It's official, if not much of a surprise. UNC's opponent tomorrow night in San Juan is Minnesota, a 95-77 winner over Western Kentucky. The Golden Gophers would have held the record for most points in a Tip-Off game, had said record not been obliterated by UNC hours earlier. Minnesota scored their points much more efficiently than the Heels, shooting a blistering 62.5% from the field. Is there a chance of them catching fire tomorrow, as well?
Actually, yes. Minnesota was the Big Ten's best three-point shooting team last season, a huge improvement over where they were a year prior. Point guard Blake Hoffarber led the way in that regard, and was first in the country in offensive efficiency as he shot 47% from behind the arc.. He's a little lonelier out there this year though, as Devoe Joseph, who last year was launching threes pretty impressively himself, has been suspended indefinitely. Al
YNolen, the guard who was academically ineligible last spring, has taken up the slack, but it's too early to judge how big of a threat he'll be.
When Minnesota isn't shooting threes, they're blocking shots. How many shots? Let's put it this way. The guy named Ralph Sampson wasn't even the best shot-blocker on the team. He is now, though, with 12 blocks in three games, including seven tonight against the Hilltoppers. Between him and Colton Iverson, the Golden Gophers are quite good at sending shots into the stands and grabbing the errant ones off the glass. It should be quite impressive to see Sampson and Iverson go up against Henson and Zeller.
In fact, all of the match-ups should be pretty exciting to watch, especially the three spot, where Harrison Barnes will go up against Rodney Williams, another player the NBA is salivating over. With Williams, however, it's more the potential than the on-court performance; he only averaged 12 minutes a game last year, and is chafing a bit under Tubby Smith. This is in no small part for the same reason UNC should come out ahead in this game – Minnesota is a Big Ten team, and Big Ten teams are slow. Tubby Smith's team was actually one of the faster schools in the conference last year, but that still put them as 211th nationally in tempo. Minnesota is not a deep team at all. Their starters all played 32 minutes or more in tonight's blow out; push them hard and they'll tire quickly. Running the floor will also mitigate their shot-blocking ability to some degree.
Should UNC fail to win in the transition game, all is not lost. Minnesota was particularly bad at defending the three last season. This, of course, would have been small consolation had they played last year's Carolina team, but this one has a good shooting hand, apparently, and that should be enough to carry the day if the Heels don't panic. Expect an early lead from Minnesota, but a Carolina victory at the end.