The Gophers men’s basketball team has a final exhibition game Monday, and with it, a last opportunity to tweak before the games start to count.
The Gophers opened their exhibition slate Friday with a victory over Cardinal Stritch, providing an early glimpse of what to expect from Richard Pitino’s team down the line, while giving the coach a first live experience at Williams Arena.
“It was pretty cool — I’ve got to get adjusted to that raised court,” Pitino said with a grin. “That stool, it was like everywhere I turned, it was in my way, it was like following me. It’s such a great home-court advantage. And just to see the passion from the fans. That’s really why I think this job is very special, very unique.”
But while the first look had its exciting moments, there are still many things to address going forward. Monday night’s game against Concordia (St. Paul) will provide another opportuniy for improvement, and a clearer picture of the team’s strengths and weaknesses. A few of the things the Gophers will be looking to adjust before the season opens for real Friday against Lehigh:
• The starting lineup. Right now, the guard combination of Deandre Mathieu, Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins looks comfortable and efficient. But the frontcourt is less set. Oto Osenieks and Elliott Eliason started at power forward and center Friday, but power forward Joey King scored 14 points and added five assists off the bench, and Mo Walker looked strong in 16 minutes.
• Rebounding. The Gophers need more of it, plain and simple — they were outrebounded by Cardinal Stritch 40-34. With a thin frontcourt, both in terms of depth and actual size, Pitino has made it known that rebounding has to be a by-committee effort.
“[Guard] Malik [Smith] did the best job of anyone rebounding tonight [with six], that’s definitely something we’ve got to improve,” Eliason said Friday.
• Maintaining the intensity throughout. The Gophers came out with great energy and executed a highly efficient press through the first half Friday. But the pace and defensive intensity dropped off in the second half, when Cardinal Stritch outscored the Gophers by five and connected on five of 12 attempts from three-point range. The players said they weren’t tired, but the hunger to put a team away has got to be stronger. “We’ve got to keep our focus and intensity up through the entire game,” Andre Hollins said. “We want to be one of the hardest-working teams in America.”
• Free throws. An 11-for-30 performance from the stripe Friday was pretty rough.
Still, don’t expect to see everything the Gophers will do this season by Monday night. Pitino has made it clear that he would like to keep an element of surprise.
“I’ll be honest, we’re going to save a few things, put it in the back pocket and not show everything until next Friday,” Pitino said.