After an offseason full of questions about this promising Gophers team, we got a few short answers on Thursday in the first exhibition game of the season vs. Minnesota State:
a) Yes, the Mo Walker we remember still exists and could make a difference for this squad as he gets into better shape and readjusts to the game.
b) No, the turnover issue is not solved.
c) Yes, it will indeed take Trevor Mbakwe some time to get his feet under him and shake off the rust.
d) It is possible, yes, that Joe Coleman is gunning for an improved sophomore season.
Some of those, of course, are only partial answers, and there are plenty more to be asked and scrutinized.
Tonight – against DII Southwest Baptist at the Barn -- is the final tune-up before things start counting, but it’s a good time for the Gophers to work on some things that could really frustrate them going forward if not turned around.
Additionally, the Bearcats seem to have an affinity for shooting 3-pointers – they’ve made 26 in two games – which could provide an early test for Minnesota’s perimeter defense, which ranked fifth in the league last season. This is where SWB could be dangerous, and the Bearcats probably know that.
Three other improvements potential improvements to look for tonight:
1. Better chemistry on the second team. Coach Tubby Smith has not given up this five-on-five lineup switches, and if he continues to do that, the second team needs to get some more work in together. Last week, the second five -- Maverick Ahanmisi, Julian Welch, Oto Osenieks, Andre Ingram and Mo Walker – visibly struggled to get into their offense and find a rhythm. We’ll see tonight whether any of that has been sorted out.
2. Tighter ball handling. Fourteen turnovers against a subpar DII team is unacceptable. Thursday it was a lot of mental mistakes that got the Gophers in trouble. Regardless, Minnesota – which had the worst turnover margin in the league last year --needs to clamp down on mistakes heading into the regular season.
3. Improved team-wide rebounding. Understand that a fully-healthy duo of Mbakwe and Walker should help this effort, but the Gophers can’t sit idly and wait for that to happen. Last week, the Gophers out-rebounded Minnesota State just 36-30. Smith wants every member to crash the boards a little more tonight.
4. A more rounded game. The Gophers were successful in getting to the basket and finishing on Thursday – and that went pretty well. But it won’t work against every opponent. What better time to test the mid-range and three-point game than against a team who plans to hang out on the perimeter all night.
* Tonight’s game is not on TV. But you can watch it for a price, here.
* In today’s Star Tribune, Trevor Mbakwe on the court is a sight for sore eyes.
* Check out the preview box for tonight’s game here.
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