Glancing at the 2017-18 Gophers men’s basketball nonconference schedule released Tuesday, you will notice the absence of high-major opponents coming to Williams Arena beyond Miami (Fla.), this season’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge opponent.
That’s a change from a year ago, when St. John’s and Arkansas played in Minneapolis and gave local fans the chance to watch the much-improved Gophers win both games.
Now fourth-year coach Richard Pitino only has one marquee matchup at home before the Big Ten season. But Minnesota, a projected top-20 preseason team, will be challenged on the road.
“Our nonconference schedule is going to provide us a great test early on in the year,” Pitino said in a statement. “With several high-profile opponents who are also coming off NCAA tournament appearances, we will have a chance to prepare our team for the Big Ten season.”
The Gophers, who return four starters from a 24-win NCAA tournament team, open at home with their only exhibition, Nov. 2 against Concordia (St. Paul). Following Minnesota’s regular-season opener Nov. 10 against South Carolina Upstate, the Gophers travel to Rhode Island to play three days later at Providence, Pitino’s alma mater, in the Gavitt Tipoff Games. The Friars went 20-13 and reached the NCAA tournament last season.
Providence is one of three nonconference opponents who played in the Big Dance last season, including Miami (home, Nov. 29) and Arkansas (road, Dec. 9). The Razorbacks lost 85-71 at Williams Arena last year.
Along with two true road games in Rhode Island and Fayetteville, Ark., the Gophers make the first of three trips to New York this season with games against Massachusetts and Alabama in the Barclays Center Classic Nov. 24-25 in Brooklyn.
The toughest nonconference home game will be against Miami, which some have ranked in the top 10 in early polls. The Hurricanes could be the most talented team in the ACC after Duke, featuring guards Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker, two projected future lottery picks.
Only three of the nine home nonconference games are against teams with winning records last season, including Harvard on Dec. 30. Six opponents had just 10 wins or fewer last season, including four teams coming off seasons with single-digit wins (9-23 Western Carolina, 8-22 Oral Roberts, 7-24 Drake and 2-27 Alabama A&M).
Drake’s appearance in the Barn on Dec. 11, though, will have some Minnesota flavor. First-year coach Niko Medved and assistant Dave Thorson are both former Gophers assistants. Thorson won six consecutive Class 3A state titles at DeLaSalle High School.
The only Big Ten game with a date already scheduled is against Ohio State on Jan. 20 at Madison Square Garden. The rest of the Big Ten schedule will be released Wednesday. The Big Ten tournament is also at MSG this season, beginning Feb. 28.