It’s fair to question the validity of preseason exhibition games in college basketball. Really, they aren’t a true a barometer of how talented a team really is. But Friday night’s tilt against the defending NAIA Division II champion, Cardinal-Stritch, gave fans their first glimpse of Richard Pitino-era basketball against a real opponent, and the game did not disappoint in a 79-57 rout.
The rumors of the team running and gunning the whole game in an up-tempo style were certainly true against the Wolves, as the Gophers frequently deployed a full-court press and hounded the ballcarriers all night. They forced 17 turnovers, including 11 steals, and forced Stritch into 36% shooting for the game.
On offense, the Gophers also pushed the tempo, and took advantage of the TOs they forced to maintain a fairly fervent pace to the game, scoring eight fast break points in the first half. Austin Hollins led the team with 17 points including two thunderous dunks reminiscent of Rodney Williams, while Drizzy Mathieu chipped in 9 assists without committing a turnover.
And, perhaps most notably, the Gophers showed some spine against a zone defense. In fact, they proactively attacked it and broke it down instead of treating it like some magical form of witchcraft. The team slowed down considerably in the second half, and was even outscored by Cardinal-Stritch in the latter half of the game, but whether that was a result of the team tiring or just shaking off the rust remains to be seen.
At the very least, it was good to see the Gophers come out and blow away an inferior opponent — and look good doing it. The team committed only 7 turnovers and only 11 fouls. Free throw shooting was atrocious (an almost unimaginable 11-30 from the line), but that’s not a trend .. yet. They take on Concordia-St. Paul on Nov. 4 before beginning the regular season against Lehigh.
- I think my new favorite player is Dre (Drizzy) Mathieu. Maybe I’m just forgetting how nice it is to have a real point guard, but with seven points, nine assists and, more importantly, ZERO turnovers, he might just be playing himself into a starting job. He’s played well in the scrimmages and now showed that he can do it against actual competition. He has a great feel for the offense and looked really fluid.
- Mo Walker’s well-documented weight loss campaign was on full display last night. In short, the dude is skinny. And he really does look quicker and more agile on the court. He flashed some improved footwork, scored nine points and pulled down five boards in 16 minutes.
- Joey King may have gained the most in this game. Coming off the bench he scored 14 points on 6-8 shooting and showed that he knows where to be on the court. With the frontcourt situation pretty wide open, King just might find himself starting when the regular season begins.
- If King gained the most, then Oto Osenieks lost the most. In a head scratcher, Oto got the start at PF, but failed to capitalize on the chance, going 0-6 in 17 minutes and missing some pretty easy buckets. In fact, he was the only player with extended minutes not to score. Unfortunately, he looked much like the Oto of last year, and with Walker and King having good games he might have just fallen down the depth chart.
- Speaking of players of old, Maverick Ahanmisi played the role of backup point guard last night and reminded us why his role should really just be as a spot shooter. Of Minnesota’s seven TOs, Mav had four of them. Ouch.
Check out the box score here.
For more musings, insights and AMAZING takes on the Gophers follow @zipsofakron on Twitter.