A young Minnesota team has a major test in the early season as it hits the road against Virginia Tech in the first true road game of the year. The Hokies come into the game at 6-1 with a road loss at Charleston. The rest of their schedule hasn’t been too tough, so the Gophers have a chance to surprise their opponent as the ACC/Big Ten Challenge kicks off.
KenPom Rank: 35
The Hokies come into the season with high hopes in the ACC. After a miracle run through the ACC tournament last year they found themselves in the NCAA Tournament as an 11-seed but were quickly dispatched by Texas. Virginia Tech is a veteran team and doesn’t make many mistakes, committing the second fewest turnovers in the nation and scoring extremely efficiently.
KEYS TO A GOPHER WIN
Minimize mistakes - The Gophers have been very error prone to begin the season as they seek to find their footing with lots of new personnel. Several freshmen get extended minutes, Dawson Garcia is finding his place in the offense, and Jamison Battle is shaking off the rust from offseason foot surgery. Put it all together and it has been a slop-fest to say the least. Minnesota needs to capitalize on its scoring chances and avoid giving additional scoring chances to Virginia Tech with turnovers. The Gophers are in the 300s in terms of turnover percentage thus far this year, which isn’t going to win you many games.
Score efficiently - Minnesota’s two stars, Garcia and Battle, lead the team in scoring as expected, but it hasn’t been pretty. Battle is shooting a dismal 28% from the field after shooting 45% last season, so he is way off his average. Garcia is at a respectable 46% but hasn’t looked in “flow” yet this season and has taken the most shots by a wide margin. Jaden Henley is also putting up a ton of shots without much to show for it. Put it all together and they have been prone to some disastrous scoring droughts. Big man Pharrel Payne, though, is setting the example, connecting on a ridiculous 75% of his shots (44th in the nation!). Overall, the Gophers are mediocre from the field as they try to find some semblance of an offensive attack.
Please ... make some free throws - The national median for free throw percentage is right around 70% and the Gophers are well below that. In fact, they have nearly the worst free throw shooting percentage in the nation at 55%. Only Brown and USC Update are shooting worse from the line. If the Gophers had shot even average from the line this year they would have 20 more points on their bottom line. It nearly lost them the the Cal Baptist game and when you can’t make the front end of a one-and-one, it’s effectively a turnover. Made free throws smooth over a lot of mistakes, build momentum and, obviously, add points to the total score. The Gophers have been atrocious in that department.
After effectively getting stomped by UNLV it’s hard to see Minnesota having the gumption to turn things around so drastically in one game, especially on the road. They have many warts that will only fade with time and experience as the young core develops. However, if Battle can find his magic and Payne delivers in a big way they can certainly keep the game close, but Virginia Tech basically just has to wait for mistakes to happen and capitalize. They shouldn’t have to wait long.
Virginia Tech - 66
Minnesota - 54