A little after 7 pm on Tuesday night, last season’s could have and should haves can finally be relegated to the dust bin of Golden Gopher sports history, next to Kevin Burleson dribbling the ball out-of-bounds, Iker Iturbe dislocating Eric Harris’ shoulder, an ill-timed block punt, and the Tim Brewster era. When things go wrong in Gopher land, they go very wrong. The sun always comes up the next morning though, there is always another season, and Gopher fans, against their better judgement, continue to believe that some sweet day their commitment will pay off, the Gophers will finally win the big game, and everything, yes, everything, will be worth it.
Our foray in to the land of sometimes irrational hope begins anew against the Bemidji State Beavers. They journey from the land of the tall trees and the endless bogs with a bit more optimism than they are accustomed to. Bemidji is a hockey school, and basketball has historically been bad. How bad? Bad enough to enable a cheery press release touting their seventh place ranking in the Northern Sun Inter-collegiate pre-season poll. They haven’t cracked the .500 mark since 2006. Yes you should feel guilty for thinking we have had it rough. They do return nearly everyone from last season’s 10th place team. James Ellisor is their best player, a 6’5” senior from Glendale, Arizona of all places. He averaged better than 17 points and 7 rebounds per game. Jake Schalow made 46% of his three-point attempts, and should get plenty of attention given the Gophers’ three-point defending woes last season. Lance Rongstad (amazing name by the way) was second on the team in scoring and rebounding a year ago.
For the Gophers, it is a chance to finally play against someone other than themselves, and to see how all those new pieces fit together. Unfortunately, all those pieces won’t be available. Maurice Walker is still recovering from his knee injury, and Julian Welch twisted an ankle over the weekend. The injury doesn’t sound serious at all, but in a meaningless game against a blatantly inferior opponent, the prudent course of action would be to let him fully recover. I was particularly looking forward to seeing how well Welch fit in and how successfully Big Mo’s recovery was going, but there is still plenty to watch. As a general reminder for exhibition games, the final score isn’t important. How the team performs in certain situations is.
What to watch:
Can Andre Hollins lead a half-court offense?
For all the talk of run and gun, at some point during most games, the Gophers will be desperate for a basket, and it will have to be manufactured. We know Hollins is an athletic freak. We know he is one of the fastest players in the Big Ten. But can he get the ball inside or drive and dish with the shot clock running down. If the Gophers get out to an early lead, expect the pace to slow to allow the team get some good work in.
Will they really run?
Even if Julian Welch is out, they have more than enough bodies to press and then press some more. If something as small as a twisted ankle in an exhibition game prevents the press, responsible members of the press should ask Tubby exactly what he was talking about.
Can Ralph score inside? Can Trevor score outside?
Two good players one skill away from being elite players. We should see how hard they worked over the summer.
Does the team have a shooter?
Another question that falls in to the if not now, when category. If the Gophers can’t at least knock down some open looks, you have permission to start worrying.
Prediction: Gophers win 87-55