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Wednesday (All aboard the Gophers basketball bandwagon) edition: Wha' happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand under Sports Updated: November 24, 2010 - 8:36 AM

For frame of reference, we are hardly the world's biggest college basketball fan. We still prefer watching the NBA to college basketball -- and if you think that's crazy, we understand your reasons but simply don't agree with them.

That said, we've seen enough Gophers men's basketball over the years -- the great 1997 team that never happened, the lean Monson years, Tubby's initial teams -- to hopefully be qualified to say this: Yes, it's early. But this version of the Gophers has a chance to be special. This is a legitimately very good basketball team, with the necessary components to be among the best in the Big Ten -- and maybe more than that.

And, we have to admit this caught us by surprise. We certainly admit to being underwhelmed and disappointed by Smith's team a season ago, and we had a bad feeling that this team would be more of the same (if not worse).

But in watching those victories in Puerto Rico over North Carolina and West Virginia, we could see right away this isn't a smoke-and-mirrors team. This isn't the type of squad that might produce a nice win early, muddle through the Big Ten season and then sneak into the NCAA tourney (the formula for the past two seasons). We could see the difference Al Nolen and Trevor Mbakwe make. We could see what another year meant for Ralph Sampson and Colton Iverson. We could see Blake Hoffarber's release getting even better (along with his overall game), while his range kept expanding. We could see the athleticism and depth of contributing players. We could see exactly how Devoe Joseph would fit back into the mix perfectly when he returns -- which could be soon.

This is a very good team. It should be enjoyed -- and, at the same time, held to that high standard. Is it premature to think about how far this team can go in a loaded Big Ten and beyond? Maybe. Is it unrealistic? No.

Your thoughts on this team and just how good you think it can be in the comments.

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