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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Oklahoma

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Gophers line up against the first of many major conference opponents

Oklahoma v Virginia Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Gophers started their season on a positive note Tuesday, taking down the Cleveland State Vikings at home 85-50 in a beat down to start the season 1-0. Newcomers Payton Willis and Marcus Carr led the way in what was a promising performance for two players expected to carry a lot of the scoring load for Minnesota this year. Daniel Oturu held his own with a double-double.

The level of play increases quite substantially for Minnesota in its second game, as the Gophers travel to Sioux Falls to take on the Oklahoma Sooners in a neutral-site game at the Sanford Pentagon. It’s the first of three games away from home for Minnesota, who head to Butler and Utah afterward for true road games. In fact, the Gophers scheduled an impressive six teams from P6 conferences this year, in what should be a true test for an unproven Minnesota squad. It’ll be a great nightcap after many of us will have watched the football team take down Penn State.

Reliant on several new faces, we’ll see if the Gophers can maintain their scoring ability as the level of opponent increases.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Oklahoma Sooners (1-0)

What time are they playing?

Saturday, Nov. 9 @ 7 p.m. CT

Where are they playing?

Sanford Pentagon (Sioux Falls, SD)

Can I watch the game on TV?

Yes, BTN

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes, KTLK 1130-AM/103.5-FM

Tell me more about the opponent.

Like the Gophers, Oklahoma returns a small core of players from last year’s NCAA Tournament squad but is otherwise reliant on a ton of new, unproven players. That means there isn’t a ton of continuity from a team that made it to the second round of the Big Dance last year.

Brady Manek, Kristian Doolittle and Jamal Bieniemy comprise the core of contributors from last year who return. The former two averaged double figures for the squad, while Bieniemy found success as a freshman point guard after he was forced into the role in January.

The core isn’t made up of slouches either. Manek is on the preseason watch list for the Karl Malone Award, which is given to the nation’s top power forward, while Doolittle was named Big 12 most improved player last season.

The Sooners demolished UTSA in their season opener. While Doolittle was on the bench serving a one-game suspension, the team was buoyed by two newcomers, junior transfer Austin Reaves (23 points) and heralded prospect De’Vion Harmon, who scored 23 points in his debut. Harmon, who was rated the No. 46 player in his class (and fifth-rated point guard) is definitely someone to watch, especially after scoring so many points in his debut.

Oklahoma will rely on its backcourt to do a lot of the scoring, so may be susceptible to having Gabe Kalscheur lock down Harmon. And if Oturu can match up well with Doolittle the Gophers may end up having more firepower than the Sooners.

Honestly, it will come down to the supporting cast for each team. If the Gophers can get more production from their bench and establish an element of cohesion, they should have a solid chance of nabbing the victory.

Predictions

KenPom has Oklahoma ranked #23 early in the season, with the Gophers checking in at #77, so they see it as a wide gap. The X-factor in this one will come down to which team can find its identity first. Both have a ton of new faces in tow, so if Minnesota can continue shooting well and get some support from the bench they should be in good shape.

I like the Minnesota in this one by a couple points.