Previewing Minnesota

North Carolina faces Minnesota in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off semifinals on Friday. The game is set for 8:30 p.m. (Eastern) at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico and will be televised by ESPNU.

North Carolina (2-0) vs. Minnesota (3-0)
San Juan, P.R. -- Coliseo de Puerto Rico
8:30 p.m. -- ESPNU (Jon Sciambi, Hubert Davis)

Quotables

"It's another game. Not to take anything away from North Carolina. It's our fourth game of the year, so it's not going to make or break our season. Certainly everyone wants to win, so we know we've got to play better than we did tonight. We're competing against the North Carolinas and the Michigan States. We've got a really tough schedule going forward and this is just another opportunity to measure ourselves against a game program." – Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith

PREGAME NOTES

Season to Date: Minnesota enters Friday's contest with a 3-0 record. The Gophers defeated Wofford (69-55) and Siena (76-69) at home last week before claiming a 95-77 victory over Western Kentucky in the opening round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off on Thursday. The Gophers return nine players, including three starters, from last year's NCAA tournament team as the Tubby Smith era enters Year No. 4. However, returning starting guard Devoe Joseph, who led the team in assists while averaging 9.4 points last year, was suspended indefinitely before the opener and did not travel with the team to Puerto Rico.

Last Time Out: Al Nolen drained a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give the Gophers a 40-34 lead over Western Kentucky at halftime and then Minnesota exploded out of the locker room with a 12-2 run to build a 16-point lead. The Hilltoppers cut that deficit to 11 points several minutes later, but could never get back within single digits. Junior Ralph Sampson III led Minnesota with 22 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks, while Rodney Williams scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Blake Hoffarber added 16 points and tied UNC's Kendall Marshall for the tournament record with nine assists.


Mbakwe
A Look Back: Tubby Smith directed the Gophers to a 21-14 record and finished sixth in the Big Ten with a 9-9 mark. Minnesota earned a No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament and fell to No. 6 seed Xavier, 65-54, in the opening round. The Gophers averaged 72.4 points per game and allowed just 64.1, while ranking third in the Big Ten in both field goal percentage (46.8) and field goal percentage defense (40.0).

Post Production: North Carolina will encounter its toughest frontcourt of the early season on Friday. Junior Ralph Sampson III, standing 6-foot-11 and weighing 241 pounds, has been dominant through three games, averaging 18.3 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. The Gophers received a big boost down low in picking up Trevor Mbakwe from Miami Dade College, where he led the nation in rebounding with 13.2 boards per game. After red-shirting last season, the 6-foot-8, 240-pounder has played well early, earning his third consecutive double-double against Western Kentucky with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Fellow junior Colton Iverson, checking in at 6-foot-10, 258 pounds, provides another experienced big body off the bench.

Deadly from Long Range: Blake Hoffarber entered his senior season as Minnesota's top-returning scorer, but it's his ability from 3-point territory that haunts opposing coaching staffs. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound guard owns the school record with 204 career treys and his career 3-point field-goal percentage of .415 (204-491) stands fourth all-time in the program's record books. As a junior, the Minnetonka, Minn. native finished third nationally with a 3-point field goal percentage of .467 (85-182). Those 85 treys rank first all-time on the Gophers' single season list.

Defensive Prowess: The Gophers led the Big Ten Conference in blocked shots (199) and steals (273) in 2009-10, marking the second-straight season that Minnesota has led the conference in blocks and third straight in steals. The Gophers are averaging 7.3 blocks and 9.7 steals per outing through three games this season.

Trends: During the Smith era, Minnesota is 44-3 when scoring 70 points or more and is 56-5 when leading at halftime.

Random Fact of the Day: Minnesota has posted three consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time in school history. That, of course, does not count the vacated games during the Clem Haskins era when the Gophers won 20 or more games for six straight seasons from 1992-1998.

Projected Starters:
0 Al Nolen (6-1, 188, Sr.) – 9.0 ppg, 4.0 apg
24 Blake Hoffarber (6-4, 210, Sr.) – 11.3 ppg, 7.3 apg
33 Rodney Williams (6-7, 200, So.) – 10.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg
32 Trevor Mbakwe (6-8, 240, Jr.) – 14.0 ppg, 10.3 rpg
50 Ralph Sampson III (6-11, 241, Jr.) – 18.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 4.0 bpg

Top Reserves:
45 Colton Iverson (6-10, 258, Jr.) – 6.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg
23 Chip Armelin (6-3, 186, Fr.) – 6.0 ppg
20 Austin Hollins (6-4, 180, Fr.) – 5.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg

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