HOKIES HOOPS CENTRAL: MINNESOTA (4-2) AT VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES (6-1) 7PM ESPN2
Monday, Nov. 28 | 7 p.m. ET
Cassell Coliseum (Blacksburg, Va.)
Series: Minnesota leads 1-0
Game Notes: Virginia Tech (PDF) | Minnesota (PDF)
Play-by-Play: Mike Monaco
Analyst: Jordan Cornette
Virginia Tech Sports Network
Play-by-Play: Zach Mackey
Analyst: Mike Burnop
Current Spread: Hokies -12.5
The Hokies (37th in AP Poll/33rd in Coaches Poll) escaped Charleston Southern to face a mountainous task in beating the Gophers. The Hokies are 0-1 against Minnesota with a 58-55 loss to the Gophers in the 2011 Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
The Gophers are coached by Ben Johnson, an alum that played for the Gophers from 2002-2004. He began his college coaching career at Dayton as an assistant coach in 2005. Minnesota is his only college head coaching job. He took over the Minnesota position in 2021 and has a 17-19 overall record guiding the Gophers. Last season the Gophers were 13-17.
The Gophers are 4-2 to start the season after wins over Western Michigan, St Francis, Central Michigan and California Baptist. Their losses are to DePaul and UNLV. The Gophers come in averaging 63 points per game. The biggest challenge for the Hokies is this team's ability to score inside
The Gophers come into this season with a very young roster with four freshman playing prominent roles. Freshmen account for four of the top six scorers so far for the Gophers. They also have three transfers with one familiar face. Forward Dawson Garcia transferred in from UNC. He is their leading scorer, averaging nearly 16 points per game. At 6'11, 230 Lbs he will be a formidable test for the Hokies interior defense that has struggled inside against much smaller rosters. They also got a key piece back from foot surgery last week in Jamison Battle, who averaged 14 points and six rebounds in two games last week.
Both Offensively and Defensively, Coach Johnson references position-less basketball. He expects his players to have the ability to operate in any area of the court. Defensively this displays as an aggressive man-to-man defense, especially on the perimeter. They are holding opponents to 30% shooting from outside. In both losses though they struggled against faster guards getting into the lane which disrupted their defensive sets.
Offensively, Coach Johnson what is best termed as a Motion Screen Offense which tries to create mismatches of personnel utilizing speed to separate either to create dribble penetration openings or open looks on cuts to the basket. The biggest difference here is that the bigs are not limited to operating inside and play a big role in perimeter movement and shooting. The primary intent of this offense though is to get paint points. They shoot nearly 50% inside and it accounts for half their offense initially. It is actually closer to 70% of their offense when you take into account the 12 ppg from the free throw line.
The Gophers Backcourt
Ta'Lon Cooper 55 JR G 6-4 190 10.0 Pts, 4.8 Reb, 7.3 Ast
Jaden Henley 24 FR G 6-7 200 6.2 Pts, 2.2 Reb, 0.8 Ast
Braeden Carrington 4 FR G 6-4 195 8.8 Pts, 4.5 Reb, 0.8 Ast
The Gophers Frontcourt
Dawson Garcia 3 SO F 6-11 230 15.8 Pts, 6.7 Reb, 1.3 Ast
Jamison Battle 10 JR F 6-7 225 14.0 Pts, 6.0 Reb, 1.0 Ast
Pharrel Payne 21 FR F 6-9 255 8.0 Pts, 6.5 Reb, 0.5 Ast
Joshua Ola-Joseph 1 FR F 6-7 215 5.5 Pts, 1.8 Reb, 0.0 Ast
What to expect from Minnesota?
As a team the Gophers focus on getting the ball inside to score or go to the line. They average nearly 40 points a game in the paint outside of their game against DePaul where they struggled all night in a loss. They score less than 20 points a game from the perimeter.
Forwards Garcia and Battle are the 1-2 interior punch for this roster., accounting for nearly half of Minnesota's points and a third of their rebounds. This game will be defined by whether the Hokies can show resolve in defending down low.
The Gophers struggle with fouls against guards like Pedulla and Cattoor. Reaching fouls have been an issue after getting beat off the dribble. That said they rarely foul shooters, with opponents averaging only ten free throws per game. Battle seems a bit unsure on the defensive end since his return from injury and was whistled for seven fouls in those two games.
It's a 𝗕𝗶𝗴 𝗠𝗼𝗻𝗱𝗮𝘆 in 🏰‼️➤ ACC/B1G Challenge vs. Minnesota➤ Montgomery Co. Christmas Store Night (bring a new toy)➤ https://t.co/MCpGGEAQxi at halftime➤ Let's get Cassell rockin' 🔥MORE: https://t.co/C1DeMRAYDz pic.twitter.com/Mhh46m8PJw— Virginia Tech Men's Basketball (@HokiesMBB) November 27, 2022
The Hokies need to find fast transition buckets in this game. The Gophers are pretty stout defensively in a half court set, holding opponents to 40% shooting overall. In both losses, the Gophers allowed nearly 20 points in transition.
The Hokies go up against the tallest line-up they have seen so far. That said, Minnesota has been out-rebounded in four of the six games. Rebounding and defensive lane positioning has been the Hokies Achilles heel so far so this area will likely determine who wins this game
The Hokies have continued to struggle with perimeter shooting so until that resolves itself the primary focus should be the guards driving the basketball to create open opportunities underneath primarily with the perimeter as a far second. The Hokies are only shooting 36% from the perimeter.
Highlight of the CoC game
W...and Butts for Mutts
The Hokies are at a crossroads and while this game doesn't impact ACC play it may go a long way in determining if the Hokies can handle big physical play down low. So far that has not been the case against noticeably smaller rosters.
Minnesota will be looking to make this a slow methodical game where the Hokies are forced to take contested shots while offensively getting the ball inside to score sure baskets. The Hokies must increase the tempo and take advantage of transition opportunities.
As much as I would like to see the Hokies return to form shooting outside while dictating the pace of the game, nothing in the last four games gives me the confidence they will do so. Hokies win if they score 70, it's a toss up between 69-63 points and almost certainly a loss if they fail to reach 63.