It will be a battle of unbeatens Monday afternoon, as the Minnesota Golden Gophers are in Hawaii to take on the Syracuse Orange in the opening round of the Maui Invitational. The Gophers are 5-0 and coming off a decisive (79-57) victory over Wofford last Thursday night, while Syracuse is 4-0 and ranked #9 in the country but they did not dominate St. Francis (NY) in their last game (56-50).
Here’s a look at what to watch for during Monday’s game, which is set to tip-off at 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time.
The marquee matchup to watch during Monday’s game looks to be at shooting guard, with Andre Hollins for Minnesota (18.8 points per game) and Trevor Cooney (12.8 points per game) for Syracuse both prominent scorers for their teams and certain to challenge each other on both ends of the floor.
The Orange have a talent advantage in the frontcourt, with forwards C.J. Fair (18 points and 5.5 rebounds per game) and Jerami Grant (11.7 points and a team-leading eight rebounds per game) the most noteworthy players. The Gophers will be without forward Mo Walker as he serves the final game of an early season suspension, which stands to give Syracuse a more decisive size advantage and makes it vital for Minnesota center Elliot Eliason, who is the Big Ten’s leading rebounder (11.2 per game), to stay out of foul trouble.
Gophers X-Factor- Point guard Deandre Mathieu has 27 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds over the last two games, while making nine of his 15 shots from the floor and turning the ball over five times total in that span. Navigating Syracuse’s vaunted zone defense will not be easy, and how Mathieu handles a step up in competition will be a big key for Minnesota.
Orange X-Factor- The first four games of point guard Tyler Ennis’s collegiate career have been up (28 combined points against Fordham and Colgate) and down (1-for-14 from the floor and three total points against Cornell and St. Francis (NY)). Coach Richard Pitino has brought the aggressive defensive system his father is known for with him to Minnesota, so Ennis’ decision-making and overall ability to handle full-court pressure will be put to the test.
Prediction: Syracuse 68, Minnesota 63
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.