Here it is: what we've all been waiting for. Cardinal Stritch? No, not exactly. But rather, the beginning of this new era of Minnesota hoops, and an early chance to get glimpse what it might look like.
Richard Pitino took the Minnesota job in April and promised a fast, exciting brand of basketball. Everything he and the players have described make the future -- if not immediately brighter -- much different than the Tubby Smith trademark.
There is only so much one can learn from a game against a Division II opponent in a game that doesn't count. But considering the future is essentially a series of questions, expectations and hopes at the moment, the opportunity to see The New Gophers in action against anyone other than their teammates is notable, exciting even.
Ifi you're not present at Williams Arena, you can watch it online for a price, here. Tip-off is at 7.
Five things I'll be looking for tonight:
Who gets the nod? Pitino has made it clear that sending out five players for the opening tip-off tonight is not an announcement of anything to come. Yesterday at media day, the coach said he is comfortable with tweaking the lineup many times throughout the non-conference schedule. So look at this evening as an experiment, albeit with players he is perhaps most interested in seeing in combination together right away.
How comfortable to the Gophers look with the pace? Speeding other teams up only operates as an advantage if it isn't putting the team doing it at a disadvantage. Have the Gophers improved their ballhandling? Are they cognizant of the NCAA's new fouling rules while playing at a high speed? Do they look quick or sloppy? The answer to those questions will give us an idea of just how acclimated Minnesota is to their new system.
How is the energy? No doubt Pitino will try a lot of combinations, and exercise a lot of different players tonight -- that's what exhibitions are all about. But some will be asked to play long stretches. How will they look near the end? Can the team continue to execute at a high level through weariness? Are guys like Mo Walker and Elliott Eliason as improved conditioning-wise as Pitino says they are
What about the non-Hollinses? Austin and Andre? We know what to expect of them. How about everyone else? Deandre Mathieu impressed in the intrasquad scrimmage two weeks ago. Can he show us some of the same slippery quickness and smart shooting ability that we saw then? What about Mo Walker? The big was very active in the scrimmage, rebounding and deflecting balls. Oto Osenieks was hitting baskets from all over the court, and looked the best he has as a Gopher, Pitino noted. Basically, we need to start to see if the perceived improvments are actual improvements.
How's that press looking? Pitino said yesterday that as expected, the team is substantially further along offensively than they are defensively. The press will be exhausting, mentally and physically. It will require the players to be aware of when to trap and how to do it correctly else they lose control. How well have they picked up the principles? It's all new for the Gophers, and now they get to try it in action.