It’s hard to know what to make out of these D2 exhibition games and what you’re supposed to take away from them. Honestly, how do you accurately gauge how “good” a team is seeing them on the court for the first time in months against a clearly inferior opponent? Going into the game there were three thoughts running through my mind:
- Don’t lose;
- Please, God, don’t let anyone get injured;
- Let’s just show that they can hop on the court for the first time and show a semblance of being on the same page.
Before the game I figured if each of those three things were met then we could call the exhibition against Minnesota State-Mankato, home of the mighty Mavericks, a success. The first two are cut and dry – they were a success. The Gophers destroyed Mankato 81-56 (and it wasn’t even THAT close) and no one came close to getting injured. Rodney had a couple of awkward falls in the first half that made me cover my eyes, and Mo Walker took a spill later in the game. But for the most part the guys stayed on their feet and off the injured list. Trevor Mbakwe came out sporting a knee brace akin to something an offensive lineman would wear. Seriously, that knee isn’t going anywhere but back and forth for now.
In terms of playing like a team and at least pretending to appear that they were on the same page, the Gophers looked like they’re on their way to starting the regular season on a high note. For any team, coming out of the offseason and playing at game speed takes a bit of getting used to, and there is certainly a grace period needed for shaking off the rust. It’s always hard to NOT read into these games – both successes and failures – but really, all we should be looking for is some consistency and a blueprint of what’s to come, because there are always going to be things that look and feel strange in the year’s first organized game.
Given that it’s an exercise in futility to seriously break down the game, here are a few quick thoughts:
- Yes, Joe Coleman led the team in scoring by a wide margin. He also played the most minutes, scored almost all of his points in the paint and got to the free throw line the most. It was good to see him taking charge with the ball and getting to the rim; and he displayed good ball control. But getting into the paint and scoring isn’t his weakness, and Mankato had no answer for a player with his size and strength, so he could basically score at will. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see much of Coleman shooting, which is where he needs to improve. Turning him into a threat away from the basket will make him a real weapon.
- We didn’t see a whole lot of the guys who will be starting this season. Rodney, Andre Hollins and Mbakwe saw relatively few minutes, which is probably a good thing in terms of keeping them healthy. Hollins picked up two quick fouls and found himself on the bench (maybe as a punishment, sort of like a real game). So we were treated to the Maverick Ahanmisi show (who is sporting a pretty killer Hi-top fade haircut).
- Mo Walker made his debut, albeit a short one. Just seeing him on the court running around was enough, but we were treated to a 4-4 performance in just nine minutes. It won’t always be that easy for Walker, who dominated the much smaller Maverick lineup, but it was great to see him back in basketball shape and doing real things in a real game. It’s been awhile.
- One point of contention were the 14 turnovers. We’ll see how the team turns around in the next exhibition and hopefully we can chalk it up to shaking off the rust. Nothing to worry about here…yet.
The Gophers next face the always-dangerous Southwest Baptist University Bearcats on Monday at 7 p.m. in their final tune-up before real games.