After a slow start out of the gate against Central Michigan, the Gophers recovered to post a 76-56 victory in their second to last non-conference tune-up before starting Big Ten play. As expected the Chippewas featured a heavy dose of three-point shots and a fairly inept inside game, which the Gophers took advantage of. In all, Central Michigan shot only 35% from the field grabbed only 20 rebounds. Minnesota, conversely, shot an impressive 57% for the night and hit 14-18 free throws to cruise to the victory.
Every player saw the court in the latest walloping over a lower-tier opponent and four players finished the game in double figures. Julian Welch paced the team with 15 points while Austin Hollins (12) and Maverick Ahanmisi (10) joined him in the double-digit club. Joe Coleman had his third straight solid outing putting up 12 points in only 15 minutes.
The game wasn’t all ducks and bunnies, however, and the Gophers certainly looked sloppy at times in a game somehow featured on ESPN. Minnesota committed 18 turnovers in all, with 10 of those coming in the first half. Tight defense and a serviceable night from three-point land ensured that the Gophers walked away with a commanding victory.
While the final score indicated a blowout (and a blowout it was, indeed), it’s hard not to ask the question of what these games are actually telling us about this year’s Gopher team. Twelve games into the season should allow us to have a decent idea of what we have to work with, but the truth is that since Trevor Mbakwe was lost for the season the new-look Gopher squad hasn’t truly been tested.
Things would have had to go horribly wrong for the Gophers to lose to Central Michigan as the teams are certainly on different levels of talent. But what does that tell us about where the Gophers actually are as a team and how we can expect them to perform when conference play starts? Will only 11 combined from Rodney Williams and Ralph Sampson be enough against a team like Illinois on the road? Will guys like Julian Welch, Austin Hollins and Joe Coleman continue to step up when the rest of team is off and produce?
These questions are hard to answer when all you’ve really seen are convincing victories against lower-tier opponents. Blowouts against teams like Central Michigan and Saint Peter’s are great and beating teams like Fairfield and Indiana State are good for a tournament resume, but when we’re on the cusp of the Big Ten season and we have a young team in limbo with many questions, it’s hard to really gauge what we have to work with. The Gophers committed several mental mistakes that Central Michigan didn’t capitalize on and the Chippewas certainly didn’t score many points off of turnovers. But mistakes against good teams don’t often go unpunished.
Minnesota has passed a couple tests this season in terms of pumping up the volume and turning first half deficits into victories, and their performance against Virginia Tech certainly showed that they can handle a BCS conference opponent. But the fact that they haven’t had to face true adversity on the road against a top-tier opponent doesn’t give us a clear picture of who this team actually is. Do we have players who can bear down and perform on the road at Wisconsin or will the team find itself too overmatched and wilt under the pressure?
Overpowering victories over the little guys are good for the win column, but it’s the high-intensity wins and losses against high-caliber opponents that pay dividends down the road. We’ll know soon enough what we have and what we need.