-67 nod. I’ll take Minnesota by 15.