Everyone reading this blog will likely remember just how promising things looked last season after the Gophers beat North Carolina, swept the Puerto Rico tipoff, and got off to an 11-1 start.
But that success can’t be mentioned without also remembering – in great detail – the major collapse that followed when the Gophers lost 10 of their final 11 games to end at 17-14 and miss every national postseason tournament.
That experience showcased just how little you can rely on early season’s results. So just how long will it be before we know anything about this year’s team, now 4-0? The non-conference schedule is much weaker this year than it was last season.
“We don’t have the preseason team like we’re used to having like North Carolina or Butler or stuff like that, but there’s going to be some good teams [at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando], it’s going to be a chance for us to get away from home and see where we are,” Trevor Mbakwe said.
Coach Tubby Smith keeps saying he’s pleased with the way the Gophers have scheduled teams – regardless of lower levels – that provide good matchups that will help expose weaknesses the Gophers need to fix. But how does that translate to Big Ten play?
One of the good things about the Gophers scheduling so far, is that counting exhibitions they’ve played several teams – in Bemidji State, Augustana and Bucknell – that can legitimately shoot, exposing one of the Gophers' greatest weakness: defending the perimeter.
This is something they’ve discovered very early and, in theory, can fix before hitting the prolific marksmen in the Big Ten. Playing teams that don’t have as great a focus on shooting – even if they were more highly regarded – that don’t place as much of an emphasis on three-point shooting could mask that Achilles heel for a while.
Regardless, holdovers from last year’s squad know better than to get too high or too low over early scores, whether it’s a win, loss, blowout or tight game.
“We’ve just got to come out with the mindset that nobody is weaker or lesser than us,” Rodney Williams said. “We’ve got to go out there and act like every game is us playing against the No. 1 team in the nation. “I think it will be more of a mental thing. Because I think playing games against teams that we know that we should beat, it will be easier to come out and play down to their level, but I don’t know. I think with me, Trevor and Ralph being some of the older guys, we’ve got to just remind everybody that if we to a level lower than what we’re capable of, we can easily be beat.”
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Michigan, No. 4 Iowa and No. 2 Maryland are the next three teams on the schedule before Minnesota meets Rutgers, which is also winless in the Big Ten.