The Gopher schedule has been released, and it shouldn’t strike fear into the hearts of anyone. The toughest nonconference game is against Louisville on a neutral court, and the easiest, and yes it does count in the standings, is against barely Division II Concordia of Saint Paul.
On the Internet of all places, where senseless whining and constant clamoring are unheard of, there are complaints about the soft schedule, high ticket prices, possibly higher ticket prices in the future, and a lack of milk and honey flowing freely from that unbuilt and unproposed shiny new practice facility that will inevitably create untold glories of national championships, cheaper tickets, and the Gophers playing the other three teams in the final four at home year after year. I wouldn’t mind a game or two against a team with a chance to make it to their conference tournament quarterfinals, but I refuse to lose perspective.
We are only two years removed from losing more than our fair share of games against the weakest of opponents. We are only one year away from losing two games nonconference games against NCAA bubble teams, and beating a plainly bad South Dakota team that really should have won. The Gopher have 5 players that have never played a major college basketball game, and a starting center that has never played a major role in a college basketball game. The Gophers might be ready for prime time, but they need to play together first.
The most outspoken critics cite the Gophers poor strength of schedule and its alleged likelihood of making the NCAA tournament almost impossible. They cite last year, and claim that the Gophers didn’t make the tournament because they did not play enough quality competition. While losing to Florida State and UNLV didn’t help the teams chances, and blowing out several schools with several hyphens each didn’t help either, the nonconference season didn’t ruin things for the Gophers. Losing very winnable games against Michigan State twice, Indiana, and Wisconsin lost the Gophers the chance to go to the dance. I don’t even want to mention any of the three Illinois games.
To put it bluntly, good teams win no matter who they are playing. If Minnesota had done its job during the conference season, even winning one regular season game against an upper echelon team from the conference, the Gophers would have made the NCAA tournament. If Minnesota had played more quality teams, all they would gain are more quality losses. Neither an 18-12 record against moderately good teams nor a 20 and 10 record against moderately bad teams are enough to play games that matter at the end of March.
This year’s Gopher schedule should let the Gophers grow their confidence and allow them to learn without fear of losing multiple games because of single mistakes that new players in new situations will inevitably make. The Concordia game, by far the easiest on the schedule, is also the first game that counts. If this was the last nonconference game, I would be wondering whether if Tubby decided that winning was more important than keeping the program in Division I. But it is the first game, and it will be ugly, and they’ll need someone to beat up on.
The Louisville game will be a test, the Virginia game will be a mystery (has any other team so consistently won so many games in the nonconference season, gotten a top 15 ranking, and immediately tanked), and the rest of the games aren’t anything too special at the moment. But this won’t cost the Gophers an NCAA tournament appearance.
If the Gophers are really good enough to make the big dance, and they very well might be, they will show it during the conference season. If they can’t go 11-7 in the not as down but still not up Big Ten, why would we believe they would automatically beat mid-level teams from better conferences? Good teams can beat good teams in meaningful games, regardless of the conference.
If the Gophers want to dance, they need to win, and until they do, wait on the whining.