It’s a long off-season for college basketball, but things are finally starting to get shaking. Official practice, after all, begins just a week from today, and we all will finally start to get a glimpse of this team that we hear might-possibly-could-maybe-be-kind-of-a-little-bit-good, you know, sometimes. That’s step one of the season.

Step two will be the non-conference schedule. It’s been highly hyped that this year’s slate is much more substantive than last season, when the Gophers’ cruised to 12-1 right before getting trampled in Big Ten play. But just how solid is the 2012-13 version? We’ll get into all this deeper as it come up, but to get a good overarching, big-picture analysis, I turned to Yahoo national college basketball blogger Jeff Eisenberg for his insight.
“It’s really not a bad schedule, actually,” Eisenberg said, noting the Gophers will be challenged early and throughout and will develop their burgeoning national clout if they escape relatively unscathed.
Some of what Eisenberg said:
  • The Gophers’ tournament is clearly head-and-shoulder above the one they participated in last season (Old Spice, in Orlando) and Eisenberg agrees with the popular opinion that it's the cream of the crop. “I think the Battle 4 Atlantis is probably the best preseason tournament out there,” he said. “So even if they lose to Duke I think they’re getting two quality games in the consolation bracket. So regardless of how it happens, I think coming out of that tournament 2-1 would be a real achievement for that team, similar to a couple years ago when they beat UNC and West Virginia in a preseason tournament (in Puerto Rico). I think any combination of two wins would be a great thing for them there.”
  • Other than the tournament, Eisenberg sees several tough matches ahead, including:
*  South Dakota State (which is “easily the best team in the Summit League this year,” he said, and shouldn’t be counted on, even at home. “It will be really interesting with [Nate] Wolters again. I was actually surprised last year that [the Gophers] handled them [the Jackrabbits] so easily”) 
*  at Florida State (“FSU is going to be a top 4 ACC team probably this year and that is a difficult game on the road”)
*  Richmond (who has improved over the last year and “is not a gimme”)
*  at USC (“They’ll be vastly improved this year compared to where they were a year ago” with the return of a now-healthy Jio Fontan and a cache of eligible transfers)
Eisenberg is quick to point out that despite the schedules’ strength, Minnesota should stand up to it – if the Gophers are everything we all currently (even nationally!) think they are.
“I would think if Minnesota is a top 25 team, that’s the type of game that they need to win,” he said. “Those are games you want to win.”
So what do the Gophers need to do with the schedule given to them? Can they take three losses and still be looked upon favorably?
“I would say three losses is kind of like par on a golf hole,” Eisenberg said “I think that would be acceptable, I don’t think that would be anything to get over-excited or overly disappointed about. I think if they were able to come out of the Battle 4 Atlantis with one loss and then maybe lose one other game in that non-conference slate, I think that would be a tremendous success, with some of the challenges in that slate that they have.
“If they come out of it with two losses, I think they would have a great shot to be in the top 25 heading into the Big Ten, but at the same time, we’ve seen them have strong non-conference performances each of the last two years and then things have just sort of fallen apart in Big Ten play. So you take it for what it’s worth, so to speak.”
Ah yes, we remember that.

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