Minnesota has toughest test as Iowa State comes to town

Junior center Spencer Tollackson is listed as day-to-day with a left ankle injury.

Zach Eisendrath

Minnesota men’s basketball coach Dan Monson said effort and intensity were both lacking in Friday night’s 70-54 win over Long Island.

Motivation, however, shouldn’t be a problem for the Gophers tonight.

Minnesota has its toughest test of the young season tonight, as the Gophers host Iowa State at 7 p.m. at Williams Arena.

The last time these two teams met, the Cyclones (4-0 overall, 0-0 Big 12) knocked Minnesota (2-0, 0-0 Big Ten) out of the 2005 NCAA Tournament.

“I think they are the best defensive team we’ve seen this year,” Monson said. “I think they really defend well, they control the tempo and they are very athletic.”

Junior guard Lawrence McKenzie, who played his first two years in the Big 12 at Oklahoma, said the quality of a Big 12 team is comparable to a Big Ten opponent.

“I think, when you look at these conferences – Big Ten, Big 12, ACC – you’re going to be playing against a lot of the same caliber teams,” he said. “They’re all going to be good. It’s not going to be an easy game.”

Whether the two teams are the same caliber remains to be seen; but entering the game, there are a lot of similarities between the two.

Both teams, although undefeated, are coming off less than satisfying wins.

While Monson said he was displeased with his team’s effort Friday night, Iowa State first-year coach Greg McDermott said he felt his team played Sunday’s game against Norfolk State more like a practice than anything else.

The similarities don’t end there. Both teams had underachieving seasons a year ago and are now trying to find replacements after key personnel losses.

Replacing its starting backcourt from a year ago has been a main priority for the Cyclones, much like the Gophers.

Iowa State’s Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock, All-Big 12 performers from a year ago, made themselves eligible for the NBA Draft and forked away their final year of eligibility, while Minnesota’s Adam Boone and Vincent Grier graduated.

As the losses mounted last season, former Iowa State coach Wayne Morgan lost his job and, in turn, three top reserves transferred from the program.

It also cost the Cyclones Minnesota freshman guard Lawrence Westbrook. Westbrook originally signed a letter of intent to play for Iowa State but was released from his letter when Morgan was relieved of his duties.

A pair of junior college transfers, guards Mike Taylor and Corey McIntosh, have filled in the hole in the backcourt for McDermott’s team. They’ve averaged 14.8 and 7.8 points per game, respectively.

Junior forward Rahshon Clark was the Cyclones’ third-leading scorer a year ago. He averaged 13.1 points per game and a team-high 5.5 rebounds last season.

His offensive numbers are down this season however, as he’s averaging 7.8 points per game. But he has grabbed a team-high 9.3 rebounds per contest – which should be concerning for the Gophers.

Minnesota was out-rebounded 44-39 Friday night and 40-27 in their exhibition loss to Division II national champion Winona State earlier this year.

Iowa State doesn’t have all the holes filled as junior center Jiri Hubalek, who started 20 games last season, will not play, as he is serving his fifth game of a six-game suspension for an NCAA rules violation.

Minnesota may also be without one of its centers. Junior Spencer Tollackson is listed as day-to-day with a left ankle injury and his status for tonight’s game is up in the air. Monson said Tollackson didn’t practice Sunday and, if the game was Monday, he doubted Tollackson would have been available.