In three weeks, Richard Pitino's Gophers open their college basketball season with the rest of the country, but their nonconference schedule is still being put together.
Nothing is for certain during the pandemic, but the plan is for Pitino’s 2020-21 team to make its debut Nov. 25 against Green Bay at Williams Arena.
After that the new schedule is a work in progress.
The Gophers are working toward hosting a multi-team event (MTE) to play Eastern Washington on Nov. 28 and Loyola Marymount on Nov. 30 at the Barn, sources told the Star Tribune. They are also still looking for an opponent to play Dec. 12.
As of now, the Gophers have figured out six of their seven nonconference games, including Dec. 4 against North Dakota, Dec. 8 against Boston College and Dec. 20 against St. Louis -- all at home.
The Boston College game was announced as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge last week, but it might also be the only high-major opponent the Gophers face outside of the Big Ten this regular season. They backed out of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off in Connecticut, and pushed the home-and-home series with Mississippi State to start next season. Both changes were mainly because of travel risks with COVID-19.
Last season, Pitino had arguably the toughest nonconference schedule during his tenure with seven games in November, including four against high-major opponents. It backfired with losses to Oklahoma, Butler and Utah away from home – and also DePaul at the Barn.
Eastern Washington finished 23-8 last season, winning the Big Sky regular season championship. The Eagles return four starters, including Big Sky preseason player of the year candidate and guard Jacob Davidson (18.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game). Kim Aiken Jr., a 6-foot-7 junior, averaged 13.3 points and a conference-leading 9.7 rebounds last season.
LMU is led by first-year coach Stan Johnson, who was an assistant at Marquette. The Lions were 11-21 last season, but they return 6-6, 245-pound senior Eli Scott, who averaged 15.4 points and 6.6 rebounds. Johnson is familiar with Minnesota since he helped Marquette land former Prior Lake five-star big man Dawson Garcia before leaving Milwaukee.
Johnson's first big recruiting win at LMU was convincing 7-3 Swedish center Mattias Markusson to return to the program. Markusson had Minnesota, Louisville, and San Diego State among his finalists in the spring after entering the transfer portal.
The Gophers' 2020-21 non-league slate right now might not look as challenging on paper, but the last game before Big Ten play might even end up being the toughest.
Atlantic 10 power Dayton is likely to give up its thrown this year to either Saint Louis or Richmond to win the league. The Billikens, who are expected to come to Minneapolis, return five starters from a 23-8 squad last season that beat Kansas State and Boston College. Senior Jordan Goodwin (15.5 ppg) is on the Jerry West Award preseason watch list for the nation’s top shooting guard. The 6-3 Goodwin was the top rebounding guard in the nation with 10.4 per game in 2019-20. He didn’t even lead his team on the boards, though.
Junior forward Hasahn French averaged a double-double last season with 12.4 points and 10.4 rebounds. Senior Javonte Perkins (15.0 ppg) and sophomore Gibson Jimerson (10.8) are two of four returning double-figure scorers.
Big Ten teams are expected to play seven nonconference games to go along with a 20-game league slate, which could be announced soon.
Tentative Gophers 2020-21 men's hoops non-league schedule
Nov. 25 - Green Bay
Nov. 28 - Eastern Washington*
Nov. 30 - Loyola Marymount*
Dec. 4 - North Dakota
Dec. 8 - Boston College (Big Ten-ACC Challenge)
Dec. 12 - TBD
Dec. 20 - Saint Louis
* -- Possible MTE at Williams Arena