The Minnesota Gophers are in California for a pair of pre-Thanksgiving games as a part of the SoCal Challenge. Tonight’s challenger? Cal Baptist. A team that former Gopher Coach Dan Monson beat by 15, but also a team that recently beat Washington. We get you ready for tonight’s game, now!
Tip-Off: 9:30pm central time (tonight)
TV: CBS Sports Network
Stream Link: Watch
Radio: KFAN 100.3 fm
Where: San Juan Capistrano, California
Jamison Battle. Will he play, or won’t he? It’s a game time decision and we likely won’t know if he is playing until the kids are in bed (in the central and eastern time zones of course) and we settle into the couch for the evening. There have been hints from Ben Johnson that Battle is very, very close to playing. And this would be the perfect time for Battle to return as there are a handful of games against high major teams coming up. The SoCal Challenge seems like the perfect spot for the preseason All Big Ten selection to start settling into his fourth year of college basketball.
There are a lot of concerns out there that Cal Baptist could be a favorite tonight against Minnesota, or at least a 50-50 pick. Why? It’s certainly not their preseason selection in the WAC that has people shaken, they were picked 8th of out of 12. It wasn’t anything from Cal Baptist’s 15 point loss to Dan Monson’s Long Beach State team that has anybody worried. Or the three score win over CSUN (CSUN by the way is Cal State Northridge). What has caught everybody’s attention is Cal Baptist beating Washington in Seattle 73-64. That and Minnesota’s struggles to put away MAC teams Western Michigan and Central Michigan because of poor defensive rebound and poor foul shooting (The MAC has been an even bigger thorn in the side of 20th ranked Michigan).
This will be Minnesota’s first game away from Williams Arena for the season. Some could see that as a good thing, for others it could be a bad thing. It all depends on the business mindset of the team. For some players playing on the road could make them more comfortable as they step away from local distractions and play in a small venue that will remind them more of their high school days (the venue holds are 2,000 people). Also keep in mind, starting Gopher freshman Jaden Henley is from Southern California and recent standout signing Dennis Evans is from Southern California. Henley will likely be making a start in front of friends and family which could add pressure to the game for him, or excite him to perform at a high level. We will see.
Cali work. pic.twitter.com/rq1rACijWV
— Minnesota Men’s Basketball (@GopherMBB) November 21, 2022
The other reason that many view this game as a tough one for Minnesota? Cal Baptist’s talented backcourt. Maybe not as speedy as some of the others but Taran Armstrong (a 6’6 190 pound sophomore) was 5th in the nation in assists last year which led him being named first team preseason All WAC. Armstrong totaled 164 assists a year ago and he’s had 20 in four games so far, plus he’s scoring 14 points a game. Armstrong will take two threes a game and do the rest of his scoring going at the rim where he’s 12 of 18 from the floor this season.
Gopher fans should remember Cal Baptist’s leading scorer, his name is Joe Quintana and he’s a 6th year senior that came to Cal Baptist from Loyola Marymount. Joe will move the ball but he’s on the floor to shoot threes. Quintana takes NINE threes a game and he made 43 percent of his three point attempts both in 2020-21 and 2021-22. Quintana is off to a slow percentage start this year making only 32.4 percent of his attempts but he’s still shooting the ball 12-13 times a game so he is leading the team in scoring at 14.7 points a game. Two seasons ago LMU played Minnesota twice in three days and Quintana scored 19 points in the first game, seven points the second game. Joe hit 5 of his 10 threes in those games.
So how did Cal Baptist beat Washington? For those thinking offensive rebounding, Cal Baptist is a guard dominated line-up, they only grabbed four offensive boards against Washington. Was it their foul shooting? No, the Lancers were 18 of 29 at the foul line. Rebounding? Nope, Washington won that by two. Did they turn Washington over? Just ten times. Three point shooting? Cal Baptist made seven of sixteen. What Cal Baptist did was score on 52 percent of their attempts while Washington shot under 40 percent and was 4 of 16 at the arc. So in other words, Cal Baptist took and made high percentage attempts, Washington did not.
As for the Gophers, we all know where their struggles have been. But through four games we need to point these things out once again. Minnesota has made 50 of 92 free throws so far this year with Ta’lon Cooper making 10 of 21 and the only players on the team making more than half their foul shots are Dawson Garcia (18 of 26) and Jaden Henley (8 of 10). Those are awful, awful numbers. So if that is awful, what do you call giving up 71 offensive rebounds in four games? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team give up that many in four games.
Started our day in the beach, hbu? ???? pic.twitter.com/LrtG0whA2P
— Minnesota Men’s Basketball (@GopherMBB) November 20, 2022
Rest easier Gopher fans, Cal Baptist is a longer, taller guard/wing/forward group which will take away Minnesota’s edge there, but they do not have a speedy guard that will blitz this Gopher team like so many of the previous opponents. Taran Armstrong – a 190 pound ball handler from Tasmania – is their top talent and the guy that Minnesota has to keep in front of them. The Gophers could potentially have Cooper on him at 6-foot-4 as Cooper will be able to keep him in front and then have your group of Will Ramberg, Braeden Carringtonand Jaden Henley Chase Quintana. If they are disciplined that length on Quintana could work. Ramberg is great at busting through screens and chasing on screens so this could be his job. Whatever the case, Armstrong and Quintana score half their points so they must be located.
Cal Baptist really only has one center (7-foot-0,255 pound Tim Ighoefe) and he plays 17 minutes a game. That said Riley Battin is 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds although much more of a stretch big (he is averaging 10 points and 7.5 boards a game but is shooting horribly at 34 percent with half the attempts at the arc). They have size but it’s stretch forward size along with the size in the Armstrong brothers at guard (Taran’s brother Tre is 6’6 and plays 14 minutes a game). Dawson Garcia will likely have better luck defeating his initial defender but Cal Baptist is a good defensive team so the help will converge on him regularly regardless of what type of defense they play. Six-foot-7 Reed Nottage (junior from Australia) and 6-foot-7 Hunter Goodrick (sophomore from Australia) will be the players likely on Garcia. I expect Dawson to be able to score in this game especially if….
Jamison Battle is around to stretch the defense. It will be hard to expect Battle in his first game back – IF HE PLAYS – to instantly perform at his highest level in his first game, but the threat of Battle will take pressure off of everybody else. If Battle can play that means that Garcia has more space around the rim, Pharrel Payne has more space around the rim, and Ta’lon Cooper has more lanes to hit cutters and he has hit cutters at a high level all season.
I like this match-up for Minnesota especially if Battle is playing. The two things that have really hurt Minnesota this year are speedy guards attacking deep into the Gopher defense, and of course teams that offensive rebound in any sort of way. Cal Baptist is not a speedy team, in fact they will be one of the least explosive teams the Gophers play this year. And they do not offensive rebound that much outside of Battin, and Battin is struggling to score so badly that he has not been able to take advantage much.
What Cal Baptist does is put a long, strong, physical defending team on the floor that is tough to get good shots on. That said, Long Beach State diced Cal Baptist with ball movement scoring 79 points totaled with only four threes made. If the Gophers can move the ball to get open shots and they can make those open shots they will be in a great spot. Especially if that shooter is Jamison Battle. The weapons that Cal Baptist have on offense are seasoned and smart, but if this hard working Gopher defense plays consistently they should be able to get hands on shots.
I think Minnesota wins by two or three scores.
Minnesota 67 Cal Baptist 62
— California Baptist Men’s Basketball (@CBUmbb) November 18, 2022