I had the pleasure of watching the Gophers earn their first win of the season at UNLV this past weekend. It may not have been the prettiest game, but it was a win. Even with the Gophers making a number of mistakes (expected with a young team, particularly opening up on the road) they managed to pull out a win and have some momentum going into the season. I was extremely impressed by the number of Gopher fans that traveled to UNLV, I knew we had sold our ticket allotment, and expected about 5,000 fans. It looked like the Gophers filled almost 1/3 of Sam Boyd Stadium.
Having seen the passion and dedication of these fans on Thursday night gave me some hope for the upcoming Gopher season: if people are willing to travel 1600 miles to Las Vegas, then going to games in their own backyard at TCF Bank Stadium should be a breeze, right? Home field advantage is so crucial, even for non-conference games, and while it’s great to see so many adult/non-student fans show up at The Bank, the Gophers NEED to have a greater student presence to really give us that home field advantage and build momentum as we go into the Big Ten season. As it was reported a couple of weeks ago (http://www.startribune.com/sports/gophers/166352516.html) that the Gophers are having a tough time selling student tickets. In response to this, I offered some simple solutions to sell more student tickets (http://www.startribune.com/sports/gophers/166589686.html).
Part of why I think that students aren’t buying tickets is that there is no Game Day Experience specifically for them. Students want to have fun before the game, get pumped up to go to the game, and then show up to the game ready to cheer the Gophers on to victory. What they need is a good tailgate experience, and one company, GameDay Envy (https://www.facebook.com/GameDayEnvy), offered to be part of the solution to this! They are a a company that offers full service tailgating. They provide everything needed to throw a superstar tailgate event. Since there is currently no student tailgating, they offered to sponsor a student tailgate for this Saturday's game vs. New Hampshire. GameDay Envy has purchased 4 parking spots at the Ski-U-Mah lot (2301 6TH ST SE Minneapolis, MN 55455), to add to my group's 3 spots - so we should have a nice area to tailgate in.
So, what exactly is GameDay Envy providing?
· 47" Vizio HDTV with Dish Network
· DVD Player
· Nintendo Wii
· Stereo with iPod Dock
· Grill with Propane
· Private Restroom
· Ladder Ball
· Pole-ish Horseshoes
· Bean Bag Toss
· Giant Jenga
· Tailgate Passes in the Ski-U-Mah Lot at TCF Bank Stadium
· Plates, Cups, Napkins, Utensils, etc.
· Tables, Chairs, Bar & Bar Stools
· Canopy Tents
· Honda Generators
This is the Cadillac of tailgates, and all students have to do is bring food (if they want to cookout, as grills will be provided) and drinks. My tailgate crew is very excited to have the students join us this weekend as well! It's a small gesture to try to give the students a place to congregate before the game, and realize how fun the ENTIRE game day experience can be. If students, especially new students, can experience a great home opener, my thought is that more of them would be inclined to purchase student tickets after seeing how much fun they can have both at the game and in the tailgate lots.
Please pass along the word, and invite any students you know via the Facebook invite, the lot opens up at 7am, so come early, space will be limited: https://www.facebook.com/events/450212915001946/?context=create
Twitter: @NadineBabu www.twitter.com/nadinebabu
Nadine Babu is the CEO and Social Media Strategist at Babu Social Networks and completed her undergraduate degree and MBA at the Carlson School of Management. She manages and writes for GopherHole.com
“Build it and they will come” is how the University of Minnesota approached the building of TCF Bank stadium, clearly, the fans and students expect more…and it’s not just about winning more games, it’s about creating a lasting game day experience that fosters school pride, passion for the Gophers, and the creation of lifelong memories. So far after 3 years, our beautiful TCF Bank Stadium has done little of that.
It reported in the Star Tribune by Mike Kaszuba that The University of Minnesota has only sold 2000 of the 10,000 Gopher student football tickets http://www.startribune.com/sports/gophers/166352516.html . This quickly became a national story having stories from CBS Sports to The Big Lead, to many other media outlets. This is not the kind of press that the Gophers want to be known for going into their fourth season at TCF Bank.
There was a lot of criticism brought to this story, since there could be a number of tickets purchased in the next few weeks, before the Sept. 8th home opener against New Hampshire. Jason LaFrenz, the Gophers assistant athletic director, said "Other than that first year in TCF Bank Stadium, we've traditionally sold the majority of our students tickets in the 10 days before the first home game," he said. "That's when we sell all of our tickets.” He also said that still hopes to sell 8,000 student season tickets this year. The last time we came close to that was in 2010, so I found this from the Minnesota Daily: www.mndaily.com/2010/07/28/student-ticket-sales-slump-half-unsold which states that as of July 28th, 2010, 5500 tickets were sold out of the 10,000. They ended up selling 7800 that year. It's about 3 weeks later in the year, and we're at 2000. If we follow in that same pattern, it looks like we'll end up selling about 1400 more tickets, for a total of 3400.
When you look at the decreasing ticket sales it went from:
2012: Currently 2000 with 3 weeks to go
This is what the student section with 6000 tickets sold looked like last year at the beginning of the Iowa game:
And this is what it looked like during the 2nd quarter of the Illinois game, the last game of the season (both games were Gopher victories):
This is really unacceptable, any way you look at it. So you ask why? This is an absolutely beautiful new on campus stadium, that many of dreamed about, and others lobbied for for years. There are many reasons for the decline in Gopher Football Student ticket sales:
· We lose, a lot. Trust me, I've heard the argument time and time again, that winning will cure all. And I believe it will, however, you can't run a college athletic program relying on that. There will always be down years, and to counteract those, you have to develop the experience, and make people love going to the games regardless. This one is in the hands of Jerry Kill, and I do believe it will come, but in the meantime, administration can focus on things in their control off the field.
· Cost. Currently, students tickets are $84 for the season, with a $7 handling fee, so a total of $91. That's not out of line, but it is a bit of a sacrifice for students to pony up that much money.
· Lack of tailgating options. I don't have a lot of good things to say about the Dome, but the tailgating options were plentiful compared to campus, and affordable. We tailgate at the Ski-U-Mah lot, and it's $1000 to tailgate there for the season, the spots across the street in the stadium lot are $2500. If $91 for tickets are too much, this is so far out of the realm of pricing for students, they could never imagine getting a spot. The way pricing was set up in general was very short sighted. Instead of filling up these lots (I have heard they are sold out, but I know our lot is about 1/2 full, and has not been full since the Air Force game) they wanted the quick big price tags, instead of creating an entire community of tailgating. It's really a class system, where they've alienated students and discouraged them from coming to campus until game time, because there's nowhere to go for them. So more often than not, they pre-game at their apartments, frat houses, dorms, etc. and end up having so much fun, the ones that even have tickets don’t attend.
· The overall game day experience. There is none. I know I have a blast at Gopher Football games, but it is simply because of the group I tailgate with that I love. We have a blast, we're typically the first ones in the lot six hours before game time, but we are usually amongst about 10 other fans for the first hour or two. This is not the culture that Jerry Kill wants, he has expressed many times that he wants this to be an all day party, that people get excited for, and the entire state of Minnesota can enjoy and participate in.
I don't think that anyone denies that this is clearly a problem, a school with over 50,000 students and more than 30,000 undergraduates should have no problem filling up a student section, or at least be pretty close. There's no point in focusing on blame at this point, what we should be focusing on is solutions. It's easy to recognize the issues, and pick apart everything done wrong in the past 3 years since TCF Bank opened, but it's a lot more difficult to come up with ways to rectify the situation. Here are some ideas that I've seen on GopherHole.com www.forums.gopherhole.com/boards/forumdisplay.php, spoke to about with friends, or came up with on my own:
· Lower ticket prices. It's a short time hit to get more people interested and have less of a financial burden on them. 2000 tickets at $91 is $182,000. 8000 tickets at $40 is $320,000. Not only would it create more revenue, but you would have a home field advantage, and a great college football experience with so many students there. This doesn't mean the tickets need to stay $40 - it's simple supply and demand. If interest in Gopher football increases, ticket prices can too.
· Reduce pricing for early ticket sales. Make it worth it to buy early, then you're not scrambling with 3 weeks left before the season trying desperately to sell them (and getting a lot of bad press for it). Offer a $20 discount if they buy before August. As a college student, that's a pretty nice incentive.
· Giveaways. Everyone that purchases student tickets is offered into a raffle for a new iPhone, or an MOA gift card, or gift card at Sally's.
· Give Gopher Points credit for student ticket. They know when they graduate they will get Gopher Points for it. During my undergrad and grad school, I had student season tickets for so many years, and I got credit for none of them with Gopher points.
· Bundle tickets. The first year I was on the Barnyard board (The Men's Basketball student section) they had sold 300 season tickets. The next year, it grew to 1700, and one of the big reasons was bundling tickets. If they got just basketball tickets it was $99, if they got football and basketball it was $59 for basketball. Do this with basketball and hockey. This way, when one sport is stronger than the other, they can feed off each other. Another option is giving priority tickets to those who buy more than one sport, that's what Indiana did to sell over 12,000 football tickets, and they are no Ohio State or Michigan, they are struggling at football as much as we are.
· Have others sell your tickets for you. We also had a referral program for basketball. If a student can sell 10 tickets to their friends (even 5 at this point) let that student get their student ticket for free. You can roll this out to Resident Assistants, chairs or organizations, presidents of fraternity and sororities, etc.
· Young alumni tickets. Let recent grads buy student season tickets if they're available. Many 23 year olds can't afford to buy full prices public tickets. And I know as a recent grad, I didn't want to sit the whole game and get yelled at for standing and cheering, let them buy these, and one step further, contact all recent alums under two years out and offer this...NOW.
· Guest Pass. You can no longer buy a guest pass for someone at the same price as a student ticket. At this point, loosen those rules up. I don't care if someone is bringing their friend, Dad or cousin, it's a body in the seat. This is another thing they can change if they sell out, but as for now, let any student buy two tickets for the $91 price point.
· Give away free food. Last year, Jerry and Rebecca Kill bought the entire student section lunch. Why not do this for 7 games. To get students in there early (since they aren't coming for kickoff) offer free food 30 minutes before kickoff. It would at least incentivize some students to get there early. Dan Monson did this for an entire season, he actually funded it and it was called "Monson's Meal." He wanted that energy from the students from tipoff, not halfway into the 1st half. It worked. It's amazing what a motivator free food is for college students.
· Cheap tailgating options. The U has a ton of contract lots, why on earth can one or more of these not be given to students? Have them pay $5 or $10 a car, which is more than what they're getting not letting anyone park there. If they absolutely cannot find a lot or two, just set up big tents for the students. Have flip cup tables, beer pong, beer sales (that would actually raise money for the U). If they did tents like this, it would obviously have to be monitored for students 21 and older, but that's a still a better portion of students coming to games than right now.
· Look at what other schools are doing. Copy them. Follow their lead, go to games at Ole Miss, South Carolina, and other schools that have incredible game days. No need to re-invent the wheel.
· Utilizing marketing. If the U isn't sure what to do, then enlist the help of some MBA students, and have them do case studies and offer ideas. I'm sorry, but having Norwood Teague drive around in a golf cart, and sending a video of MarQueis Gray to students is not a marketing plan. There has to be a strategy behind it, it needs to be interactive, and it needs to appeal to students. These would be great components into a marketing plan, but there is so much more to be done. And I hate to say it, but you have to spend money to make money. I know the U isn't huge on spending money and advertising, but they need to.
Quite honestly, I could blog for about 100 more pages on this, and I'm not expert, just someone with a marketing and social media background that loves the Gophers. Norwood Teague has an opportunity to shape this campus forever. It's not going to be an easy task to un-do what's been done the past 3 years, but with his vision, fundraising abilities, and track record, I hope he really does shake things up. As dedicated Gopher fans, we deserve better.
Twitter: @NadineBabu www.twitter.com/nadinebabu
Nadine Babu is the CEO and Social Media Strategist at Babu Social Networks and completed her undergraduate degree and MBA at the Carlson School of Management. She manages and writes for GopherHole.com
Update: Just in case you missed this. This was former Gopher, and current Minnesota Twin's reaction to this blog after he read it:
Anyone that saw the Gophers' loss to Dayton tonight probably has their stomach in knots after seeing Trevor Mbawke go down with a right knee injury. When I first saw that he was the player on the ground holding his knee, I was just hoping he was banged up a little and would be able to get up in walk it off. As I continued to watch, I knew that was not going to be the case. Mbakwe was helped off the court and could not put any weight on his leg. He began trying to, but you could just see the pain in his face. When you look at the tears, you had to wonder, is he crying because he's in pain, or because he knows this is a season ending injury? Trevor returned to the bench with crutches, and had just buried his face in a towel, so everyone could not see his sadness. Being the consummate teammate, as always, I actually saw him applauding his teammates while being covered in the towel. He only remained on the bench for a short time, and when he left, he crutched over to his teammates to give the high fives and encouraging words. The Gophers did not just lose their best player, and one of the best players in the Big 10, but they lost their leader and the heart of the team. Even off the court, he's tweeted:
"Lord please get me through this"
"Thanks everyone for your prayers. I really appreciate it the support. Tough times don't last but tough ppl do."
"Minor setback for a MAJOR comeback."
This is a guy that is still motivating the team and the fans.
Photo courtesy of the Associated Press/
If you had been on Twitter during this time, you would have guessed that Mbakwe just died, as everyone voiced their well wishes for him and a recovery. I don't think I've ever cared less about the outcome of a game, and more about a player that I did today. It reminded me of when JB Bickerstaff was injured for his senior year, after being injured his junior year as well. However, that doesn't even compare to today. When you look at Mbakwe, he is a man that has been through so many up's and downs in his Gopher and basketball career. He has already been through injury when he was at Marquette his freshman year (on his left kneed that time). He was forced to sit out an entire year when coming to Minnesota, who many think was very unfair, including myself. Now, he returned to the Gophers, passing up the chance of going pro last year, and he could have incurred a season ending injury. Through all this, he has not lost a step. After he sat out for a year, he came back bigger and stronger. He is the leader of the team, and is our most consistent player. He is also on track to graduate next month with his degree. On top of that, he's a dedicated father and boyfriend, who I'm sure, wanted to be able to support his family next year. That’s what makes these even tougher to stomach.
Now what? Well, we wait for the results of his MRI. We can all hope for the best, but expect the worse….that's what I've come accustomed to doing as a Gopher fan. So, what happens if Mbakwe is out for the season? The Mo Walker situation comes into play. How ready is he to come back? I know that sitting him for the season to heal was a good option a few hours ago, but now, if there's anyway we can play, we need him. After Colton Iverson transferred last year, I remember thinking that we were one injury away from being in big trouble, I just never knew how bad it could be if that injury was Mbakwe's.
During the past few years, we've had a lot of incidents that have wounded the Gopher basketball program, from the Jimmy Williams situation to Al Nolen's academic issues and injury, Mbakwe being benched for a season, Royce White, Devron Bostick, and Devoe Joseph's off the court issues, Devoe Joseph and others transferring, the list goes on and on. What this should not be is an excuse. Whether it's self inflicted or not, Gopher fans can't catch a break. Losing your best player should not take you out of the NCAA hunt, nor should it be an excuse. Ask Matt Painter if losing Robbie Hummel two seasons in a row ruined his NCAA chances.
One of our posters on GopherHole had an excellent post regarding Tubby, and if he's got the energy to deal with yet, another issue:
"My question for this group is whether (or not) Tubby has the energy to overcome the loss of Mbakwe (we hope and pray it doesn't get to that). It is certain that if he's gone the season is gone as well. This would mean that four years after arriving, he's back at square one. Rather he's still at square one. He's yet to recruit a single game changing player (with the possible exception of R. White), heck he's not even been able to get the Athletic Dep't to build him the practice facility they promised."
Which is an excellent question to ask. It's not an insult to Tubby, but this is one of the most high stress jobs, and it takes a lot out of you. At best, from seeing this team in the non-conference, they looked like a mediocre Big 10 team. Without Trevor Mbakwe, Tubby will still need to find a way to win with a lot of young players. That will take a great deal of hard work, player development, and excellent in-game coaching.
With that being said, we have no idea what the outcome of Mbawke's MRI will be. He is in the hearts and prayers of all Gopher fans, and Minnesotans in general. Let's just hope this Gopher season isn't over before it's even really had a chance to start.
People always ask me how I've been so dedicated to this Gopher football team for the past 15 years...and I have one response, it's the entire game day experience. I think this is something overlooked at the U, and is incredibly important to the loyalty of fans, because even if the team loses (which has happened a lot in the past few years) you can still have a good game day experience.
I get knocked from being from Wisconsin all the time, but you can take a lesson from Packer and Badger fans, they're loyal. Even when I was growing up and the Packers were one of the worst teams in the nation, there was still a 60 year waiting list to get season tickets, and that's because the game day experience entailed much more than the game, it was an entire day of activities.
My favorite part of game day (until we start winning) is the tailgate. Some people just grab their 12 pack of Natty Light, and call it a tailgate if they're sitting on the back of their pick-up. That does nothing for me. Granted, we're not Notre Dame, but I feel like the Ski-U-Mah lot puts on a pretty good tailgate, and that all starts with great food and drinks, which is what I wanted to share with you.
I always get asked about my recipes, and for great tailgating ones, so I thought I'd share some recipes for you as we embark on our border battle against Wisconsin. Our group divides up the food, so we only have to cook for one game each season. My game is the Badger game, and due to a forecasted chilly day, I decided to go with crockpot cuisine. I will be serving 40-50 people during our 6 hour tailgate.
If I could find the link to recipes, I included them. The recipes that just have ingredients are me just throwing things together. The one thing I will encourage, is to always taste your food. I have a lot of type A friends who only follow a recipe, please don't do that. Trust your taste buds and adjust accordingly!
We're starting with some breakfast burritos, and a simple recipe I received from my fellow tailgaters two weekends ago:
This one's great because you can make it the night before and just wrap each on up in tin foil, and heat them up in the oven while you're getting ready in the morning.
This is so easy, and it's oozy goodness. Serve it with sliced baguettes and crackers:
Chicken Corn Chowder
6 pieces bacon- cut into small pieces (I actually used 10 pieces)
1 tsp. Butter
1 medium onion-diced
2 celery stalks-chopped
2 medium sized red potatoes- diced
1 tsp. Garlic
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
2 TB flour
1 tsp turmeric
4 C corn (use fresh or canned, just be sure to get "crispy" corn w/no sugar added to it. )
1 1/2 C chicken stock (I thought this was too thick, so I added another cup)
1 smoked chicken - cut or pulled to bite sized pieces
1 C white cheddar cheese
1/4 C fresh parsley-chopped
1/2 C cream (I used an entire cup of cream)
1 can corn + liquid in can
Additional yellow cheddar cheese grated for garnish.
In a 12 inch sauté pan cook bacon over medium heat. When crispy remove from pan and place on a paper towel to drain. Add butter to pan, add onion and sauté 5 minutes. Add onion, celery, carrots and potatoes. Sauté until just tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and about 1/2 tsp kosher salt and 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper. Cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Stir in flour and turmeric and cook 2-3 minutes. Add 1/2 C of the chicken stock and cook about 1 additional minute while scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits.
Pour mixture into Crock pot vessel. Then add 4 C corn, a pinch of kosher salt and pepper and remaining chicken stock. Stir. Cook on low for 6 hours or high for 3.5 hours.
After cook time, remove lid and use immersion blender to puree 1/3 of soup.* Add smoked chicken, 1 C cheddar cheese, parsley, cream and entire can of corn (including liquid) Turn to high and cook 1 additional hour. Stir, adjust seasoning if needed.
Serve in bowl garnished with bacon and shredded yellow cheddar and a fresh baguette.
Baked Mashed potatoes
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of butter and set aside.
Cook the potatoes in a large pot of boiling salted water until they are very tender, about 15 minutes. Drain; return the potatoes to the same pot and mash well. Mix in the milk and melted butter. Mix in the mozzarella and 3/4 cup of the Parmesan. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Transfer the potatoes to the prepared baking dish. Stir the bread crumbs and remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan in a small bowl to blend. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the mashed potatoes. Recipe can be prepared up to this point 6 hours ahead of time; cover and chill.
Bake, uncovered, until the topping is golden brown, about 20 minutes.
My Mom's cheesy potatoes
Mix everything except corn flakes, makes a 9 by 13 pan (no need to grease pan). Cover with corn flakes. Bake at 350 for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Transfer to crock pot if tailgating.
Note - I did use all beef broth and no water. I also used 3 packets of Italian seasoning. I am also serving this with cheese, and grilled peppers. I cut up red, green, orange and yellow peppers and drizzled them with olive oil and salt and pepper, and grilled them.
I break off the ends of my asparagus, and place them into a large Ziploc bag. I then add:
Then I just throw the directly on the grill, so they get that nice flavor. You may lose a few, but it's so good. Be sure to not overcook, no one wants the mushy, you want the crisp.
Pulled Pork Awesomeness
The Mysterious Pulled Pork Recipe
2 onions, sliced thin
2 Tbs brown sugar
1 Tbs paprika
2 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1 (4-6 lb) boneless pork butt or shoulder
¾ cup cider vinegar
4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 ½tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 ½tsp sugar
½ tsp dry mustard
½ tsp garlic salt
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
Place onions in crock-pot. Combine brown sugar, paprika, salt and pepper; rub over roast. Place roast on top of onions.
Combine vinegar, Worcestershire, red pepper flakes, sugar, mustard, garlic salt and cayenne; stir to mix well. Drizzle about 1/3 of vinegar mixture over roast. Cover and refrigerate remaining vinegar mixture.
Cover crock-pot; cook on low 12-14 hours. Drizzle about 1/3 of reserved vinegar mixture over roast during last ½ hour of cooking.
Remove meat and onions; drain. Chop or shred meat and onions. Serve with remaining vinegar mixture.
Note - I actually doubled the amount of spices in the rub, so I could get a nice coating on it. I also let it site with the rub for about an hour first.
Cole slaw to top the Pulled Pork
This is the classic coleslaw used for topping pulled pork sandwiches. The sweetness of the slaw goes perfectly with the tartness of good pulled pork.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Yield: Makes enough for 8 sandwiches
Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate for at least an hour. Place a generous portion on each pulled pork sandwich.
Crockpot Apple Crisp
8 apples peeled and sliced (I recommend these for best taste and crispness: Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Jonathan, Jonagold, Winesap or Pippin)
2 teaspoons of Golden Fig Apple Pie Spice or 1 ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon allspice, and ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¾ cup whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup white sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1 ½ cups Bisquick, divided
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
Butter flavored cooking spray
1. Lightly spray bottom and sides with slow cooker. Toss apples in a large mixing bowl with Apple Pie Spice. Gently spoon apple mixture into slow cooker.
2. In a medium mixing bowl combine milk, softened butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and ½ cup of the Bisquick. Spoon over apples.
3. Combine the remaining Bisquick with the brown sugar. Cut cold butter into Bisquick mixture with a pastry cutter until crumbly. Sprinkle this mixture on top.
4. Cover and cook on low 6 to 7 hours or until apples are soft. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.
It's approaching 4am, and if I wasn't running out of steam, I would also make these easy stuffed mushrooms for an appetizer:
Bacon and Cheddar Stuffed Mushrooms
Alright, time to get a few hours of sleep. I hope my group likes the food I prepared, they are so good to me, and I want to return the favors! Happy tailgating :)
Let me put this disclaimer out there: my thoughts have been formed from watching one—yes one—exhibition game, and they are to be taken as such. These are just my first reactions from the watching tonight’s victory over Bemidji State, and are subject to change as the season goes on. I know my opinions will not be the most popular in Gold Country, but they're honest.
I look at exhibition games like watching Howard Pulley summer basketball. If our players really excel, it's comforting, and makes you a little bit more excited for the season. It’s not meant to be an indication or predicator of a Big 10 championship or Final Four appearance. If you don’t like what you see in the team or players, it is particularly alarming, because if you're not looking good in an exhibition game or at Pulley, how are you going to look against Ohio State? I wouldn’t necessarily say that watching the team tonight was reason to cause alarm, but it was not what I was expecting or wanting to see against a team like Bemidji State. The Gophers probably should have won this game by at least 30 points. Instead, we only maintained a lead of 10 points or less for most of the game, and managed to close the game out with a final score of 71-58. When our starters were in the game, they seemed to have things under control. However, when Tubby began to substitute in some of the bench players, our lead would dwindle. You wouldn’t think you'd have to play Trevor Mbakwe 26 minutes to beat Bemidji State.
The Good: Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson truly played like the leaders of this team. They scored 32 of the 71 points, with Mbakwe alone accounting for 11 of the 45 rebounds. It also should be noted that he made 8 out of his 9 field goal attempts.
The Gophers absolutely crushed Bemidji State on the boards, outrebounding them 45 to 23. This shows a lot of aggressiveness and effort, which is a good sign, but should be taken with a grain of salt given the tremendous size and strength advantage the Gophers enjoyed over Bemidji State.
The Bad: The Gophers' 3 point shooting, or lack thereof. Perhaps the expectations were set too high, after Tubby Smith said this was his best shooting team at Minnesota. I wondered who he was talking about after the graduation of the team’s best shooter, Blake Hoffaber. I am anxious to see who will step up to the plate. There were some nerves that had to get worked out, which may help to explain the 1-7 (14%) shooting from behind the arc. My hope is that those nerves will be shaken off by the time the Gophers start the regular season. Our 3 point shooting was off, but we allowed Bemidji State to get off 25 3-point attempts, of which, they made 10 of them. Perimeter defense will be another area of development for the Gophers.
Perhaps more alarming than the non-existent shooting from behind the arc was the team’s performance at the free throw line. Going 12-19 (63.2%) was worse than the 66% we shot last year that landed us as the 11th ranked free throw shooting team in the Big 10. Our free throw shooting cost us a number of games.
Our overall field goal percentage for players not named Ralph and Trevor was equally concerning. When you take away Mbakwe and Sampson, who went 15-22 (68%), the rest of the team went 14-37 (37%) from field goal range. When you've got a player like Mbakwe, he's not a secret. He's a pre-season all Big 10 player, and teams are going to be preparing for him. Sampson is also a senior, and teams will be prepared to handle Sampson and Mbakwe on the inside. The Gophers are in desperate need of another player to step up and handle some of the scoring load.
The Promising: Andre Hollins. I don't think it's any secret, the Gophers desperately needed a point guard to emerge coming into this year. Al Nolen’s injury, along with the transfer of Devoe Joseph, was devastating to the Gophers last season. This was one of the biggest question marks coming into this year. If we have someone that can step up to the plate, run our offense, and control the tempo of the game, we will be competitive. One game is not going to get me too excited or too down in the dumps, but I will say Hollins was a bright spot. He had 8 assists and 0 turnovers, and chipped in 4 rebounds and 7 points, a pretty impressive 1st game stat line for this true freshman.
Another source of potential excitement is Julian Welch. From all accounts, it appeared that Tubby would have started Welch had he not sprained his ankle. If he is indeed an even a better option than Hollins, this season could look better than I thought.
All in all, I came into tonight hoping to see a team that had shown progress from the disappointing end to last season. I do believe they will do that, and learn and grow as the season goes on. What we do know is there is a lot to work on, but there also seems to be a lot of raw talent. How Tubby develops this talent will dictate whether we’re going dancing in March or having our bubble burst in the NIT.