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Basketball Preview: Minnesota

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The Gophers come to town to face the first place Spartans

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

The Spartans conclude their five game “homestand” on Thursday night with a matchup against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Michigan State is the lone undefeated team in the Big Ten, sitting at 4-0 in conference play. The Gophers come in at 8-6 overall and 2-2 in the Big Ten. Here is the viewing info for the game:

When: Thursday, January 9th

Time: 9:00 pm

TV: ESPN 2

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get into the matchup stats.

Team Overview

Minnesota is currently ranked 39th in the KenPom rankings. They are the lowest of nine teams ranked in the kenpom top-40. Last year, 37 of the top 40 teams in the kenpom rankings made the NCAA Tournament.

However the Gophers are just 2-5 against games listed as tier A or B opponents. Their best two wins are tier A wins over Ohio State at home and Oklahoma State in a semi-away game played in Oklahoma City. That win against OK State is their only win away from The Barn.

As for the stats, Minnesota is 25th in AdjO and 68th in AdjD.

When it comes to the four factors Minnesota is slightly above average in eFG% and slightly below average in turnover percentage. They are 38th in the country on the offensive glass though, grabbing 33.9% of their misses. One area they are not very good is at getting to the line, where they rank 287th in free throw rate. More free throws would probably help them as they are a pretty solid 73.8% as a team from the line.

Staying on the offensive side, none of the shooting really stands out. They are a little better than average from three, and from two. As I mentioned they are a solid free throw shooting team. They don’t have a ton of shots blocked, 228th in block rate, and they don’t come up with a ton of turnovers.

Despite not being a great three-point shooting team, they take 42.3% of their shots from deep, which is 72nd highest in the country. This is why 35.9% of their total points come from threes. They also are pretty good at assist rate, ranking just outside the top-20.

On the defensive side, the numbers are decent, but unspectacular. They are 62nd in eFG%, 95th in defensive rebounding, and 236th in creating turnovers. They are right at national average in three-point percentage against, but hold teams to almost five-percentage points lower inside the arc than the national average.

The Gophers will block some shots, as they are 37th nationally with a 13.3% block rate, which probably helps contribute to that lower two-point shooting percentage.

Players To Watch

Minnesota has four players averaging double figures in points. Leading the way is sophomore center Daniel Oturu. The 6-10 native Minnesotan is averaging 19.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks per game. He is literally a big problem for opponents on both ends.

NCAA Basketball: Florida International at Minnesota Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

He is shooting 68% from two, 73% at the line, and can step out and knock down the occasional three, where he is at 31.8 percent. He is 25th in the country in defensive rebounding rate, 53rd on the offensive glass, and 37th in block rate. He also plays 81% of the minutes for Coach Pitino.

After Oturu comes fellow sophomore guard Marcus Carr, averaging 15.9 points 5.5 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game. Carr plays over 90% of the team’s minutes, which is pretty impressive. He’s not a spectacular shooter, just 37.4% overall, but he gets to the line six times per game, and he’s just out there all the time so the points add up.

Sophomore Gabe Kalscheur is next at 13.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. He’s also the team leader with 1.4 steals per game. Kalscheur had a big game against Louisville in the NCAA Tournament last year, going off for 24 points on 5-of-11 shooting from downtown.

Kalscheur is the leading three-point shooter on the team with 40 made threes at a 36.7% clip. He also shoots better than 47% from inside the arc. Like his fellow sophomores, Kalscheur plays more than 80% of the minutes for the Gophers.

The final double-digit scorer is junior guard Payton Willis, who averages 10.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. The transfer from Vanderbilt missed some time between mid-December and early January, but returned to action Sunday against Northwestern.

Turkish senior forward Alihan Demir rounds out the starting five for Minnesota averaging 7.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.

Minnesota gets the bulk of their minutes and points from the starting five, so there isn’t a real threat of anyone coming off the bench to go nuclear on you. If you can hold down those guys, you will win.

Both Carr and Oturu do a reasonable job of drawing fouls, and they also do a good job avoiding calls, which is why they have so many minutes logged. Obviously getting Oturu into foul trouble would help, but I’m not sure MSU has anyone equipped to do so.

At the end of the day Minnesota is a solid team but they don’t do any exceptionally, and they aren’t really terrible in any area either. They rely heavily on their top players, and their center is a force on both ends. Will be an interesting matchup but one the Spartans should be able to win, especially given Minnesota’s struggles on the road.