Game Preview: Gophers vs. American 11/9/12

American University Eagles at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Friday, November 9, 2012 | 7pm CT | TV/Online: Gopher All Access (Online)

Head coach Jeff Jones begins his 13th year at American with his squad picked to finish third in the top-heavy Patriot League behind familiar names Bucknell and Lehigh.

American lost its top two scorers (Charles Hinkle 18.4 ppg & Troy Brewer 11.9 ppg) to graduation and returning guard Blake Jolivette (23.7 mpg, 7.3 ppg) is out after suffering an ACL injury this summer. Combined, these three players accounted for 56% of last year’s points.

Still, there are a few experienced players ready to lead the Eagles this season.

Below you’ll find a PLAYERS TO WATCH section highlighting specific Eagles and THE TEAM section that covers the four factors. For additional information on Gopher and Big Ten basketball, go to LateNightHoops.com.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Point guard #2 Danny Munoz (31.8 mpg, 8.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.2 apg) had a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and made 43.9% of his 3-point tries, although he doesn’t shoot much (36/82 3FG). As good as some of those statistics may sound, it’s important to consider that he’s a low usage point guard and struggled with his 2-point shooting (35.7%).

Overall, Munoz is not game changer but he’s very important to the team as a senior and far and away American’s best option at the point. In a game like this, the Gophers have to be mindful that Munoz may want to try and set the tone for the season by showing he’s going to step up offensively more often.

#34 Tony Wroblicky (18.4 mpg, 6.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg) is a 6’10” junior who was excellent rebounding and blocking shots last year. He should see many more minutes this season if he’s able to stay out of foul trouble, but that’s a big if. Minnesota will want to test Wroblicky’s defense early on, as a cutting Rodney Williams or slashing Joe Coleman would be hard for the big lefthander to resist slapping.

#32 Stephen Lumpkins, whose father Larry played 30+ years ago at Northwestern, returns to college basketball after spending a year playing rookie ball for the Kansas City Royals organization. Lumpkins is a 6’8” lefty who can pitch into the low-90s, but he’s had far more success on the basketball court than on the mound.

As a junior in 2010-11, Lumpkins averaged 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds in 30.0 minutes per game. We anticipate he’ll jump right back into old form despite the year on the diamond.

Neither of the big men shoots from distance, but they will look to get the high-low game working. While Wroblicky doesn’t always look confident when trying to score, Lumpkins is a legit scoring threat and who can take contact.

After the three players discussed above, things get a lot less impressive. However, a few others to mention:

  • Rutgers transfer #4 Austin Carroll is a 6’4” combo guard who will likely play significant minutes off the ball, but also spell Munoz at the point for several minutes as well. It will be a Brewster Academy reunion, something that happens quite often in college basketball, as Carroll and Minnesota’s Maurice Walker were teammates there. Like Walker, Carroll has played sparingly thus far in college because of injuries, but is now ready to go.
  • Freshman guard #14 Jesse Reed has good size at 6’5” and is a guy to watch on the perimeter.
  • Texas product #1 Kyle Kager looks like he will be a decent scorer for the Eagles at some point, but he’s probably a year away. Still, he’s a long, 6’8” kid who can score inside and out and could cause mismatches.

THE TEAM

In 2011-12 the Eagles took an average amount of 3-point attempts, but were extremely accurate. This season’s team should be a bit more focused on interior scoring with the loss of their top shooters and the available 1-2 punch of Lumpkins and Wroblicky.

Shooting
The Eagles will need to shoot the ball very well if they are to compete. Last year they were 17-0 when their offensive efficiency was 100 or better and 3-12 when it was under 100. They won’t be at 100 without a solid effective field goal percentage.

The trick for American this year will be shooting a much higher 2FG% than the 44.0% achieved a year ago, because they won’t shoot from long range as often and they will not be as accurate. The Eagles shot 39.4% behind the arc (and an amazing 45.2% in conference games) a year ago.

While improvement upon their poor 2FG% from a year ago appears an easily achievable goal for the season, scoring buckets inside will not be a breeze against the Minnesota defense. If the Lumpkins-Wroblicky combination doesn’t produce a high field goal percentage, the Eagles will stay grounded and unable to compete.

Defensively, American may give Gopher fans a look at what their team can do against a zone defense. If Minnesota struggles getting the ball inside early, they may need to call upon the Juice Man Julian Welch to come off the bench and give them a third player who can squeeze the trigger from deep.

Turnovers
It’s often discussed as a point of emphasis, but the Gophers haven’t been able to show much improvement in taking care of the ball. With so many returning players we’d have to believe there will be improvement this season, but how much?

American generally takes things slow and neither coughs up the ball a lot nor generates many turnovers. Minnesota often commits unforced turnovers and we could see the Eagles winning the turnover battle, albeit by a small margin.

Rebounding
This could get interesting. Tubby Smith plans to start Elliot Eliason and Rodney Williams with three guards. Eliason against Wroblicky should be a good battle, but add in Lumpkins against Williams and the advantage may go to American. That said, Minnesota has Trevor Mbakwe and Maurice Walker on the bench.

The battle of the boards should be entertaining and could go either way. The Gophers would love to make a statement that they are not going to be out-muscled on the boards by anyone this year, but this is an interesting challenge to start off the schedule and it will be tough for them to dominate the Eagles from start to finish.

Free Throw Rate
People love to talk about free throw percentages, but what really matters is getting to the line. If Minnesota does so early and often Friday night, it’s probably in large part due to Tony Wroblicky getting into foul trouble, which would .

The Gophers put opponents on the charity stripe too often in 2011-12 and Eliason was often a culprit. With Mbakwe and Walker on the bench, foul trouble for Eliason individually isn’t a big concern, but giving the other team free throw attempts is.

Summary
The Gophers should win comfortably, but American could keep it close early on.

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