The preseason is over for the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team, and now all the moments of triumph and ugly mistakes will count.
The Gophers won’t have long until they’re roundly tested. The weekend ahead brings a pair of games against 200-level plus teams at home in the season opener vs. Missouri- Kansas City (Friday at 8 p.m.) and Sunday’s bout vs Louisiana-Monroe before heading offshore for the Puerto Rico Tipoff. Not many tests in those first two, but Minnesota could certainly show more resolve and killer instinct than it did in two exhibition games against Division II competition.
Once in Puerto Rico, the quality of opponents kicks up a notch. The Gophers’ opening matchup, against Temple, could go either way. Most are predicting the Owls to land firmly in the middle of the American Athletic conference and aren’t a real threat for the NCAA tournament this year. Still, Temple has an inside game that could threaten the Gophers early.
In the second game in Puerto Rico, the Gophers could face Missouri State – a guarantee home game-level opponent – or preseason No. 24 Butler, which can do the fast-paced, guard-oriented thing better than Minnesota. The final game of the tournament could feature No. 16 Utah, a sizeable Miami squad, Mississippi State, or Texas Tech.
This is all to say Minnesota had better shore up what it can in the first two bouts of the regular season. We’re still learning about the 2015-16 Gophers, but they can’t afford to also be in self-discovery mode for too much longer.
On that note, three thoughts from what we saw in the preseason:
- Rebounding could be this team’s downfall. Consider in two exhibition games, Minnesota struggled to take advantage of a height advantage that will be quite rare for the rest of the season, against a pair of Division II teams. Consider that the Gophers were actually out-rebounded 41 to 28 in the most recent exhibition, vs. Southwest Minnesota State, allowing the Mustangs to grab 19 offensive boards. Of course, 6-11 center Bakary Konate was absent for both of those two games, with a foot injury. But although Pitino and the rest of the Gophers swear Konate has taken big leaps in the offseason, he averaged just 2.1 rebounds a game in almost nine minutes a game. Even if he triples his production, it’s hard to argue it will be enough.
- Dupree McBrayer has been quietly good. With so many veterans to scrutinize, injured players to write about and other freshmen to watch, there hasn’t been a ton of chatter about McBrayer. But the 6-4 guard was one of the team’s steadiest and most valuable players through two preseason games, playing three positions, including filling in at point guard when Kevin Dorsey and Nate Mason got into first-half foul trouble vs. Minnesota Crookston. Last time out, McBrayer wasn’t flashy, but efficient despite going 1-for-7 from the field. He finished with five assists, one turnover and four steals. And the biggest surprise? He’s blocked a shot in each game. My guess is there will be more talk soon.
- Carlos Morris is still Carlos Morris. With two scrimmages under his belt, we’ve already seen ‘Good Carlos’ and ‘Bad Carlos’ and there’s really no telling which version is going to rear its head. Game 1 vs. Crookston was ‘Bad Carlos’ – with forced shots and selfishness on display. Game 2 vs. SMSU was ‘Good Carlos’ – he went 7-for-9, scored 23 points and looked mostly smart in his decision-making. The senior said he watched a lot of film over the summer to look at some of his ball-hogging habits, but I’m still not convinced he can always tell the difference between a good shot and a bad shot. “The biggest thing is being patient on offense and just letting it come to me,” he said.