Golden Gophers vs. Winona State Warriors

7:00 pm (CDT) at Williams Arena (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

TV: Streaming at http://www.bigtennetwork.com/

Tickets: Row 9, corner, upper deck

There have been soft whispers coming from the lips of Golden Gopher basketball fans since Monday night’s exhibition game against Winona State was announced. Winona State isn’t exactly your typical Division II basketball team. They have two national championships in the last four years. They have five former Division I players on the roster. They have beaten the Gophers.

Four years ago, in that darkest of non-scandalous basketball seasons, the Gophers lost to Winona State. It might have actually been one of the brighter moments in team history. The loss put Dan Monson on the hot seat. Within three weeks he was gone. Within four months Tubby Smith arrived. There was so much silver lining in that cloud that the loss became a win.

There is something considerably louder coming from the lips of some Winona State fans, proclamations that the Warriors are the best college basketball team in the state of Minnesota. Maybe they’ve been oblivious to the success of the Gophers since Tubby Smith arrived, or maybe they are just overly optimistic. Either way, they are wrong.

Not many Division II teams have five former Division I players on their roster. Expectations are high, with the team ranked #9 in the Division II pre-season poll. However, Winona State has exactly zero current Division I players, and their best players simply couldn’t cut it at the Division I level. The Gophers are deeper, more talented, and should still win convincingly. If Winona State can only beat UW-Eau Claire, a Division III school by 15 points, the Gophers should be able to beat the Warriors by 30.

Two of those players tore up the Minnesota high school circuit but never lived up to expectations. Anthony Tucker is best known for passing out in an alley after a night of drunken shenanigans during his month or so as an Iowa Hawkeye. CJ Erickson transferred from Evansville, where he totaled 15 career points.

Pre-season competition is a good thing. Little can be learned by the players and the coaching staff when an opponent is completely outclassed, as was the case against North Eastern State. Winona State should at the very least make the Gophers work for some amount of time. But don’t forget that there are many reasons why Winona State is a big time Division II team, and the Gophers are in the Big Ten.

Who to watch for the Gophers: Devoe Joseph has been slowed over the summer and into the early season by a nagging leg injury. In the first exhibition game he didn’t play particularly long or particularly well. One bad exhibition game isn’t reason to worry. Two bad exhibition games might be. I still expect him to see limited action. There is no reason for him to play extended minutes in a meaningless game if he isn’t 100%, but a better performance when he is in the game would make everyone feel a bit better.

What to watch for the Gophers: The success of the Gophers this season won’t depend on lots of scoring from the point guard position, but the Gopher point guards have to be a scoring threat. Al Nolen, Devoe Joseph, and Maverick Ahanmisi combined to score only 10 of the Gophers’ 109 points. Ideally, Gophers point guards will contribute something like 20% of the teams scoring, not less than 10%

Who to watch for the Warriors: On a team featuring so many highly touted transfers, Xavier Humphrey might deserve some attention too. Against UW-Eau Claire he was 4-4 from the floor for 10 points in only 15 minutes of action

What to watch for the Warriors: Do the Warriors have depth? We know they have five very solid players, but those five won’t play 40 minutes every night, and at some point someone else will be on the court. If the Warrior bench can step up, they should be able to challenge the Gophers for a little longer than expected and more importantly, prove the the Warriors are a very real threat to win another Divison II national championship.

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