The Minnesota players’ Twitter accounts are now all shut down for the winter, so we know things are getting serious.
Tonight’s bout with Southwest Minnesota State (7 p.m. at Williams Arena) is the team’s final tuneup before the start of the regular-season next week, and after an uneven first performance vs. Division II Minnesota Crookston last Sunday, there is plenty of work to be done.
Some things to watch:
- Gas attack. Sophomore center Gaston Diedhiou, in his forced start, looked better than most would have thought in that role, effectively rebounding and offsetting some ugly fouls with some good moments. Whether he can continue that serviceable play will say a lot about just how much (at least somewhat) reliable depth Minnesota at that position. Diedhiou is expected to start again tonight with Bakary Konate still healing from a stress fracture in his foot.
- Free throws. The Gophers had inexplicable struggles with free throws all throughout last season, managing just 67.2 percent from the stripe – a fact that contributed heavily to them losing a handful of close games. Given their gaping deficiencies this year – in the frontcourt and in experience – the Gophers cannot afford to give the free ones away, but Sunday’s performance at the line wasn’t a good start toward that goal. Minnesota hit just 13 of 25 (52 percent) in that exhibition. A turnaround tonight would be big for the Gophers in that it wouldn’t allow an old trend to start weaseling its way into the players’ minds before the season has even begun.
- Energy at the tip-off. On Sunday, the Gophers looked disconnected and uninspired at the start, struggling to find a rhythm throughout the first half and allowing Crookston to set the tone. That sluggishness took a whole ‘lotta sheen off of the eventual 74-57 win after a much stronger second half. Tonight, Minnesota’s young bunch should learn from that experience and come out storming.
- The charmed rise of Jordan Murphy. OK, so it’s been one intrasquad scrimmage and one exhibition. Hardly enough to warrant my use of “charmed rise” just there. But it was enough to leave a pretty clear impression: this kid has potential. Big potential. If the Gophers want to surprise some folks this year, he’ll need to be a big part of their success with some of that stretching-for-rebounds-and-muscling-under-the-basket magic we saw on Sunday. Will we see it again?
- Calling ‘Los. Speaking of critical parts, senior shooter Carlos Morris certainly is one as the highest scoring returning player, but he didn’t look like it on Sunday. After a strong scrimmage performance, there was lots of talk about Morris getting a little more mature on the court – passing up bad shots for nice passes but taking (and making) nearly all the good ones. Sunday, he went 1-for-7 from the field and we saw some of that selfishness again, including a moment in which he launched a terrible offering off of a drive that hit the backboard when one of his teammates was open. “I don’t know what it is with him sometimes,” Gophers coach Pitino said after the game. “He just gets consumed with getting some points.” This season, Minnesota will need more “good Carlos” than “bad Carlos,” starting tonight to set the tone.