Game Preview: Gophers vs. Tennessee State 11/15/12

Tennessee State Tigers at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Thursday, November 15, 2012 | 7pm CT | TV/Online: ESPN3

Tennessee State comes to Minneapolis with a record of 0-2, having lost on the road to BYU and South Dakota State. The Tigers were picked to finish second in the East division of the Ohio Valley behind conference newcomer Belmont. Murray State and their returning star Isaiah Cannon were the top pick on the West side of the conference.

The Gophers will not have the only NBA prospects on the floor at Williams Arena Thursday night. Tennessee State’s versatile senior forward Robert Covington was superb last year and has continued to progress during his three seasons in Nashville.

Head coach Travis Williams took over for John Cooper who left for the top job at Miami (OH) in April. Williams worked as an assistant under Cooper for the past three seasons and takes over for a team that returns four starters and has a roster with a lot of Chicagoland talent.

Minnesota comes into the game 2-0 after winning their first two by a combined 62 points. It’s difficult to be critical of their play after two dominant performances, but there are areas that need improvement.

Minnesota turned the ball over 19 times against Toledo, including 12 turnovers from starting guards Andre Hollins (4) and Joe Coleman (8). Giving up the ball has been an issue for the Gophers in recent years, but they’ll try to buck that trend against a Tiger defense that is good at creating turnovers.

Another area Tubby Smith’s team will try to address is allowing their opponents to earn trips to the line. Both American and Toledo were given 23 free throw attempts.

If Covington gets loose for 30 points, which is possible, Tennessee State could make a game of this one. More likely, however, the Gophers cruise to 3-0.

Below you’ll find a PLAYERS TO WATCH section highlighting specific Tigers. For additional information on the Gophers and Big Ten basketball, go to LateNightHoops.com.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

#33 Robert Covington (17.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg in 2011-12) is a long and versatile 6’9” senior forward from the Chicago area and a threat from anywhere on the floor, with or without the ball. He’s a great shooter, defender and rebounder who is a cut above anyone Minnesota has seen so far this season.

Covington was very efficient with the ball a year ago and shot extremely well both inside the arc (57.0%) and behind it (65/145 for 44.8%). Defending Covington will be a nice test for Rodney Williams and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see these two going up against each other again next July in the NBA’s summer league.

Strong point guard #2 Patrick Miller (10.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.6 apg) stands 6’1”, 189 pounds and has been credited with a total of 19 assists in the Tigers’ first two games.   Prior to this year, Miller has shot infrequently and poorly from 3-point range (41/139 for 29.5%; 2.2 3FA/game), but has taken 9 attempts behind the arc already this year and made 3.

Miller is a better scorer when he gets close to the bucket and is a fairly strong guard who does draw contact. Minnesota would prefer the junior to continue shooting out on the perimeter as compared to him dishing to Covington or other open Tigers.

#1 Kellen Thornton (9.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg) played at Hillcrest (Ill.) and Brewster Academy (N.H.) in high school and began his college days at Illinois State. Now a senior and a big 6’8”, 243 pounds, Thornton is another good scoring option and a solid rebounder.

Others to mention:

  • Senior guard #45 Jordan Cyphers (8.0 ppg; 36.4% 3FG) started out at Utah before transferring two years ago.  He’ll likely come off the bench looking to fire away from long range.
  • #3 Kharon Butcher (1.9 ppg) is another reserve who is willing to try from 3-point range. He only went 8/28 3FG for 28.6% as a freshman, but he can hit from outside.
  • Redshirt sophomore #4 M.J. Rhett (3.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg) has added size to his 6’8” frame and helps inside with rebounding.


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