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Game Preview: Gophers vs. Duke Blue Devils 11/22/12

Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-0) vs. #5/#5 Duke Blue Devils (3-0)
Thursday, November 22, 2012 | approx. 2:30pm CT | TV/Online: AXS.tv

Minnesota heads into a nonconference gauntlet with four challenging games over six days. It ends next Tuesday in Tallahassee against Florida State, but the first battle is in the Bahamas where the Gophers take on the Duke Blue Devils in the quarterfinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis on Thanksgiving Day.

In 2011-12, Coach K’s team defense was uncharacteristically bad (mediocre for most teams, but bad for them). The Blue Devils ranked #70 in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom.com (Minnesota was #48) and were mediocre in almost every area. Their “strength” was limiting the opposition to 31.7% 3-point shooting, which we believe was largely due to chance as opposed to skill.

With a strong offense, however, Duke carried a 27-6 record into the NCAA tournament where they earned a No. 2 seed and a date with Lehigh. C.J. McCollum would score 30 and lead the Mountain Hawks to a 75-70 victory, putting an end to Duke’s season.

Members of the 2011-12 Duke team, Austin Rivers moved on to the NBA and Andre Dawkins is taking a year off from college basketball. It wasn’t difficult to find defensive upgrades for those two and Duke’s defense will be better this year. How much better is yet to be seen.

In Thursday’s game, Duke has an advantage in the area of turnovers and Minnesota a small advantage in rebounding. However, the story of this one figures to be field goal shooting.

On offense Duke has a ton of options which we discuss in more detail in the PLAYERS TO WATCH – Blue Devils section below. Unless they have an off shooting night, Duke’s offensive arsenal may be too much for the Gophers to handle.

So far this season, Minnesota has limited their opponents to an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of 31.5%. Two opponents shot an eFG% of less than 27.5% and the best performance was a paltry 36.4% eFG% by Richmond. The Gopher defenders have created steals, blocked shots and been excellent at forcing their foes to settle for 2-point jump shots. In addition, the opposition has gone 13/68 or 19.1% from 3-point range.

Duke’s eFG% this year is 56.3% and the last time they shot less than 40% eFG% in a single game was in the 2009-10 season. Surely something has to give and it’s most likely going to be Minnesota’s defense.

However, don’t count the Gophers out. This can be a fairly even matchup on paper between two teams with a nice mix of veterans and young talent. We say “can be” because Minnesota’s use of their bench could sway things in favor of the Blue Devils.

As we discussed in our preseason preview of Minnesota, we don’t subscribe to the popular belief that coach Tubby Smith’s team is particularly deep. You’ll probably hear the television broadcasts say that the Gophers are a very deep team and most of the media will continue say it for some time to come, but key to this game and this season is going to be how Smith uses his roster.

Below you’ll find a PLAYERS TO WATCH sections highlighting specific Blue Devils and Gophers. In addition, an OTHER NOTES section covers several miscellaneous areas. For additional information on the Gophers and Big Ten basketball, go to LateNightHoops.com.

PLAYERS TO WATCH – Blue Devils

Senior #5 Mason Plumlee (11.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg in 2011-12) is a 6’10”, 235 pound active big man who has progressed nicely throughout his years at Duke and moves well for his size. While Mason may be too strong for Elliot Eliason to handle by himself, he also may be too athletic for Maurice Walker to deal with. Plumlee is a very good rebounder on both sides of the court, but especially excels on the defensive end.

Plumlee will usually play within the team concept and take good shots as they come to him as opposed to forcing things. Nonetheless, he is prone to turnovers. In addition, despite having made 14 of 15 free throw attempts in the last two games, he’s a horrible free throw shooter.

He’s an important part of Duke’s team, but far from the only player of note. That said, his 21.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 77.4% FG shooting and frequent trips to the line so far this year are very impressive.

Another senior with size, 6’11” #34 Ryan Kelly (11.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 40.8% 3FG), was able to convert 40 3-point attempts last year and can cause matchup problems with his skill set. We’re not convinced he’ll be able to shoot over 40% from behind the arc again this season, but he is a perimeter shooting threat.

For his size, Kelly is not a great rebounder or particularly tough inside, but he is an efficient offensive player who shoots well and doesn’t turn the ball over much. In fact, he contributed more Offensive Value Add than any other Blue Devil in 2011-12 despite playing just over 800 minutes.  He’s averaging 10.7 ppg and 5.0 rpg this year.

#30 Seth Curry (13.2 ppg, 38.3% 3FG) is a 6’2” senior guard that is always ready to put up a shot. About half of his attempts came from 3-point range last season and he heads into Thursday’s game with a career 40.7% average from behind the arc.

This season Curry is averaging 16.0 ppg and led the team with 23 points in their victory over Kentucky.

Freshman #14 Rasheed Sulaimon (11.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.7 apg, 44.4% 3FG in 3 games this year) is legit. Curry will get shots up and both Plumlee and Kelly are capable of scoring a lot of points, but a hot Sulaimon could put Minnesota’s hopes to rest.

The long 6’4” guard who played with the excellent Houston Hoops AAU program has struggled inside the arc (2/13 2-point shooting for 15.4%), but he can score at all levels. Sulaimon, a 2012 McDonald’s All-American, is an extremely impressive scorer that can convert buckets in bunches.  His length helps him on defense and we’re big fans of his overall game as well as being high on how his future projects.

Second year point guard #2 Quinn Cook (11.7 mpg, 4.4 ppg, 3.5:1 a:to ratio) started for the first time this year against Florida Gulf Coast, but is averaging over 26 mpg in Duke’s three contests and should get the start against the Gophers. With plenty of offensive weapons, Cook needs to concentrate on running the offense, distributing the ball and playing strong defense.  However, don’t let his 3-point shooting as a freshman (14/56 3FG for 25.0%) fool you – he can knock down shots as well.

Cook is a charismatic kid who entertained folks on the AAU circuit with his beautiful passing, but sometimes he can be a little bit “too innovative” with his dishes. Minnesota needs to be careful not to swarm when Cook gets penetration or he will kick the ball out to the wing where Sulaimon, Curry or Kelly will be waiting to launch. We believe things will really come together for Cook as the season progresses. He’s an exciting and talented player.
Duke Blue Devils ’47 Brand Royal Oath Adjustable Snapback Flat Bill Hat

Others to Watch:

  • #3 Tyler Thorton can play with Cook or handle the point guard duties when Quinn is out. Although Duke needs both players to concentrate on taking care of the ball and distributing the rock, Thorton will tend to shoot far less than Cook. Still, the junior Thorton shot a respectable 35.1% from 3-point range last year.
  • Although they haven’t played much, Duke has talented size on the bench if needed. We’re big fans of #21 Amile Jefferson, a long 6’8” freshman from Philadelphia and 2012 McDonald’s All American.
  • Big #15 Josh Hairston, a junior who stands 6’7”, 240 pounds, and 6’8” redshirt freshman #12 Alex Murphy have also seen limited minutes this year.
  • Redshirt frosh #40 Marshall Plumlee has been out with a left foot injury, but could return any time. He’s 6’11”, 235 pounds and a Plumlee, but based on his recent injury and our expectations of him this season (based on a number of factors, including watching him quite a bit in high school), Gopher fans shouldn’t be alarmed if they hear Marshall has been cleared to play in Thursday’s game.
    Duke Blue Devils Youth Royal Perennial II Long Sleeve T-Shirt

PLAYERS TO WATCH – Gophers

#33 Rodney Williams may not outwardly embrace the role, but he is the leader of this team right now. The 6’7” senior forward is averaging 14.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game and his defense – which is very important to his NBA aspirations – has been excellent.

Rodney is by far his best around the basket, but the occasional dribble drives and jump shots have been working for him this year as well. Williams is electrifying in transition, on offensive put backs and when he receives a pass on a cut to the basket. His possession usage is just over 21% which is the highest of his career. Rodney still defers at times when he doesn’t need to and just a bit more consistency on his offensive aggressiveness could propel him even further. We can’t argue much with a 75.0% eFG%, though.

Sophomore point guard #1 Andre Hollins has struggled from the field, but should be feeling confident after contributing 7 much needed points and earning 2 steals in a span of less than 80 seconds against Richmond. Dre is now averaging 9.3 ppg and has 20 assists to 10 turnovers in 4 games. He is Minnesota’s best version of a go to scorer and will need to put points up against Duke.

Junior wing #20 Austin Hollins is tied with Williams’ average of 14.5 ppg and has been excellent both from deep (8/18 3FG for 44.4%) and on his 2-point attempts (12/18 for 66.7%). With sneaky athleticism and large wingspan, Hollins creates a lot of steals and is very good on defense. Like Williams, he isn’t always as aggressive on offense as he could be, but is Minnesota’s best sniper from outside and capable of doing a lot more with the ball than he sometimes demonstrates.

#32 Trevor Mbakwe has been coming off the bench, but did play 27 minutes against Richmond. In the first two games of this year, Mbakwe, who is coming off an ACL tear that happened last November, looked a bit tentative at times. For the past two, he’s looked great and mostly back to his old self. Trevor’s ability to rebound and defend, as well as his intensity and aggressiveness on a team who has some softer spoken guys, elevates the team to one that can be excellent.

However, he needs to play. Mbakwe is averaging 6.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in 16.3 minutes per game. If he’s in for 30-35 minutes a night, the Gophers can compete with anyone. That said, we expect Tubby Smith will have him coming off the bench against Duke.

#11 Joe Coleman is a strong 6’4” sophomore guard who can draw contact with the best of them. He can put on amazing displays by finishing at the rim and getting to the line against some defenses. However, when those options are limited by the opposition, Coleman can become a turnover machine or settle for jump shots which he converts at a very low rate. Joe is averaging 10.0 points per game and has made 11 of his 22 2-point attempts, but our unofficial stat tracking has him at just 2/13 on 2-point attempts not at the rim (and 9/9 at the rim).

Coleman is a great weapon and strong, athletic kid, but his offense must be more efficient.

We’ve made no secret of our belief that combo guard #00 Julian Welch is underrated, but the senior from California hasn’t helped make our case yet this year. In 13.5 mpg, Julian is averaging 2.8 ppg and is shooting 25.0% from the field (and 1/5 3FG for 20.0%). Welch isn’t as athletic as some of the other Gophers, but last season he and Austin Hollins were behind only Rodney Williams in terms of Value Add to the team.

The 6’3” guard averaged almost 25 minutes and 9.5 points per game in 2011-12 and shot 43.8% 3FG (46/105). So far this season he hasn’t gotten an opportunity to get into the flow of things, but we believe the senior reserve is a key to pushing the Gophers from good to great and should be given more playing time in the Bahamas. In addition to his ability to play the point and hit the mid-range jumper, Welch can provide Minnesota with a important third 3-point shooter on the court when used with Dre Hollins and Austin Hollins.

Redshirt sophomore big men #55 Elliot Eliason and #15 Maurice Walker provide two different looks at center. Eliason (17.0 mpg, 3.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 9 blks) uses his 6’11” height to set picks, defend, rebound and block shots. Big Mo Walker (8.3 mpg, 3.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg) is playing this year for the first time after a December 2010 PCL injury. He lacks much lift but uses his huge base and nearly 6’10” height to out-physical players inside and get to rebounds.

Walker is one of those unique large bodies who possess a delicate touch when shooting the ball. He can score if fed the ball within the regular offense and can also rack up points in conjunction with cleaning the offensive glass. Similar to Welch, we feel that more playing time for Mo Walker can be a significant positive for this team.

Minnesota Golden Gophers Maroon Nike Basketball Team Issue Practice Dri-FIT T-Shirt

OTHER NOTES

  • Add Duke to the list of schools interested in Minnesota target Gavin Schilling (2013). Since his decision to transfer to Findlay Prep, we’ve believed the likelihood of Schilling winding up with the Gophers wasn’t very high and continue to believe that.
  • Minnesota will play either Memphis or Virginia Commonwealth on Friday. Game time will be noon CT if the Gophers lose and 6pm CT if they win.
  • One of the best basketball players on either team’s roster won’t play Thursday. Duke’s Rodney Hood is sitting out this season after transferring in from Mississippi State. You’ll hear his name year from now.
  • Duke senior guard Andre Dawkins (8.4 ppg in 2011-12) is not practicing or traveling with the team, but is expected to return next year. Dawkins is redshirting this season while he deals with personal matters.
  • Minnesota has four seniors on its roster, but just one who has played four seasons for the Gophers – Rodney Williams. In 105 games with Williams on the floor, Minnesota is 62-43, a winning percentage of 59.0%.
  • With Duke senior Ryan Kelly on the floor, the Blue Devils are 93-13, an impressive winning percentage 87.7%.
  • The Gophers received the 26th most votes in this week’s AP poll.
  • LNH’s 2012-13 Minnesota Gophers preseason preview article can be found HERE.
  • LNH’s Gopher Preseason Player Previews can be found HERE.

We’ve found some amazing discounts (20% and more) for the Thanksgiving holiday week. Click on the Duke shorts below and explore – great pricing on Duke and Minnesota merchandise.

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