Read my Sunday story on Richard Pitino and his father, Rick Pitino, here.
Only one more game until these matchups start counting. And that’s when we can really begin to judge this team. For now, the Gophers will continue to try to work out the kinks leading up to Friday’s regular season opener against Lehigh.
Tonight, Concordia-St. Paul comes to town for the Gophers’ last exhibition. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. and once again you can view the game online, here, for a price.
Five things to watch for:
1. Chris Halvorsen’s return to the Barn. The former Gophers walk-on/ Oto Osenieks roommate is back, only this time with some navy on his uniform. It’s the Golden Gophers vs. the Golden Bears in a friendly homecoming! That’s about as dramatic as an exhibition can get, folks.
2. Any flip-flop in the frontcourt? On Friday, Oto Osenieks and Elliott Eliason started at the power forward and center spots, respectively. I wouldn’t be surprised if tonight, those two come off the bench and instead Joey King and Mo Walker get a look at the starting spots. The latter two played better than their counterparts a few days ago, and this is certainly the time to experiment (and reward hard work).
3. Improvement in second-half intensity. Friday’s second-half took away a lot of excitement from the reaction to the first half, when the Gophers came out flying. In the final 20 minutes? They looked flat. Minnesota’s production fell off in every way, from scoring to rebounding to defending. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they learn from that lesson and better hold the momentum tonight.
4. Getting the loose balls. The Gophers got beat 8-2 on loose balls, according to Pitino, one of his bigger disappointments of the night. You can bet the team heard about it afterward. Tonight, Pitino will be hoping to see that all-out toughness that he looks for – players diving on the court and sacrificing their bodies, even if it is just an exhibition. Good practice breeds good habits.
Anything new? A coy Pitino said on Friday that he was keeping a few things in his back pocket for the regular season. Will we see anything new tonight? A little zone defense perhaps? We shall see …
It will be interesting after tonight to start to understand what could be trends with this team rather than anomalies. Although the Gophers managed just 11 of 30 shots from the free-throw line on Friday, I don’t expect that to carry over tonight. I am particularly interested, though, in whether they can keep up the excellent ball handling and fouling restraint that they showed against Cardinal Stritch. It will take great continued focus night after night, but is a major necessity for this team if they want to hope to be competitive.