Virginia-Minnesota Preview

BY foxsports • November 28, 2010

Depth is a big reason why Minnesota has gotten off to a hot start. That may be tested with the Golden Gophers likely to be without two key players in their next game.

The No. 15 Gophers aren't expected to have starters Al Nolen or Rodney Williams when they host Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Monday night.

Minnesota (6-0) broke into the Top 25 last week after winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, beating then-No. 8 North Carolina 72-67 along the way. The Gophers returned home and defeated North Dakota State 84-65 on Wednesday.

Earning their second 7-0 start in three years could be more difficult without Nolen and Williams. Nolen has a foot injury and could be out "a couple weeks or longer," according to coach Tubby Smith, while Williams, who sprained an ankle Wednesday against North Dakota State, is "doubtful" for Monday.

Nolen is averaging 9.2 points and 4.2 assists while Williams is at 6.7 points and 3.0 rebounds.

Minnesota, though, appears to have numerous options to replace them. Five players are averaging at least 8.2 points in a rotation that has eight Gophers playing more than 10 minutes per game.

Smith was also trying to decide whether to bring back Minnesota's best backup, Devoe Joseph, for this game. The guard has not played this season due to a violation of team rules, and Smith said Joseph has some academic issues to take care of.

Minnesota ended the first half against North Carolina on a 20-3 run and led 42-26 at the break. Blake Hoffarber finished with 24 points and Trevor Mbakwe added 12 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots for the Gophers, who had a season-high 23 assists.

"Coach has really emphasized six, seven passes and then a great shot," Hoffarber said. "I think in the previous years, a couple times we didn't pass it as much and coach is emphasizing that this year. I think we've got real unselfish guys this year that are looking for other people and just playing well together."

This is the fourth meeting between the Gophers and Virginia (3-3) in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Minnesota won 66-56 at home in 2008 and is 2-1 against the Cavaliers in the tournament.

Virginia has lost three of four, falling 70-58 to Wichita State in the Maui Invitational on Wednesday. It built a 14-point lead in the first five minutes but trailed by four at the half and shot 32.1 percent after the break.

Mike Scott had 16 points and 10 rebounds while Will Sherrill scored 11 and went 3 of 4 from 3-point range. Virginia's reserves, though, contributed only two points.

"We're not a real deep team, but we've got to keep looking to develop our rotation and getting a little more," coach Tony Bennett said. "I played our main five or six guys heavy minutes and they responded well, but we need to get a little more help off the bench."

All of Virginia's losses have come by double digits. The Cavaliers fell 106-63 to then-No. 13 Washington in Maui last Monday.

Scott, averaging 16.5 points and 9.3 rebounds, could face a tough challenge from the Gophers' interior defense. Minnesota has outrebounded opponents by an average of 6.0.