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Rayno: A look at the next month for Gophers' basketball

By Sunday night, it was clear that the Puerto Rico Tip-Off had not gone the way Richard Pitino had hoped.

The Gophers coach sounded on edge with references to the matchup with Texas Tech and former Minnesota coach Tubby Smith – asked whether Smith said anything to him before the game, Pitino replied “nothing newsworthy,” – frustrated with the team’s fouling proclivity and somewhat baffled by the defensive struggles.

There was plenty of cause. Heading into Puerto Rico, I thought Minnesota might take only one of three and I think many reasonable people agreed. So in some ways, absolutely nothing unexpected has happened thus far. But on the other hand, the Gophers have already displayed gaping flaws in some areas and fell by 13 to Texas Tech one game after nearly giving away a win vs. a not-very-good Missouri State team.

The team has the talent to be competitive but as we’ve always known, this year’s squad is young, raw and inexperienced. Right now, that youth is showing itself in inconsistent defense, timid offense, poor rebounding effort and glaring fouls.

The question now is whether Minnesota can move past a bad long weekend and pick up some steam through the rest of this month and next – or whether a not-so-easy slate between now and New Years’ will put the Gophers on the path toward the basement.

“We’ll bounce back no problem,” Pitino said on Sunday. “We’ve played five games, we’ve got like 25 more to go. When you’re in a conference like we’re in, you’re never out of it.”

A look at the games ahead:

Friday: Nebraska Omaha – This should be the epitome of a get-back-on-track game vs. the Mavericks who just completed a four-year transition into Division I. The only problem here? Omaha has been very efficient in getting to the line, dating back to last year. And Omaha will be at least a little motivated by a homecoming of sorts with three players, including JT Gibson, Minnesota’s 2015 Mr. Basketball, coming to town. Still, the Gophers should dismiss the Mavericks easily. If not, there is trouble ahead given what other teams are on this list …

Monday: Clemson – The Tigers don’t have the top-to-bottom scoring this year to be totally scary, but their defense – ranked 43rd nationally in defensive efficiency by analyst Ken Pomeroy – will make Clemson a force to break. Six-7 junior Jaron Blossomgame is a well-rounded forward and has the potential to go off offensively.

Dec. 5: South Dakota – The Coyotes lost a lot from a year ago and shouldn’t be much of a threat, but watch out for Casey Kasperbauer shooting threes and Tre Burnette, who was in the national top-40 in defensive rebounding percentage last year.

Dec. 8: South Dakota State – As “South Dakota week” continues, the Jackrabbits will bring a different story. Scott Nagy’s team is sound defensively, quick paced, full of shooters and the overwhelming favorite to win the Summit league this year. South Dakota State has one of the better non-Power Five backcourts in star guard DeOndre Parks, a popular pick for league Player of the Year and George Marshall, and 6-9 freshman Mike Baum has been huge on the boards early, average 7.8 a game. The game could go either way, and Minnesota has the benefit of being at home, but the Jackrabbits have more than enough talent to bring the Gophers down.

Dec. 12: Oklahoma State (in Sioux Falls, S.D.) – The Cowboys aren’t expected to be major players in the Big 12, but last year they made the NCAA tournament after starting the season in a similar position. This Oklahoma State team lost three of its top three scorers, but bring back Phil Forte III, one of the league’s top guards. Offensively, Oklahoma State doesn’t turn the ball over. And freshman Juwan Evan, supposedly the Cowboys’ bet recruit since Marcus Smart, has already brought a lot to the table with rebounding, scoring and steals.

Dec. 16: Chicago State – This is the “gimme” out of the bunch – one of the worst teams in Division I with a terrible offense and no interior defense. That said, the Cougars NEARLY beat Illinois in Springfield on Monday after knocking down 11 three-pointers.

Dec. 23: Milwaukee – Minnesota will end its non-conference slate with a squad that is no pushover, especially on the boards, where the Panthers rank fourth in the nation in total rebounds. That effort is led by 6-8 senior Matt Tiby, who has the 15th best defensive rebounding rate in the nation a year ago.

Postgame: Minnesota shows its youth and inconsistency in loss to Tubby

Read my full story on Minnesota’s 81-68 loss to Texas Tech here.

Three observations before I head out for my final late dinner in San Juan:

Revenge win for Smith, but it will be overblown. Yes, it’s a bit embarrassing for Minnesota coach Richard Pitino to lose to former Gophers coach Tubby Smith, the coach he was hired to replace two and a half years ago. But although this one will be a talker for a while, this game is not the point. Minnesota was always going to struggle this season, even against middle-of-the-pack Power Five teams. The Gophers are young and inexperienced and while the future may be bright, the present is tenuous, at best. I’m guessing the Gophers would have lost against this roster no matter who is coaching. And of course it’s impossible to say whether they would have fared any better if the coaches had switched sides. But this game won’t define Minnesota’s season because the Gophers will likely have a lot more like it.

Time to start using youth as an excuse. The Gophers motto this year is “We won’t use youth as an excuse.” And that’s admirable in a way, but it’s also a not-so-subtle and constant reminder that Minnesota is, in fact, young. On the court, that’s obvious, with players not playing smart defense and picking up fouls, then as Pitino alluded to, being scared to play defense at all. This team has to find the right balance, and it’s going to be a process. In the meantime, the Gophers will likely continue to be inconsistent offensively, occasionally one-dimensional (unable to score if they can’t hit threes), streaky and occasionally emotional. I do believe that many of the players have great potential, but the final product is going to take some time to come together. That’s just the reality.

Did I mention rebounding? At the beginning of the year, I thought it would be Minnesota’s downfall. And these days, while it’s obvious the Gophers have other flaws, their performance on the board is plenty foreshadowing. Minnesota has lost the rebound battle to every team its played, including several that aren’t especially good at it. That’s going to be an even greater problem as the season rolls on if the Gophers can’t start boxing out and better fighting for positioning. The good news? Minnesota goes back to Minneapolis for the next four games (although Clemson is in that mix), with some time to get some basics in order.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

< >
  • Gophers women's basketball at Kent State

    5:30 pm on 88.5-FM

  • Vancouver at Wild

    6 pm on FSN PLUS, 106.1-FM

  • Atlanta at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Nebraska-Omaha at Gophers men's basketball

    2 pm on 1500-AM

  • Gophers women's hockey at MSU Mankato

    2:07 pm

  • Winnipeg at Wild

    3 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Gophers women's basketball vs. Stetson

    3:45 pm on 88.5-FM

  • St. Cloud State at Gophers men's hockey

    6 pm on FSN, 1500-AM

  • Timberwolves at Sacramento

    9 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Gophers women's hockey at MSU Mankato

    2:07 pm

  • Wisconsin at Gophers football

    2:30 pm on BTN, 100.3-FM

  • Gophers women's basketball vs. Auburn

    6 pm on 1500-AM

  • Dallas at Wild

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Vikings at Atlanta

    12 pm on Ch. 9, 100.3/1130

  • Timberwolves at L.A. Clippers

    2:30 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • St. Cloud State at Gophers men's hockey

    6:35 pm on FSN, 1500-AM

  • Clemson at Gophers men's basketball

    8 pm on ESPN2, 1500-AM

  • Wild at Chicago

    7 pm on NBCSN, 100.3-FM

  • Orlando at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, 830-AM

Today's Scoreboard

No games for NFL

  • Ottawa



    - End 1st



  • Calgary


    9:00 PM

  • Indiana



    - F



  • Boston



    - H



  • Dallas



    - 3rd, 9:01



  • LA Clippers



    - 1st, 4:03



  • Chicago


    9:00 PM


  • LA Lakers

    Golden State

    9:30 PM


No games for MLS