Saturday, December 4, 2010

From the Barn Previews Cornell at Minnesota

Golden Gophers vs. Cornell Big Red

7:00 pm (CST) at Williams Arena (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

TV: Big Ten Network

Tickets: Row 10, corner, upper deck

Monday was an ugly, ugly game. Whether it was a perfect storm, bad luck, or a much needed wake up call, we can all agree that we are glad it is over. It is time to not just move on, but move up. The Gophers were given quite the shellacking as the president would say. Losses are never good, and most would consider the loss to Virginia a bad loss, but the Gophers do have the ability to turn it into a good loss if they can grow as a team because of it.

Step one in the recovery process is blow out Cornell, a task that shouldn’t be too difficult if the Gophers can muster up the intensity with which they should play the rest of the season. Cornell, on paper at least is not a good basketball team. Virginia wasn’t either, so we shall see. The fighting Andy Bernards have two wins over Delaware and Albany and losses to Seton Hall, St. Bonaventure, Lehigh, Boston and Syracuse. This obviously not the same team that rolled into the Sweet 16 last season.

Last year’s team had the perfect combination of a role players, stars and distributers. This year’s team has a bunch smart kids that happen to play basketball. The Big Red have decent height along the front line for a mid-major with four players 6’8” or taller. Note that I did not say they have decent size, because someone needs to feed these kids cheeseburgers with no one on the team weighing more than 235 pounds. The Gophers should be able to physically dominate Cornell. Even Ralph Sampson III should be able do whatever he pleases.

Chris Wroblewski is Cornell’s best player leading the team with 13.8 points and 5.6 assists per game. He also averages 4.6 assists and has to be happy that Al Nolen will miss another game with an injured foot. Andrew Ferry, a 6’4” guard is the only other Corneller averaging in double figures in scoring at 10 points per game. He has already made 17 three pointers this season, and should get the full attention of Gopher defenders. Outside of the starting back court the talent level drops off. Aaron Osgood is 6’9” but only 230 pounds and averages 9.3 points per game. In his previous three seasons he never averaged more than 3.8 minutes per game. It is reasonable to think his acceptable scoring may be little more than an aberration. Adam Wire leads the team with 7 rebounds per game, but at 6’5” he shouldn’t get many boards against the Gophers.

As you might imagine, a 2-5 team from a low-major conference is not going to have a pretty statistical profile. Offensively, they can’t shoot, making only 40% of their two point shots and 34% of their three point shots. If they could corral some of those missed shots there might be hope, but nope. They collect only 24% of offensive rebound opportunities, ranking 326th in the country. They also are prone to having the ball stolen and shots blocked. Interestingly, their overall turnover percentage is a respectable 20.1%, compared to Minnesota’s 20.6%. This means the Gophers will have to force those turnovers. Cornell isn’t going to throw the ball into the fifth row on their own. Cornell’s defensive problems begin and end on the inside. They can’t rebound on the defensive end and they can’t block shots. If the Gophers go inside early and often the blowout should be on early.

What to watch for the Gophers:

Just winning Saturday’s game is not good enough. The Gophers need to show that they get it. They need to play as a team, and with great effort. If they aren’t able to show some initiative in a winnable game following an embarrassing loss, it does not bode well for the rest of the season. I expect the Gophers to play intense defense with more than their fair share of floor burns. Offensively, I expect less dribbling and more intentional interior passing. The Virginia game revealed Minnesota’s weaknesses. With a week to fix those flaws, there better be dramatic improvement.

Who to watch for the Gophers:

Devoe Joseph returned to playing on Monday night, but I am not sure he returned to the Gophers. He seemed to be in his own little world, unaware that he has talented teammates, especially on the inside. It is always difficult to integrate into the offense during the first game back from an extend absence, and we saw that on Monday. Now Devoe needs to show that he can play with his teammates and under control. He is the team’s best ball handler until Al Nolen gets back, and he will be crucial in holding things together until that happens.

What to watch for Cornell:

We’ve seen team after team knock down a ton of three pointers against the Gophers, and the Big Red have probably tweaked their offense to find more outside shots. As we’ve seen before, a three-point shooter can completely change the complexion a game.

Who to watch for Cornell:

Until the Gophers find a way to properly defend the three point shot, this space will be populated by the best three point shooter the Gophers will face in a given game. I’m looking at you Andrew Ferry, and your 17 three-pointers on 34% shooting. The Gophers would be well-advised to avoid jumping at any of his ball-fakes too. He has only made 9 non-three pointers on the season.

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