The Gophers' defense has struggled the past four games, with their best showing being a 69 points allow (1.07 points per possession allowed) performance against Missouri State. That may be exactly what the Tigers' below average offense needs to collect their biggest win of the year. The Tigers fell behind a extremely hot UMass team and seemed to rely far too heavily the three-ball in an effort to comeback. Clemson lost that game badly, but rebounded with a resounding win over Rutgers in which they pounded the paint and shot .639 from two and only hoisted up 19 three-pointers (after 27 against UMass).
The Tigers are one-point underdogs in this contest. To get us ready for the game, we connected with the Daily Gopher and talked about their basketball program, their football program, the sports culture at the university, and how these teams stack up.
STS: Over the past four seasons, Minnesota has made the NIT twice (earning one NIT championship) and the NCAA tournament once (upsetting UCLA in the round of 64). While that's not comparable to the Dukes or UNCs of the world, it's the kind of respectable, obtainable, consistent success we're working to regain at Clemson after just one NIT appearance to show for the past four seasons.
Can you talk a little bit about the goals and fan expectations for Minnesota basketball in the tough Big 10, both big picture and this season?
TDG: Current year, there really are very low, if any, expectations. This is a very young roster, particularly when you consider the real talent is in the sophomore and freshman classes. This is now fully Richard Pitino's roster and most of it was brought in to run his particular offense and defensive styles. With so much youth though, and a really good recruiting class coming in next year, most people are expecting this to be a transition year. Expectations are that the young core learns to play together and with another infusion of talent, next year could be a good one.
The Big Ten is rough, especially lately. Unfortunately the postseason consistency you mention for Minnesota is mostly with trips to the NIT. Getting to the point of making the NCAA Tournament more consistently is what they strive for, kind of like everyone else (except Northwestern who just wants to make it once!)
STS: With all the ridiculous, hilarious, and awesome Big 10 rivalry trophies that Minnesota competes for ($5 bits of broken chair, Governor's Bell, Little Brown Jug, Floyd of Rosedale, and Paul Bunyan's Axe), I always assumed Minnesota was a football school, but in recent times the Gophers have had more success in basketball.
Since 1987, Minnesota football has gone 3-9 in bowl games with their most notable year coming in 2003 when they beat Oregon in the Sun Bowl to finish 10-3. Conversely, the basketball team had great success in the 90s. In 1997, the Gophers reached he Final Four, beating one of Clemson's best team's in the Sweet Sixteen along the way.
As Clemson football is #1 in the nation and all eyes are (rightfully) on a team we're very proud of, excitement around basketball seems to be on hold. What's the sports culture like at UM?
TDG: Well, Football is still the driver around here. But when Hockey or Basketball has a successful season this area really lights up. I was at the first round games of that 1997 season and vividly remember sitting among the Clemson players who watched the other games. Anyway, this is a football school just going through a down several decades. Talk to me when you've got 7 national championships! (sarcasm)
Then we have this thing called hockey up here dontcha know. Expectations of the Frozen Four and getting back to hanging a banner are there for the extremely passionate hockey fanbase. But even last year when the football team got to 8 wins and their first New Year's Day Bowl since the 60s, it was pretty clear that football is still the driver here.
STS: Now that we've learned a little about UM, let's dig into this Monday night matchup. The Tigers struggled in the first half against Texas Southern and were blown out against UMass as we failed to get out to the perimeter to defend the three effectively. UMass was an outrageous 16-31 from three (luck?). Last year, Andre Hollins made as many three-pointers as Clemson's top two three-point shooters. He's now departed, but are there any other shooters that can make Clemson pay?
TDG: Interesting question and more interesting matchup for this game. Our best shooter is Joey King. He's a unique combo of being too unathletic to be a three but not quite big enough to be a four. But he's a very good shooter and has a pretty good basketball IQ. He's leading the team in points as one of the few upperclassmen. Carlos Morris really likes to shoot but has not been all that efficient and his shot selection isn't that great.
If they are going to be left open, this team may hit some threes, but the one you really need to keep in check from behind the arc is King.
STS: Clemson's average possession length is down by more than two seconds from last season (the shorter 30 second shot clock has created more possessions per game), but Clemson is still among the slowest tempo teams in the country. What style will Minnesota look to employ to win this matchup.
TDG: Well I believe that Richard Pitino really wants to play an up-tempo style much like Louisville or Florida. His roster is close to being there but the numbers still don't reflect it. Primarily I think it comes down to defense. When they are able to generate turnovers, they get more possessions and some transition baskets. Unfortunately, it just isn't working out that way currently. Not there yet but this is a team trying to play more uptempo.
STS: Richard Pitino (son of Rick Pitino) took over for Tubby Smith after one year as head coach at FIU. What's the sentiment about the new(ish) coach in town?
TDG: As I alluded to above, I think people are going to be patient this year, but next year is a make or break kind of season for Pitino. He came in here and during his first season nearly made the NCAA Tournament, but went on to win the NIT. Last year was one of higher expectations where the team underperformed and we didn't make a postseason tournament. This year there are no expectations, but next year there will be some talent and some talented experience. So next season, Pitino will have a new AD and some talent on his roster. It will be a very telling season. This year, if you pay attention, you should be able to learn some things about Pitino as a coach. How he teaches these young guys and watching how they improve throughout the season.
So excitement early, questions after last year, patience this year and year four will be the telling season.
STS: The Gophers have surrendered a lot of points in their last few games including 90 to Omaha and 81 to Texas Tech. What kind of defensive effort should the Tigers' sometimes challenged offense expect on Monday night, and how do you this game playing out?
TDG: I'll be honest I'm not real optimistic about this particular season. Defensively this team is not very good. I keep expecting this team to use some athleticism and really start to be a menace defensively, but too often they struggle in man and have to resort to a zone. King's lack of athleticism, Charles Buggs really struggling to defend, and the inability of Morris to play with the other four guys makes it hard for this team to defend.
I know very little about Clemson, but this may be an opportunity to get a win over a Power 5 conference team. KenPom ranks the Tigers at 50th overall and Minnesota is 94th so I'm going to say that my money would be on Clemson.
Thank you reading our Q&A. There's not another half over on the Daily Gopher, but there will be a preview for the game you can check out. Please use the comment section to this article as the official STS gamethread for tonight's game.