The Golden Gophers tip off their 2014-2015 basketball season in just over three months. Summer will fade into fall as anticipation, and some guarded optimism, builds. But why wait until November, or until March, when you can know what happened now.
11/6/2014 Minnesota-Duluth (exhibition)
In front of a half-packed house, the Gophers dispatch the Bulldogs by 15 points. There is much talk about hockey.
11/07/2014-11/13/2014 Somewhere in the Southeast (probable secret scrimmage)
The big news of the exhibition season is that there is only one game on the schedule. Teams can play two ticketed exhibitions, in which they beat up on bad teams but make a few bucks in the process, or they can trade one of the money-making opportunities to actually prepare for the season. With a wide-open week, and with a long flight to Puerto Rico looming, it only made sense for the Gophers to play a closed-door scrimmage against another division one team. The game didn’t count, no statistics or spectators were allowed, and like something out of the X-Files, it didn’t actually happen. But it did happen, and the team had the chance to play real competition, and really prepare for the upcoming season.
11/14 vs. Louisville in the Armed Forces Classic in Puerto Rico (6 p.m.; ESPN)
Josh Martin, Mo Walker, Elliott Eliason, Charles Buggs, and Joey King use all 25 of their fouls on Montrezl Harrell, but Harrell only converts on 12 of his 30 free-throws. This keeps the Gophers in the game, but #TeamDre (Andre Hollins and DeAndre Matthieu) combine for 30 points on 40 field goal attempts and struggle against one of the best defensive back courts in the country, and the Gophers can’t quite start the season with a marquee win.
11/17 or 11/18, 11/26, and 11/28 NIT Season Tip-Off
The Gophers were tentatively scheduled to play three-games, one at The Barn and two at Madison Square Garden. The only problem is that it turns out that speculation over the tournaments demise were well founded. Unlike the secret scrimmage that did happen, this tournament didn’t.
11/22 Maryland – Baltimore County
Minnesota plays poorly, but the Retrievers are one of the worst teams in the country, and can’t handle the Gophers’ size. The Gophers win by 30, and Kendall Shell hits a career high in points and minutes after Richard Pitino benches his starters to send a message.
12/2 at Wake Forest
It is the first true road game of the season, and the Gophers struggle to keep their composure. By half time Wake’s fans are touting the resurrection of their moribund program. Late in the second half, Minnesota’s experienced back court gets things under control, makes free-throws when they need to, and the Big Ten escapes with a single digit win in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
12/5 Western Carolina
The Catamounts aren’t a true RPI killer, but they are another mediocre mid-major team that the Gophers beat easily.
12/8 North Dakota
The Fightin’ Whioux, lacking a basketball identity and a logo, get run out of The Barn. There is much talk about hockey.
Another bad team from a bad conference is another easy win for the Gophers. Sadly the world-famous Jaguar. Can football post-season exhibition game talk can hold us over for the next three weeks? Even worse, the Human Jukebox doesn’t make the trip.
12/19 Seattle University
The WAC used to be a good conference with well-known teams. Now it has teams like Seattle that weren’t in Division I in the aughts. The Gophers win easily. Cameron Dollar, whose playing career ended against the Gophers in the Elite Eight in 1997, feels awkward most of the night.
The Gophers beat another bad team, and in the process hurt their NCAA chances by even showing up.
12/27 UNC Wilmington
Finally, and mercifully, the non-conference season comes to an end with another easy win. The record is gaudy, with only a loss or two at most. However, with few quality opponents and even fewer quality wins, the last two months feel like a waste of time.
12/31 at Purdue
Minnesota’s nine-year losing streak at Purdue finally ends, allowing Richard Pitino to do in his second season what Tubby Smith never could. Thankfully, this game doesn’t last three overtimes and four hours as Andre Hollins dominates Purdue’s young back court. Matt Painter’s seat gets warmer.
1/3 at Maryland
Many Gopher fans travel to College Park en masse (look at the schedule, easy four-day weekend!) to watch Minnesota’s first Big Ten game against the Terrapins, and Maryland’s first ever home Big Ten game. Apparently most of Maryland’s roster had no interest in being in the Big Ten, as six players transferred from the team. There will still be some talent on the team, but it won’t be cohesive enough to stop the Gophers, who move to 2-0 in conference play.
1/6 Ohio State (8 p.m. ESPN)
Aaron Craft is gone, and Ohio State’s offense is suddenly functional, especially with three top 100 freshman joining their roster. The road is a cold and cruel place in the Big Ten though, especially for freshman, and the Gophers hold off the up and coming Buckeyes. This win will look much better in March than it does in January as those highly touted Ohio State freshman improve throughout the season.
1/10 at Michigan
The Wolverines aren’t quite as scary as previous seasons, but John Beilein is still the coach, which means they still find ways to win. Caris LeVert shows why he will be a lottery pick next summer, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot to keep Michigan ahead by at least two possessions throughout the entire second half. Starting the Big Ten season with four wins in a row, with three on the road, doesn’t happen, especially to the Gophers.
Charles Buggs sadly doesn’t become a cult hero all over again. Instead, his six points off the bench are expected. The Hawkeyes still can’t play defense as the Gophers use another 50 point half to win a wildly entertaining game.
No less than 50 people in the New York City media market watch on TV as the Gophers demolish the Scarlet Nights. No less than 50 fans at The Barn wonder why a non-conference game was scheduled in the middle of January. Bubble talk is silent, and finally for a good reason.
1/20 at Nebraska
The Cornhuskers were a few road wins away from a transformative season in 2013-2014. Despite having several of their best players back, they still struggle to win outside Pinnacle Arena. At home, they are still unbeatable, and the Gophers fall to 5-2 in conference play.
When the Illini beat the Gophers in shocking fashion last season, no one saw it coming. When the Illini gave the Gophers back to back losses in conference play, it was hardly surprising. Illinois’ turnaround that began in The Barn last season accelerates towards the top of the conference standings. Gophers fans start to get nervous again.
1/28 at Penn State
Nothing seems to cure what ails the Gophers quite like a trip to Happy Valley. Tim Frazier is gone, and Pat Chambers’ surprisingly good recruiting class is still a year away. DJ Newbill continues the Nittany Lion tradition of having only good player at a time, but his galant effort and near triple double isn’t to enough to keep the Gophers from getting back on track with a win to move the conference record to 6-3.
In a battle to stay away from the Bubble, the Gophers avenge their earlier loss to the Cornhuskers. Without any help from his teammates Terran Petteway goes bonkers and nearly beats the Gophers single-handedly, solidifying him as a favorite for Big Ten player of the year. The conference record is 7-3.
Matt Painter’s seat is in flames, and the full 40 minutes go much like the first 30 minutes did last season when Purdue came to The Barn. The Gophers win going away in a crucial game before a tough road trip. Premature title talk begins with the Gophers at 8-3 and third in the conference.
2/12 at Iowa
Suddenly realizing that it is February, the Gophers forget what pushed them towards the top of the Big Ten standings. The press doesn’t slow down the Hawkeyes, who are desperate to stay on the right side of the bubble. One Hawkeye, who was unknown even to his teammates, replicates Charles Buggs’ surprise outing a year ago, as the Gophers fall out of the conference title race.
2/15 at Indiana
Tom Crean is coaching for his job, and trying to keep his team in N.I.T. contention. Yogi Ferrell scores a career high. The Gophers lose. Indiana’s fans rush the court (again). Nets are cut down. Tom Crean is fired a month later. Gopher fans panic, not realizing that an 8-5 conference record in the middle of February put their team on pace for their best season in a decade.
Andre Hollins isn’t hurt. Deandre Mathieu makes his lay-ups. Mo Walker dunks every chance he gets. Tre Demps strangely shoots jumpers with something of a normal arch. The Gophers get their ninth Big Ten win, leaving them one way from locking up a trip to the NCAA tournament. The always optimistic fans begin to wonder if the team will win another game, ever.
2/21 at Wisconsin
Thanks to the softest conference schedule in the Big Ten, the Badgers have been the presumed conference champion since the season started, rendering referees helplessly cowering under the spittle-shadow of Bo Ryan. Traevon Jackson misses a garbage shot from the left elbow as time expires, but the Badgers are up eight point. The loss drops the Gophers to 9-6. Wisconsin will have a chance to clinch the Big Ten title in a week at The Barn.
2/26 at Michigan State
All long streaks must come to an end, though ending a two decade-long road losing streaks is simply too much to ask. As they have in every game in East Lansing since 1990, the Gophers lose. Their record stands at 9-7. Bubble talk is real.
Andre Hollins was once a Badger killer. The he was undercut and missed 39 minutes in the first game against the Badgers last season, hobbled his way through the second game, and might as well have not played in the third game. In three games against Wisconsin last season he scored a total of 30 points. During his sophomore season, in one fewer game, he scored 42 points. In his second to last home game, he scores 30 points. The top ranked Badgers don’t win the conference title (yet). The Gophers are dancing at 10-7 in conference play. It is just like 1997 in Madison, but it is 2014 in Minneapolis, and the good guys win.
3/8 Penn State
The Big Ten won’t formally announce such things, but at some point Penn State became the Gophers official Senior Night opponent. For the fourth time in five seasons, the Gophers end their home conference schedule against the Nittany Lions, and as they are supposed to, send the seniors out with a win.
3/11-3/15 Big Ten Tournament
All Gopher fans ever really wanted was a top four Big Ten finish and a bye in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. The Gophers get the bye, along with every non-horrible team in the conference, but they still have to play on Thursday thanks to the reformatted bracket. The Gophers don’t win the Big Ten tournament, but also don’t need to win any games in Chicago to make the NCAA tournament. There is contented calm in the Gopher Universe. Then the meteorite hits…