Gophers coach Ben Johnson and his players sung the rouser and waved to the home crowd again after a double-digit win in Wednesday's 55-44 victory against Jacksonville.
A surprising 5-0 start pre-Thanksgiving for a team picked to finish last in the Big Ten includes three wins at Williams Arena by an average margin of nearly 22 points per game.
Outside of surviving close finishes against Western Kentucky and Princeton to be crowned champions in Asheville, N.C., Minnesota's level of competition is questionable. But the U's toughest nonconference opponents remain in their next two games: Tuesday at Pittsburgh and next Sunday at Mississippi State.
"I would expect with Pitt being in the ACC, that will get the guys attention," Johnson said. "So they will be ready to roll."
The Gophers haven't always looked ready in their recent wins, including Wednesday when the Dolphins held them to 4-for-19 three-point shooting and won the rebounding battle 42-28.
They've been able to stay unbeaten, though. The same can be said about only three other Big Ten teams entering Friday with Purdue (5-0), Indiana (5-0), and Iowa (5-0). The Boilermakers are arguably the No. 1 team in the country, already with wins against Villanova and North Carolina.
The Gophers (304th), Hoosiers (334th) and Hawkeyes (352nd) on the other hand have played three of the weaker schedules in the country, according to ESPN.com. But tougher days are ahead.
Here are five things we've learned during Minnesota's 5-0 start this season.
Power of six
Don't expect Johnson to change his starting lineup anytime soon. The old saying of if it isn't broken don't fix it isn't the only reason. He basically has a six-man rotation — with the seventh man playing 12 minutes per game.
The Gophers have been fluctuating around the bottom of Division I in bench minutes percentage all season, but they're now as close as they've ever been to becoming last. They rank 357th out of 358 teams at 15.2% entering Friday, per KenPom.com. Only Oakland is worst in the nation at 13.4%.
The only move the Gophers could make is to insert Sean Sutherlin into the starting lineup, but he's already finishing a lot of games on the floor and comfortable as a sixth-man.
Sutherlin, who ranks fourth on the team in scoring, had eight of his 10 points in the first half against Jacksonville. He was the only player off the bench to play more than eight minutes since Charlie Daniels was in foul trouble.
"We've had a couple games where we've been in a little bit of a lull, and he's been able to come in and provide that juice," Johnson said. "Right now, I think he's doing a really good job of bringing that spark. I told him, the more he's locked in like he is, he's earning minutes and trust by doing it."
If you asked the Gophers coaches who they thought would lead them in scoring to open the season, Jamison Battle's name probably would've been the first to be mentioned.
Battle, a former George Washington standout, wasn't the only transfer to showcase the ability to be a go-to guy at his previous stop. So did Payton Willis at College Charleston. So did E.J. Stephens and Luke Loewe at Lafayette and William & Mary, respectively.
But Battle was the most explosive scorer from the bunch. He also has the size at 6-7, 225 to be able to go inside and out, which is a mismatch at power forward against bigger opponents.
The DeLaSalle product ranks fifth in the Big Ten in scoring with 17.8 points per game on 46.4% shooting from the field. His three-point accuracy dropped to just 30% after going 3-for-16 in the last two games combined.
But Johnson has challenged Battle to not rely on his outside shot for baskets, which was more apparent in the Asheville Championship when he scored 44 points combined.
Three-point defensive prowess
The Gophers shot a program-low 28.4% from three-point range last season, so they know how hard it was to win games without much production from the outside.
Johnson's team has flipped the script on opponents this year in a big way. Minnesota leads the Big Ten and ranks No. 5 nationally in three-point defense (21.4%).
The schedule isn't the toughest around, but this is an area that might continue to be a strength since it's actually emphasized quite often by the coaching staff.
"We take pride in defending one-on-one so our guys can fan out and contest jump shots," Willis said. "That was probably a problem with some of those rebounds coming off long."
Three-point defense wouldn't be as impactful if the Gophers shot as poorly as their opponents, but they've been a lot better than Wednesday from long range. Even with that dreadful shooting night, Minnesota still ranks sixth in the Big Ten in three-point percentage (34.6). Stephens (47.6) and Willis (44.4) lead the Gophers and are third and fourth in the Big Ten in three-point percentage, respectively.
Rebounding is both a strength and weakness for the Gophers through five games. They're second in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding (31.4) and 14th in offensive rebounding (4.8). The latter is the most alarming, though, ranking last among all 358 Division I teams in offensive rebound percentage (14.1).
"Our numbers are going to be a little bit skewed," Johnson said. "Because of our lack of transition defense and because of our lack of size at spots we only crash one guy. So we don't get a lot of second chance opportunities. So conversely what we try to do is we're one of the tops in the country at limiting teams to one-and-done."
The Gophers were the worst team in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (minus-3.6) last season. They're rather close to that mark (minus-2.6) to rank 13th in the league right now this year.
And it's not something that is likely to change with only bigger and more athletic opponents left on the schedule.
Last season, Liam Robbins, a 7-foot junior, led the Gophers with 6.6 rebounds, which was the lowest leading rebounder for the program since Richard Pitino's first season in 2013-14. Eric Curry leads the U with 6.8 rebounds per game this year, ranking 20th in the Big Ten.
This isn't like years past when Jordan Murphy (twice) and Daniel Oturu (2019-20) led the Big Ten on the boards, so the Gophers have to crash the glass even more so as an entire team.
Freshmen not ready?
Not playing isn't easy to start your college basketball career, but freshmen Treyton Thompson and Abdoulaye Thiam have been taking it well.
You'll see them cheering from the bench as loud as anyone to support their teammates. When they'll get more opportunities is uncertain with two road games next vs. high major foes.
Thompson, a 6-11 former Alexandria, Minn., standout, spent the last two seasons at LaLumiere School in Indiana to prepare to make an impact his first year. But he hasn't gotten the chance with just five total minutes in five games.
His lack of playing time has been far more surprising than Thiam (4.3 minutes per game) since the backcourt is more of a logjam with four seniors in the rotation. The Gophers lack size and depth in the frontcourt with only Curry and Daniels as true post players, so they still might be forced to play Thompson down the road.
"It is hard for freshmen to get meaningful minutes," Johnson said recently. "At the end of the day, with those younger guys it's always about trust. I don't care what sports you play. It's just developing the trust with the head coach."