There is a non-hockey game between the Golden Gophers and Minnesota-Duluth on Thursday. The exhibition game, which tips off at 7 pm at The Barn, will be the last and only chance to see the Gophers play against a team other than themselves before the season starts.
Last season the Bulldogs struggled to a 12-15 record. That team had only one senior, so they should be more experienced this season. UMD has played one exhibition game already, losing 88-71 to Notre Dame. The Golden Domers are projected to have a season similar to the Gophers. In that regard, Thursdays game could be a good gauge of how the Gophers might compare to similar teams.
Exhibition games are mostly worthless predictors of the coming season, except of course, when they are not. Last season the Gophers struggled to defend three-pointers and rebounded poorly on the defensive end. This turned out to be a bit of foreshadowing, as three-point defense and defensive rebounding problems helped to contribute to Minnesota’s poor overall defense. Of course, in those exhibition games, the Gophers took care of the ball and forced a lot of turnovers too, and those were rare occurrences once games started to count.
So what should you watch?
1. Who steps up?
Mo Walker tweaked a hamstring in the public scrimmage a week and a half ago, and sat out against Iowa State in the not particularly secret scrimmage. Nate Mason didn’t play at all against Iowa State, because of a knee strain. Walker and Mason are the Gophers two best bench players, and provide some much-needed offensive pop. Ideally, both would play on Thursday and rid themselves of any rust. They won’t though. Hopefully they will be back by the Louisville game next week. Their absense will be a bit more adversity than anyone would like to see in a pre-season game, but it will give someone some extra playing time and the chance to show they are ready to contribute.
2. How are the ‘dres?
The Gophers have what could be one of the best back courts in the country when Andre Hollins and Deandre Mathieu play their best. Andre Hollins struggled the second half of last season, and Deandre Mathieu didn’t look like himself in the public scrimmage and apparently didn’t play well in the secret scrimmage. If they play well against UMD it doesn’t mean they’ll play well against Louisville or anyone else. It would ease some jitters though. Gopher fans can be a fragile bunch, and seeing the best part of the team play like it would be nice.
3. What about the press?
Richard Pitino spent most of last season trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. He consistently pressed, even though he didn’t have the right personnel to press. Carlos Morris, Nate Mason, and Josh Martin, should make the press better. However, it remains to be seen if Pitino will press as often this season, or if he will mix and match his defenses based on game situations. Minnesota’s press led to too many fast-breaks for opponents, which may force Pitino to defend less aggressively. I have a sneaking suspicion that an over-reliance on the press, perhaps intentionally, led to the Iowa State scoring over 100 points against the Gophers. The Cyclones play fast and score fast, and it sounds like that is what they did against the Gophers. In a press conference today, Pitino mentioned that he set the Gophers up to fail against the Cyclones, but wouldn’t elaborate, since that would ruin the secrecy of a scrimmage that isn’t a secret anymore. Constantly pressing an unpressable team would certaintly set a team up to fail. However, learning the limits of pressure defense in a consequence-free scrimmage might set the Gophers up for sucessess later on this season.