Who’s ready for basketball?
After a rough preseason, I’d say probably just about everyone, especially those on the team or otherwise involved with the university.
And we all know, the biggest distraction from distractions is … winning!
The Gophers should be able to do that, soundly, tonight as they open their two-game exhibition slate with Minnesota State.
The Mavericks start a new season with a bunch of changes and new faces after finishing last year 7-19 in the NSIC. But even improved, MSU should be no match for high-hopes Minnesota and it’s important for the Gophers to set a strong tone in their first game of the season.
Not too much can be made of preseason games – they’re more like warm-ups for the regular season. But since we haven’t seen this team in action for a long time, there are still some observations to be made.
Things to look for tonight:
- Andre Hollins starting out his second year strong. Is the shooting guard-turned-point guard focusing his efforts on running the offense or running up the score? It would be good to see a little of both, of course, but having a genuine point guard to aptly get the team into its offense is going to be critical for the Gophers in this league. So signs that Hollins is embracing that role would be welcomed.
- Check the knees. Both Trevor Mbakwe and Mo Walker are coming off major surgeries and we haven’t seen either of them in a game in quite a while. How are they moving? How hard are they panting after running up the court? Do they look as aggressive as they did pre-injury? All of these questions are important ones to answer.
- Domination. Last year, while the Gophers scooted out to a 12-1 start, they kept many games close, got lazy with leads and had to pull off some late-game heroics that really shouldn’t have been necessary. They quickly learned that strategy won’t work in the Big Ten. The Gophers need to DOMINATE tonight and the early portion of the non-conference schedule.
Things we won’t learn tonight:
- Can this team shoot? They say they can and that shots are falling in practice. Well, shots fell in practice last year, but when challenged by opponents that actually patrolled the perimeter – well, they didn’t sink so often. Minnesota State doesn’t have great three-point defense (they allowed opponents to drop 38.2 percent of their shots last year) so the Gophers could get something going, but it won’t be indicative of any major improvement in that category … yet.
- How’s the defense: This Minnesota State team could be interesting – but not yet. With so many new pieces, it could take a while for the offensive chemistry to come together. They won’t be in a groove yet and the Gophers should take advantage of that. But don’t look to infer that Minnesota is a sudden defensive juggernaut because of it.
- What this team’s identity will be: We won’t have a true idea of how this team will morph early on because, well, we’re only getting a partial picture right now. Eventually, Mbakwe will be in the starting lineup, and that should change the way the Gophers operate dramatically. In the first few games, you can bet coach Tubby Smith will be doing a lot of experimenting to figure out who he wants where and how often. We won’t know exactly what the minute breakdown of this team will look like for a little while.
* Unfortunately, tonight’s game is not on TV. But Gophers fans can watch it for a price here.
* Listen to the game live here.
* In today’s Star Tribune: Mo Walker found a new strength in the offseason and is ready to show it.
* Here is my preview box on tonight’s matchup against Minnesota State.
* Check out my witty fake Halloween costumes for the Gophers here.
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