The Golden Gophers, who have one of the more difficult non-conference seasons in the country, will have it just a bit easier away from Williams Arena. Andre Dawkins, a Duke senior guard, and Maurice Jones, a  USC  junior guard, will both miss the entire season, for very different reasons.

Andre Dawkins will take a red-shirt this season, and he deserves a year off more than any player in the country. The college basketball world first came to hear of the Duke senior when he somehow crammed his senior high school academic year into the summer after his junior year in high school, and played on Duke’s National Championship team during what should have been his senior year in high school. The precious last two summers of freedom, the well earned slacker second semester of senior year, the last chance to relax before entering the fishbowl that is big time college basketball were gone. Instead, he helped fill a gaping hole in Duke’s back court. Last year Dawkins 21 year old sister was killed in a car accident in the middle of the season. There was no time to grieve, remember or reflect. His team needed him. This season, Dawkins is sitting out, and finally, mercifully, taking some time for himself.

While it is undoubtedly good news for Dawkins that he gets to take the year off, and as much as you may hate Coach K, you have to give him credit for doing the right thing here, the Blue Devil guard’s absense is good news for the Gophers and bad news for the Duke basketball team. He is quick off the dribble and an exceptionally accurate three-point shooter. In other words, he was the perfect player to ruin Minnesota’s chance of an upset in the Battle for Atlantis. The Gophers still have an uphill climb during this midseason tournament, but it is a little less steep.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Maurice Jones will also be missing the season for what can be described as a very USC reason. He has been suspended for the season for academic reasons. One year after injuries decimated the Trojans’ roster,  this season is already headed the wrong way.

Unless you like watching terrible basketball teams in the middle of the night, the last time you saw Jones was in The Barn when he scored 14 points during the Trojans ugly loss to the Gophers last December. He led his team in scoring last season, and it is hard to imagine how they would have won any games without him considering that they only won six games with him.  Barring any more departures or catastrophic injuries, the Trojans will be better than last season. Without Jones though, it is unclear how much better they can be.