Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.


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Myth-busting on start to U's basketball season

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: January 7, 2014 - 2:43 PM

There are a couple of myths floating about on Rich Pitino's basketball team.

The first of those was that the Gophers nearly pulled off an upset of Michigan in the Big Ten opener. The Gophers were 2 1/2-point favorites, based on three factors:

1) The Wolverines two highest scorers from the NCAA runners-up of 2013, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., were taken in the first round of the draft and are playing in the NBA.

2) Center Mitch McGary, a preseason All-America, was sidelined and will miss much of the season for back surgery.

3) The game was at Williams Arena, which is worth three points to the gamblers on all occasions.

Michigan also lost Glenn Robinson III, its best remaining player, due to injury in the second half. If the betting crowd had known Robinson would be unavailable for half of the game, the Gophers would have been 6-point favorites, rather than 2 1/2.

FACT: Michigan pulled off the upset in the Big Ten opener.

There was also this headline on Sid Hartman's column: "Gophers, Pitino exceed expectations.''

This is subject to opinion, of course. Sid and I discussed this Sunday night on the fine-tuned, well-produced The Sports Show. We agreed to disagree (as is often the case) on what occurred during the first two conference games of Pitino's tenure.

Sid was in the "near upset for the Gophers'' camp for the Michigan game. And he was equally impressed with an 82-79 victory over a Purdue team that is loaded with freshmen and looking ahead to a return to the Big Ten's first division next season.

Most of us can appreciate the change in style that Pitino has brought to the Gophers. Watching a basketball team try to play fast is more appealing than what we saw from Tubby Smith's teams.

Each season, we would hear about the Gophers using more pressure defense and getting out on the break, and by February, they would be bogged down ... trying to beat the Wisconsins of the Big Ten with a molasses pace.

So, yeah, this is better, but to suggest the Gophers going through the non-conference schedule at a very Tubby-like 11-2, and then splitting two Big Ten games in which they were favorites is surpassing reasonable expectations ... well, I disagree with the Great Man.

I was surprised that the Gophers handled Florida State in December. I was surprised that they lost to Michigan. So far, I'd say Pitino is .500 when it comes to producing surprise.

That's because any references to Pitino having a "young team'' are false. He has a young program, but it is built on a very experienced roster.

Senior Austin Hollins and junior Andre Hollins are among the most-veteran guard combinations in the country. They came into this season with a combined 174 games played and 129 starts for the Gophers.

Front-court starters Elliott Eliason and Oto Osenieks are both fourth-year juniors ... four years in a Big Ten program. The minutes of the pair were erratic with Tubby, but they entered this season having played in a combined 126 games.

Backup center Mo Walker is also a redshirt junior with 42 games played entering this season.

Three-point gunner Malik Smith is a senior transfer with 54 games at two junior colleges and 32 games (31 starts) for Pitino last season at Florida International. Point guard DeAndre Mathieu is a junior, with 29 games (nine starts) at Morehead [Ky.] State, and then 34 games as a junior college star at Central Arizona.

Joey King is a sophomore forward with 32 games of Division I experience at Drake.

Daquein McNeil, a freshman guard, is the only player of inexperience who will see the court when it matters -- and he's still ninth in the rotation.

So far, the 2013-14 Gophers have moved faster to have about the same start as they would've had with Tubby (although he might have beaten Michigan).

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