Start planning your Thanksgiving dinner, folks! In a super-stacked Battle 4 Atlantis field, the Gophers may have drawn Goliath in their opening-round game. The tournament announced its schedule yesterday, pitting the Gophers against perhaps the least-liked franchise in all of sports — the Duke Blue Devils. The matchup is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. CT on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22, from the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, Bahamas.
The schools will meet for the first time since 1989 and only the third time ever. The last contest was a 87-70 defeat at the hands of the Blue Devils in the 1989 Sweet Sixteen.
It’s too early to really breakdown the potential matchup for the game (honestly, it’s August, you guyz) but my first impression is that this is a great game/test for the Gophers. Much like their contest against UNC a couple years ago, it’s a win-win for Minnesota, even if they lose. An RPI builder, to be sure, and a signature victory should they come away with the win. The team gains valuable, big-game experience regardless of the outcome, which we all saw worked wonders for the 2010-11 team (before the implosion, of course).
Having big-time matchups early in the season is a luxury that many teams do not have. No one is going to kill a team because they lost to a Duke, UNC, or Michigan State early in the season, but being able to shake off the rust against teams who know what they’re doing (instead of, say, Colgate) is much better for the long-term. The Gophers will have three games against legitimate teams early in the season — something that will no doubt provide benefits later in the year both on and off the court. Mo Walker and Trevor Mbakwe will be able to test themselves against nationally recognized players and we’ll get a chance to see where the team is truly at. Further, having three games against three top-50 RPI teams only helps a team’s resume in March.
Other opening round matchups include Missouri/Stanford, VCU/Memphis, and Northern Iowa/Louisville. Widely considered to have the greatest pool of talent across this year’s holiday tournament, the Battle 4 Atlantis houses six or seven teams that could find themselves in the Top 25 either before or during the season. The Gophers will play either Memphis or VCU, depending on the outcome. Check out the bracket here for a visualization.
I’ll save my anti-Duke rant for later in the year, but for now let’s just daydream about Mbakwe making the Plumlee brothers cry.