Gophers men's basketball coach Ben Johnson had his players introduce themselves to fans on campus Monday, but he had a message specifically for students.
"We want the Barn packed and students are a big part of that," Johnson said at Monday's second annual meet-the-team event." Just trying to get that message out that homecourt advantage is super important."
The students who showed up to the Superblock on Monday got free pizza and were awarded prizes for shooting contests, including a TV and Nintendo Switch.
The Gophers, who open the season Nov. 6 vs. Bethune-Cookman, struggled with overall attendance during a 9-22 season in 2022-23, but the student section typically brought the team energy and support during a tough conference slate.
The Big Ten released the men's basketball schedule Tuesday — and that allowed the Gophers to announce their full schedule for the 2023-24 season.
Their first two Big Ten games are Dec. 3 at Ohio State and vs. Nebraska at home on Dec. 6. The Big Ten opener vs. the Buckeyes puts former DeLaSalle forward Jamison Battle against his former team. Battle played the last two seasons with the Gophers. The bulk of the U's conference schedule begins Jan. 4 at Michigan, which is the start of four of seven league games in January on the road.
The U's non-league portion includes just one road game Nov. 26 against San Francisco at the Golden State Warriors' arena.
Ten of the 11 nonconference games are at Williams Arena this season, most notably the first of a home-and-home against Missouri on Nov. 16.
The Big Ten-ACC Challenge ended after 24 seasons due to TV rights issues. And the Gavitt Games vs. Big East opponents didn't include the Gophers this year. Johnson decided not to play in the Main Event in Las Vegas to possibly host two high-major opponents, but those teams ended up backing out. That created a different type of early schedule.
"Scheduling is hard," Johnson said. "It's like recruiting. Nobody tells you the truth. There were a couple things that we had that fell through that were Power Five type games other than Missouri. But the good thing when you see our schedule, it's a different variety of teams with style of play. You want your team to build confidence and momentum. And you also want to have home games. That was my biggest thing."
Official practice for the season starts next week, but the Gophers have already been grinding through fall workouts since the semester started last month. Players enjoyed engaging with fans and having a little break.
"It's good to get to know some people who support us," sophomore guard Braeden Carrington said. "You don't usually get moments like this because you're constantly working for the season, so it was fun."
At last year's student event, Johnson couldn't tell fans about veteran forwards Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen being able to make an impact, because they were both out for the season with knee injuries for the second year. Fox and Ihnen are now fully cleared to play alongside leading returning scorer Dawson Garcia and company.
"To be able to talk about our season knowing they're a part of it, that part's cool," Johnson said. "Every day, it's getting them a little bit stronger and more confident. I know those guys are excited."
There are obviously doubters after the Gophers finished last in the league in Johnson's first two seasons. Blue Ribbon and Lindy's Sports preseason publications have already predicted Minnesota to finish 14th in the Big Ten again in 2023-24.
Still, the buzz around Monday's event was that the Gophers could be a surprise team in the Big Ten with more depth and talent than a year ago.
"I'm very excited for the season, especially with new team we have," sophomore forward Joshua Ola-Joseph said.