The Gophers game vs. Coastal Carolina tips off tonight at 7 p.m. CT at Williams Arena. The game will be available on Gophers All-Access for a fee.
As the Gophers' head into their fourth game of the season, there are several characteristics about this team that appear to be quite different from a year ago.
Probably the biggest of those aspects is the clear definition of roles. Everyone knows what is expected of them, and he team is working as one, rather than a collection of parts.
In short, the Gophers seem to have found their early identity: a team that runs, plays solid defense and collectively does the little things.
The season, of course, is still very young, and players will evolve and the system will too. The team's true colors will really be seen once Big Ten play begins.
But that Minnesota has found those apparent roles, and that the players seem to have accepted them, is notable. That, after all, is one of the critical building blocks of a good team. And more than that, it represents a noticeable change from the recent past, when last year, former coach Tubby Smith and the players struggled to define their identity when asked, even as the season winded down. It was hard to know what to expect from the team on a nightly basis. The consistency -- in coaching, in performances, in effort -- wasn't there.
Three games into 2013-14, however, the Gophers have found some regularity.
Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins have been the leaders, and have been relied on for big performances each night. DeAndre Mathieu has been a solid set-up man. Malik Smith is the shooter. Joey King is the energy guy off the bench. And everyone else just tries to play solid defense and get rebounds.
So far, the results have been noticeable. With players having a better idea of what is expected of them, they've been able to key in on those targets. It's why we've seen improvement from guys like Oto Osenieks and Elliott Eliason and why we've seen the Gophers steadily boost their production on the boards in all three games. When the rebounding total becomes such a team effort, it's a tangible indication that the team is buying in to the coach's values. In this year's Gophers, the early execution of a new system, the conditioning and weight changes and the improvement in several regards shows that Pitino has been of influence to this bunch.
Of course, the Gophers are still not where Pitino wants them to be yet -- nor, should they be expected to be. The coach is encouraged, though, looking at players like King and Osenieks on Saturday. And he's hoping the Gophers take another step tonight, against Coastal Carolina.
"Those guys were fighting for every rebound possible, they were trying to defend," Pitino said. "Regardless of if you come in off the bench, if you start, if we can get 8, 9, 10, 11 guys doing that, then I think we’re kind of where we want to be as a system. We’re still not there yet – it’s still very early."