Tubby Smith's Gophers opened the Big Ten schedule with narrow losses at Illinois and at Michigan. The Gophers did not look comfortable at the end of regulation in either of these contests.
That might have been predictable, since these were the first road games of the 2011-12 season for a Gophers team not all that experienced, with Trevor Mbakwe out for the season because of a knee injury.
Joe Esposito, Smith's director of operations, has claimed that this is the toughest nonconference schedule he has put together in five seasons at Minnesota -- and the Gophers' current standing in the Ratings Percentage Index seems to validate that.
The Gophers were No. 28 in RPI and No. 24 in strength of schedule as of Wednesday morning. This says much about the nonconference schedules of teams from the power conferences, as they play 80 to 90 percent of those games at home against teams from the lower rungs of Division I.
Here is the Wikipedia definition of the RPI and strength of schedule formulas:
"In its current formulation, the index comprises a team's winning percentage (25%), its opponents' winning percentage (50%), and the winning percentage of those opponents' opponents (25%).
"The opponents' winning percentage and the winning percentage of those opponents' opponents both comprise the strength of schedule. Thus, the SOS accounts for 75% of the RPI calculation, and is two-thirds its opponents' winning percentage and one-third times its opponents' opponents' winning percentage."
Thus, the Gophers have paid no penalty in RPI for a nonconference schedule without a true road game.
The Gophers played 10 nonconference games at Williams Arena and three neutral-site games in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando. This has never happened previously in modern U of M basketball history -- a Gophers team never playing a nonconference game in an opponent's arena.
Smith came in as the replacement for the fired Dan Monson and interim replacement Jim Molinari for the 2007-08 season. There was a road game at Iowa State to fulfill a previous contract, and also the Gophers were at Florida State for the ACC/Big Ten challenge.
The Gophers went 1-1, winning at Iowa State and losing at Florida State. They also played the home team, UNLV, in the Duel in the Desert tournament.
Tubby clearly decided this was way too much road duty for his athletes.
The Gophers played 10 home games, a game at Colorado State and a neutral-site game vs. Louisville in Glendale, Ariz., in the 2008-09 nonconference schedule.
They played eight home games, a game at Miami in the ACC/Big Ten challenge and three games in a tournament in Anaheim, Calif., to start the 2009-10 season.
The Gophers played eight home games, a road game at St. Joe's in Philadelphia and three games in the Puerto Rico tournament to start the 2010-11 season.
Now this: Three games in Orlando, and victories over Bucknell, South Dakota State, Fairfield, Mount St. Mary's, Virginia Tech, Southern Cal, Appalachian State, St. Peter's, Central Michigan and North Dakota State at Williams Arena.
And the computer says this is the 24th toughest schedule in the country? You can only pity what fans of alleged big-time college basketball have to put up with in November and December when you see that.
Smith played those three actual road games compared to seven at Williams Arena in his first season. Since then, the Gophers have played 38 of 41 nonconference games at Williams Arena, with another 10 at neutral sites.
Monson's nonconference schedules over seven seasons had 15 games on the road and 61 in Williams Arena. He took the Gophers to Wake Forest, Georgia and Texas Tech in 2001-02. Tubby would break out in hives with a nonconference schedule like that.
We used to give Clem Haskins a hard time over his nonconference schedule -- a Star Tribune beat reporter started referring to it in print as Hyphen Road -- but The Gem played 34 nonconference road games in 13 seasons.
Clem's Hyphen Road was much more difficult than no road at all.