Minnesota (19-14) at La Salle (21-12)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Wednesday, March 14, 7:00 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Tom Gola Arena (5,000) -- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Television: ESPN2. NIT Record: Minnesota 18-11, La Salle 9-10. Series Record: Minnesota leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: The 75th annual National Invitation Tournament continues on Wednesday night with a first-round matchup in Philadelphia between the third- seeded La Salle Explorers and the sixth-seeded Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The winner will play either second-seeded Miami or seventh-seeded Valparaiso in the second round.
Minnesota had an up-and-down year en route to a 19-14 record and a 6-12 mark in a brutally tough Big Ten Conference. It came out of the gates red-hot, starting the season at 12-1, only to follow that up with losses in 12 of its next 17 games. The Gophers closed the season by playing much better, beating Nebraska in the season finale and Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, only to lose a hard-fought game to nationally-ranked Michigan in the quarterfinals, 73-69, in overtime. Minnesota won the NIT in both 1993 and 1998, though the 1998 title was later vacated.
La Salle had an impressive season in a loaded Atlantic 10 Conference, going 21-12 overall and finishing in fifth place with a 9-7 league ledger. It had won three in a row before losing in the A-10 Tournament quarterfinals to NCAA Tournament-bound Saint Louis, 78-71. The Explorers have not been to the postseason since qualifying for the NCAA Tournament in 1992, and this year marks the 60th anniversary of the their lone NIT title back in 1952. They are one of four A-10 teams in this year's tournament field, joining Saint Joseph's, Massachusetts and 2010 champion Dayton.
These two teams have played just once before, with Minnesota coming out on top in a 92-87 final during the 1965-66 season.
La Salle was one of the A-10's most well-rounded teams during the regular season, ranking third in both scoring offense (73.2 ppg) and scoring defense (66.0 ppg) for a scoring margin that fell short of only Saint Louis at +7.2. The offensive onslaught was due in large part to the team's effort from behind the three-point line, as it was second in the league in long-range buckets (260) while ranking seventh nationally in three-point field goal percentage (.404). The Explorers have no shortage of weapons as Dr. John Giannini starts four guards who are all prolific from three-point range, led by Earl Pettis (15.3 ppg, 1.8 spg) and Ramon Galloway (14.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.5 spg). Tyreek Duren adds 13.5 ppg and a team-high 4.0 apg, Sam Mills chips in 10.7 ppg, and Jerrell Wright produces 9.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 1.1 bpg.
Minnesota was average in the Big Ten both in terms of scoring offense (67.4 ppg) and scoring defense (64.5 ppg), although it was impressive when it came to shooting efficiency, ranking fourth in both field goal percentage (.460) and field goal percentage defense (.412). Part of the reason UM struggled to put up points was because it ranked last in the league in turnover margin at -1.42 per game. The Gophers are unspectacular in terms of star power, though they possess a balanced rotation of seven player who average at least 5.3 ppg. Rodney Williams (11.2 ppg) and Julian Welch (10.1 ppg) are the only guys averaging double figures on the year, while Williams also leads the team in rebounding (5.6 rpg), steals (1.4 spg) and blocks (1.5 bpg). 6-11 Ralph Sampson III (7.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg) missed the Big Ten Tournament with a knee injury, and his status for tonight's game remains unclear.
Though Minnesota has come on of late, it will try and force La Salle to play at a slower pace. That said, the Explorers have too much firepower for the Gophers to keep up, particularly on La Salle's home court.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: La Salle 70, Minnesota 64
03/14 10:34:08 ET