Stephen F. Austin (0-0) at (25) Minnesota (1-0)
Monday, November 16th, 8:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Williams Arena (14,625) -- Minneapolis, Minnesota. Television: Big 10 Network. Home Record: SFA 0-0, Minnesota 1-0. Away Record: SFA 0-0, Minnesota 0-0. Neutral Record: SFA 0-0, Minnesota 0-0. Conference Record: SFA 0-0, Minnesota 0-0. Series Record: Minnesota leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: With his 600th career win in the books, Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith now gets the 25th-ranked team in the nation focused on the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin tonight at Williams Arena.
Minnesota, which finished 2008-09 with a record of 22-11 and made another trip to the NCAA Tournament, began the new season on Friday with an 87-50 blowout of Tennessee Tech. This game marks the second of three straight at home for the Golden Gophers, who will host Utah Valley on Thursday before hitting the road and taking part in the 76 Classic in California next week.
As for the Lumberjacks, a team guided by head coach Danny Kaspar, this game represents the season opener for a team that has produced a combined 50 victories in the last two season. The squad was 24-8 overall in 2008-09, finished first in the Southland Conference and captured the conference tournament title by beating Texas-San Antonio in a 68-57 decision.
The 'Jacks made it to the NCAA Tournament, but the ride was extremely short as they bowed to Syracuse in the first round, 59-44.
With respect to the all-time series between these two schools on the hardwood, this is just the second meeting following a 101-55 final that went in favor of the Gophers during the 1996-97 campaign. However, while the previous meeting did actually take place, NCAA discipline action has required that outcome be vacated.
Last season, this Lumberjacks squad was responsible for just 65.6 ppg on offense, but the good news is that the defense stepped up and limited opponents to just 56.1 ppg, one of the best marks in all of college basketball regardless of conference. The bad news this time around is that SFA is without both double-digit scorers from a year ago in Matt Kingsley (15.8 ppg) and Josh Alexander (14.3 ppg), and that fact alone is going to take a huge toll on this group. Of the projected starters for the 'Jacks in this outing, only one was responsible for double-digit scoring last year and that took place at another college altogether. Jordan Glynn, one of four players on this team that originated at McLennan Community College, accounted for 13.2 ppg and 7.8 rpg at his last stop. Eddie Williams checked in with 7.4 ppg a year ago, while Walt Harris and Jereal Scott both put up less than four points per contest, but are expected to have a much better outlook this season in the starting lineup. Point guard Eric Bell (3.5 ppg, 3.6 apg) stands just 5-3, so already he is at a disadvantage trying to size up bigger opponents.
The Minnesota roster shows just three seniors for this season, two of whom are in the starting lineup for the program in Damian Johnson and Lawrence Westbrook. In the case of Westbrook, he is the top returning scorer for the team after putting up 12.6 ppg in 2008-09. In fact, Westbrook was the lone double-digit scorer for Minnesota last year as the squad shuttled along with an average of just 66.3 ppg. Johnson, who shot just 26.3 percent behind the three-point line, was credited with 9.8 ppg and was one of the leading men on the glass with better than four boards per contest as well. In the season opener, Westbrook again took his place at the top of the scoring list with 22 points on 4-of-7 shooting beyond the arc, followed by Rodney Williams who tallied 14 points off the bench. The team went from shooting just 2-of-14 behind the three-point line in the first half to 7-of-11 after the break, hitting an impressive 67.9 percent from the floor overall in the second frame. However, not all was good news for the Gophers as they turned the ball over 16 times and made good on just 10-of-20 chances at the free-throw line.
Not much of an offensive force last season, the Golden Gophers have already proven that they can dismantle a weaker opponent, of which the Lumberjacks are certainly one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Minnesota 81, Stephen F. Austin 58
11/16 10:41:09 ET