God Morgen and God Jul from Copenhagen.
I hope everyone is having a good holiday, whether it's traditional or not.
In spite of the long layoff between games for Minnesota, if you’re a Gophers fan, there is plenty to be merry about as the Gophers head into the Big Ten season (Jan. 2 vs. Michigan at home). Let us count the ways:
1. DeAndre Mathieu is ridiculously fun to watch. Seriously. Most underrated thing of the season for the Gophers. Who was expecting this out of this 5-9 kid? Not me. But he’s been exactly the thing Gophers coach Pitino needs to make this system works and he’s been thrilling – that fearlessness driving to the basket, that confidence and toughness and finishing power is special, Gophers fans – so enjoy it.
2. Pitino-Pitino next year. We get to see Father vs. Son on national TV in like the first game that the younger Pitino schedules at Minnesota. Wait, it’s going to be on an aircraft carrier? Hold on, in Puerto Rico? Merry Christmas!
3. Two 1,000-pointers. That’s a feat, and it’s something to be proud of, if you’re a Gophers fan. The fact that senior Austin Hollins and junior Andre Hollins did it in back-to-back games is even cooler. You’re watching two very talented guards, ones with bright futures. Don’t forget to step back and appreciate the accomplishments.
4. Malik Smith is as exciting as Pitino said he would be. He warned us. Didn’t he warn us? By now, every Gophers fan has witnessed just why the Minnesota coach was so intent on bringing Smith, who didn’t get any D-I scholarships to speak of out of high school, to the Big Ten. The. Guy. Can. Make. Big. Time. Shots. He’s clutch. He’s a major spark. He has the ability to lift the Gophers just when they need it the most. Minnesota has been needing a player like that, and they got him.
5. The team is having fun. We are too. This style is fun to play -- that’s obvious in the atmosphere in the locker room and amongst the players. And they say it like it is: They’ve having a blast. And here’s the thing, the players are likable and the style is probably as fun to watch as I can imagine it is to play. That’s great, both for the fans, and the media.
6. Minnesota is in a pretty good place. The Gophers head into the last game of the nonconference schedule at 10-2 with wins over Richmond on the road and Florida State at home and no *bad* losses. For a team that has some glaring shortcomings, it could be a lot worse. The reality is, all you want through the non-conference schedule, as a fan, is a few moments to get excited about, and to see tangible improvement. The Gophers have displayed both.
7. Elliott Eliason has developed into a quietly consistent center. Look at what Eliason has done in the last two games, nearly tallying consecutive double-doubles. The big man, who has slimmed down by 20 pounds, has displayed his always-solid passing ability while taking his blocking skills to a new level. He hasn’t been loud, but he’s been effective.
8. Highlight reels are back. Goodbye Rodney Williams, yes. But hello, a new side of Austin Hollins. The senior has apparently taken over the graduated athlete’s spot as high-flyer. Hollins has been showing off his athleticism in a way we really haven’t seen from him before. Already he’s landed on Sports Center’s Top Ten twice, and ignited the Barn with his slams.
9. There is the hope of 3-0 to start the Big Ten. Hey, Michigan is struggling, and then comes Illinois at home and Penn State on the road. All of those teams are beatable. Certainly, it would be a notable stretch, if Minnesota could secure three wins to begin the Big Ten season on a super positive note. But the schedule is conducive. There is plenty of room for hope.
10. Your local beat writer likes you readers enough to blog on Christmas. Here I am in Europe, on vacation, and I’m blogging about the Gophers. You’re welcome! But now I’m off to get out on the town. Merry Christmas everyone!