Minnesota boasts an abundance of offensive weapons that have helped the team average 95 points in the first three games, and it also owns one of the best final lines of defense in the nation with senior Reggie Lynch. The 6-10 center entered the weekend leading the country with 17 blocked shots and hopes to swat a few more when the 15th-ranked Golden Gophers host Western Carolina on Sunday afternoon.
Lynch, who is averaging 15 points and nine rebounds, blocked nine shots in the 107-81 victory over Niagara on Wednesday - coming up one short of the first triple-double for Minnesota since Mychal Thompson accomplished the feat in 1976. “He surprises guys by blocking jump shots,” Golden Gophers coach Richard Pitino told reporters. “They don’t see it coming, because he’s kind of got that quick burst.” Minnesota has been difficult to guard on the other end of the court with junior forward Jordan Murphy averaging 25.3 points, 13.3 rebounds and shooting 62 percent from the field to lead the way while Lynch has made 19-of-27 shots from the floor. Western Carolina of the Southern Conference was routed by Clemson and Cincinnati to open the season before rolling to a 76-57 victory over NCCAA member Hiwassee College on Wednesday.
TV: 4:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
ABOUT WESTERN CAROLINA (1-2): Junior forward Marc Gosselin from France had double-doubles in each of his last four games last season and produced 13 points to go along with 10 rebounds in the victory over Hiwassee. Gosselin averages eight points - fourth on the team, which is led by freshman guard Matt Halvorsen (9.7) and senior backcourt mate Devin Peterson (9.0 points, three assists). Senior guard Deriece Parks also contributes 8.3 points per game for the Catamounts, who forced 22 turnovers and had a 54-37 edge in the boards last time out.
ABOUT MINNESOTA (3-0): Murphy and Lynch have done much of their work inside while senior guard Nate Mason (14.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, five assists) and 6-8 sophomore wing Amir Coffey (13.7 points, 7-of-13 from behind the arc) have led the way on the perimeter. Junior guard Dupree McBrayer has also contributed 10 points per contest for the Golden Gophers, who are shooting 50.2 percent from the field but allowing an average of 77.3 points. “Offense seems ahead of the defense,” Pitino told reporters. “I’d like to have them both. I think our defense has got to improve.”
1. Minnesota’s highly-regarded freshman G Isaiah Washington is 6-for-12 from the field the last two games after going 1-for-9 in his debut.
2. Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter, in his 25th year, boasts 689 career victories - including 12 seasons at Ohio.
3. The Golden Gophers have outrebounded their opponents by an average of 10 boards per game in the early going.
PREDICTION: Minnesota 89, Western Carolina 58