There won’t be much exciting basketball at Williams arena during the non-conference season if everything goes as planned. The Gophers won’t score 109 points every night, like they did on Thursday against Franklin Pierce, but they will likely win every game, and by a lot points.
Bad opponents don’t always lead to blowouts. There have been plenty of horrible teams to who have played on the raised floor in recent seasons, but easy wins have been few and far between. The Gophers didn’t beat anyone by 30 points last season, and Tubby Smith coached Gopher teams only won 9 games by at least 30 points. Blow-out wins over bad teams don’t get teams into the tournament directly. They do allow teams to give players valuable experience that can play dividends against competitive teams later on. When starters are forced to play a lot of minutes, because a should be blowout is in doubt, it is a wasted opportunity. The Gophers have had too many wasted opportunities over the last few years, and non-starters haven’t gotten enough early season experience. Against Coastal Carolina last season, each starter played more than 30 minutes because the Gophers only won by 10 points. Coastal Carolina wasn’t good enough to win any significant games last season, but they kept Minnesota’s starters on the court, and the bench players on the bench. When the Gophers played Syracuse a week later, the bench wasn’t ready to contribute, and the Gophers didn’t upset the Orange.
The Gophers looked lost during most of their game against Louisville, and a lot of that was a result of new players learning new positions. Thanks to foul trouble, six bench players took the court. Among them, only Nate Mason looked like he knew what he was doing. I expect much better results the next time the bench is put in that situation because they finally have some experience. Every starter played fewer than 30 minutes against Western Kentucky, and no starter played more than 23 minutes against Franklin Pierce. I don’t know that the Gophers would beat Louisville if last Friday’s game was next Friday, but I think they would be much more competitive.
Richard Pitino hasn’t been shy about getting his inexperienced players some time on the court. Despite starting, Carlos Morris was on the court late into the second half on Thursday. While he might be one the Gophers better players right now, he is still new, doesn’t know the defensive rotations, and doesn’t always know what is a good shot at the Division I level. Bakary Konate and Joshn Martin will be a force someday. Right now they need to work on their fundamentals and positioning, and they got to do that against Franklin Pierce. Charles Buggs is still a wild card, seemingly capable of doing every right and wrong at the same time. He had 16 minutes to learn the difference between right and wrong on the court, and Pitino had 16 minutes to figure out how to get more right than wrong out of him later in the season.
UMBC isn’t going to put up much of the fight against the Gophers. They haven’t had a winning record since 2008, and they likely won’t this season. There won’t be much drama in The Barn. However, if the Gophers win easily, the bench will get more experience, and there will be less drama the next time the starters get in foul trouble.