As the new basketball season ramps up, scrimmages unfold, glimpes of players are revealed -- there is a desire to predict (for some of us, that's called a job) are made and analyze every aspect of a team.
But the reality is there are many things that simply can't be learned until later -- some when the season starts and some much later than that.
Here are ten questions we can't answer just yet:
1. How this system will work with these players – Playing fast, now that’s something we’ve seen Michigan do and Indiana do plenty. So it seems to stand that an uptempo style is certainly possible to execute at a high level in the physical Big Ten. But can the Gophers do it with these players? There are some good athletes, sure, but the bunch is far from elite.
2. Whether coach Richard Pitino can be effective right away – The expectations for this Gophers team is not high. Most magazines and pre-season polls have Minnesota landing somewhere between No. 9 and No. 12 in the conference. But the pressure for Pitino to show the fans something will be turned up right away. Within the context of expectations, can Pitino get his squad to overachieve? In this state, coaches are on trial immediately.
3. Just how good a slimmed-down Mo Walker will be. Whether Oto Osenieks can improve, whether Maverick Ahanmisi can shore up his defense and for that matter, how all four brand-new players will perform. Let’s face it, there are a lot of questionmarks on this roster, whether it's players that underperformed or didn’t play much last year or whether it’s any of the four new players we’ve only barely seen in action. Osenieks needs to show real improvement in his shooting and his toughness inside to see significant minutes; Walker needs to show that not only has the weight been shed, but that a renewed energy has been built in its place. The newbies need to show they can be effective in the Big Ten.
4. Who will play point – Will Andre Hollins retake his role as floor general? Or does Pitino like him better as a shooting guard? Does Deandre Mathieu have half as much potential as we saw in the public team scrimmage? Maverick Ahanmisi is the team veteran at the position. There are plenty of options – who will get the nod?
5. Who will fill in the holes in the frontcourt – Elliott Eliason is expected to start at center – unless Walker suddenly impresses – but the power forward spot seems to be wide open. Will redshirt freshman Charles Buggs get a chance to show what he can do? Can Joey King handle the job? Should Osenieks be a part of the conversation? Likely all of them will need to play – there’s just no other depth. But if someone can convincingly claim the job, that will only help the Gophers.
6. Whether the Gophers’ perceived strengths will be actual strengths – With this roster and this style, speed, ballhandling and shooting need to be major strengths. Can they be? The Gophers are athletic enough, but need to improve in all of those areas and get better conditioned before those facets can fully be considered advantages.
7. What the starting lineup will be – Beyond point guard and power forward, there are a lot of different combinations Pitino could play with. He has plenty of options for the shooting guard spot (between Malik Smith, Andre Hollins, Maverick Ahanmisi and Austin Hollins) and the small forward spot (Austin Hollins, Wally Ellenson). There are more practices to watch, matchups to consider and many decisions to be made.
8. How the Gophers will produce in the halfcourt – You can’t run all the time, not in this conference. What happens when the Gophers get slowed down and must face the elite Big Ten defenses in the half-court setting? Will they be able to battle past the tough opposing frontcourts? A year ago, this was a major Gophers weakness, and now they only have skimpier personnel.
9. Whether Minnesota can find a tourniquet for their turnover problem – A liability a year ago will likely get worse before it gets better with Pitino dictating such a sprinting pace. Can he better get across his message about players holding on to the ball? Former coach Tubby Smith always seemed flummoxed. Improvement here will be the difference between “quick” and “sloppy.”
10. How a guard-oriented lineup will fare in the Big Ten – If the Gophers aren’t able to find adequate options in the frontcourt will a very small lineup be the way to go? Can such a group survive in the Big Ten? A couple years ago, Missouri was hugely successful with a four-guard lineup, getting ranked as high as No.3 by the AP at one point. But the Big 12 is not the Big Ten and Phil Pressey is rather special. It would be a huge experiment if Minnesota had to go this way.