Southeastern Louisiana (6-4) at (23) Minnesota (10-0)
Tuesday, December 23rd, 9:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Williams Arena (14,625) -- Minneapolis, Minnesota. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: SE Louisiana 5-0, Minnesota 9-0. Away Record: SE Louisiana 1-4, Minnesota 1-0. Neutral Record: SE Louisiana 0-0, Minnesota 0-0. Conference Record: SE Louisiana 0-0, Minnesota 0-0. Series Record: Minnesota leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: Off to their best start since the 1976-77 season, the undefeated Minnesota Golden Gophers put their brand new top-25 ranking on the line this evening, as they play host to the Southeastern Louisiana Lions, from Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
In the top-25 for the first time since 2002, the 23rd-ranked Golden Gophers have certainly enjoyed some home-cooking this season, as nine of their 10 wins have come in the friendly confines of Williams Arena. The team will enjoy its stay at home for a couple more weeks, as the Gophers won't hit the road again until January 8th at Iowa. Tubby Smith's squad certainly showed that it belongs in the national polls, coming off a thrilling 70-64 victory over top-10 foe Louisville last weekend to move to 10-0 on the season.
The Lions have enjoyed a successful start to the season as well, sporting a 6-4 overall mark. Jim Yarbrough's team enters this contest with a modest two- game winning streak, topping Millsaps College (85-56) and Jackson State (70-51) in the last week.
This is just the second all-time meeting between these two teams. Minnesota edged out SE Louisiana in their 2006 matchup, 63-61.
With a dominant performance from center Patrick Sullivan, the Lions cruised to victory over Jackson State this past weekend. Sullivan recorded a double- double with 18 points and 12 rebounds, while also blocking three shots. With the effort defensively, Sullivan became the school's all-time shot-blocker, with 134. Joining Sullivan offensively were Kevyn Green and Chris Cyprian, who tallied 18 and 13 points, respectively. Warrell Span aided Sullivan on the boards, with 10 caroms to go along with an eight-point effort. The Lions are a dangerous offensive team, averaging 80.7 ppg thus far, thanks to a steady .494 shooting. Green is a big reason for the shooting acumen, as he is hitting 50.7 percent from the floor, including a sizzling .486 from behind the arc (36- of-74). The result is a team-high 20.0 ppg. Span and Sullivan provide balance with 12.0 and 11.9 ppg, respectively. Both get the job done on the boards as well, with Sullivan pacing the team with 8.2 rpg, followed closely by Span (7.3 rpg).
It was arguably the biggest win for Tubby Smith at Minnesota last weekend, as Gophers were able to top a strong Louisville program in Glendale, Arizona. Point guard Al Nolen was instrumental in the victory, as he notched 18 points, thanks to 13-of-17 from the free-throw line, including 6-of-6 down the stretch. The return of shooting guard Blake Hoffarber from injury was critical, as he hit four three-pointers and netted 15 points off the bench. Swingman Travis Busch was strong in relief as well, adding 13 points and six rebounds. The defense did the rest, as Minnesota limited the explosive Cardinals to just 37 percent shooting and a mere 64 points, 16 points below Louisville's season average. The Gophers are not an offensive juggernaut by any stretch, but the team does make the most of its trips down the floor, averaging 73.5 ppg, on a healthy .473 shooting. The defensive pressure is what fuels Minnesota, with opponents averaging a meager 61.2 ppg this year and being held under 40 percent shooting overall (.381). Lawrence Westbrook is the team's top offensive threat, averaging a modest 12.9 ppg. He is followed in double digits by Damian Johnson (10.7ppg). Hoffarber and Nolan are flirting with double figures at 9.9 and 9.2 ppg, respectively. Nolen has been superb as a distributor, averaging 6.0 apg, while turning the ball over a measly 17 times over the first 10 games.
The Lions are a strong offensive team, but Minnesota plays the kind of stingy defense that gives opponents fits. That, coupled with getting this game in Minneapolis, should lend itself to a victory for the newly ranked Gophers.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Minnesota 71, Southeastern Louisiana 63
12/23 10:36:35 ET