Preview: The Gophers open their fourth season under coach Richard Pitino with their most challenging nonconference schedule in his tenure, starting with Louisiana-Lafayette on Friday. Pitino scheduled six consecutive home games to start the season, the longest stretch to open since 1999-2000. With tougher opponents likely ahead such as Texas-Arlington, St. John’s and Arkansas, a Gophers team with five newcomers could benefit from getting comfortable at the Barn. The Ragin’ Cajuns, who sent players to the NBA the past two years in Elfrid Payton (Magic) and Shawn Long (signed with 76ers and now in the NBA Development League), have three returning starters from last year’s 19-15 team.

Players to watch: Sophomore Jordan Murphy led the Gophers with 22 points and five blocks in the 83-59 exhibition victory over Bemidji State. Freshman Eric Curry recorded a double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Bryce Washington, a 6-foot-6, 245-pound junior, had 25 points and 12 rebounds in Louisiana-Lafayette’s exhibition victory against West Florida.

Numbers: Dick Jonckowski, one of only two public address announcers in the 88-year history of Williams Arena, starts his 31st season with Gophers basketball on Friday.

Injuries: Gophers junior guard Nate Mason, the team’s leading scorer last season, is cleared to play after missing the exhibition game because of a concussion.

marcus fuller