The not-secret portion of Minnesota’s preseason schedule kicked off Thursday night against Minnesota-Duluth. Usually reserved as a hockey rivalry, the Bulldogs probably wished the game was held on ice, as it would have mitigated the talent gap between the two teams. While the Gophers have had close calls with D-II teams in the past, UMD was no match, falling easily 95-68. Five players scored in double figures.
Exhibition games, though, aren’t about the end result, but rather a glimpse at what we we might see in the regular season, where some guys are at, and how others have matured.
After suffering a drubbing at the hands of Iowa State in a weekend secret scrimmage (take that with a grain of salt) there were a few burning questions heading into the regular season. How would Carlos Morris perform? Had Daquien McNeil really matured? How does the backcourt look? And while exhibition games aren’t a true barometer of where a team is at, it’s definitely a good indication of where the firepower is and where work needs to be done.
The story of the game was certainly Morris, who racked up 23 points, while looking adept at not only creating his own shot, but getting his mid-range jumpers to fall. Looking like a natural small forward, Morris was smooth with ball, got to the hoop and finished with ease. Not to be outdone, McNeil found himself in double figures early, flashing some confidence and showing a swagger that definitely wasn’t there last year. Day Day was nearly perfect from the field, hitting three of his attempts from deep in a silky smooth performance. He racked up 15 points.
Hollins and Mathieu looked like seasoned veterans, keeping the tempo on offense and acting as the defensive glue. Even with a couple mental mistakes, Mathieu looked as tenacious as ever, teetering on the precipice of being out of control while staying pretty much in control.
But while the backcourt was busy getting it done all night, the front court was a different story. With Mo Walker on the bench with a hamstring injury, Josh Martin and Bakary Konate got the start, while Elliott Eliason curiously watched from the bench early. Konate showed a couple sparks, but ran into foul trouble early in the 2nd half and fouled out after only 12 minutes of action. Eliason, always the defensive stopper, showed little to nothing on the offense end, scoring only 3 points but grabbing an impressive 13 boards with ease. Against a very small Bulldog team, barely getting to the hoop was probably the most concerning aspect of the night.
Martin scored 8 points on three dunks. Just as expected. Joey King had a quiet 15 points.
Defensively, the Gophers looked a little disorganized early. Their press was mostly ineffective and they got beat pretty easily, which led to a handful of UMD points. And after a season’s worth of getting destroyed on the press last year and rumors of it being ineffective against Iowa State, that’s a bit concerning as well. However, the half court defense was plenty effective, with the forward pulling down serious rebounds and Minnesota getting out nicely in transition.
It’s the final tuneup before some serious action against Louisville, who is obviously on a different planet, talent-wise, than UMD. Having Mo Walker back for the contest would do wonders for the inside game, but for now it’s looking like the Gophers will have to do most of their damage through the air.