The Golden Gophers gauntlet of guarantee games continues on Monday night, when a nameless team from Grand Forks comes to town.The “guarantee” of the guarantee games does not refer to the outcome of the game, but to the amount of money earned by the team that is supposed to lose. Every once in awhile, the team that is supposed to lose doesn’t get it right, and wins. Saturday was a rough day for the Big Ten, as Michigan and Purdue lost to the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Northern Florida respectively. Many have complained that the Gophers non-conference schedule is boring. If it is boring, that means things are going well.
The first half of Minnesota’s eventual blowout win over Western Carolina was anything but boring in the first half, as the Gophers fumbled away rebound after rebound. The second half was an entirely different story, and for that half at least, there were some reasons for optimism, because the right players did the things they’ll need to do for the team to be successful in the Big Ten, and survive the rest of non-conference play without a crippling loss.
The Gophers won the free-throw line, making 10 more free-throws than Western Carolina attempted. That is big for a team that has struggled to get to the free-throw line, and struggled even more when they eventually get there. Minnesota continued to force turnovers, and now rank 6th in the country in forced turnovers. Carlos Morris exhibited discretion and actual decision making, shooting better than 50% for the second straight game, and contributing one point per possession for the first time against a Division I opponent. Both ‘dres combined for 31 points, the first time they have both scored in double figures this season. The only thing lacking was a contribution from Charles Buggs, but he also didn’t hurt the team, which is something of a victory on its own. That is a recipe for staying on the right side of the bubble for the next few months. One game against one mediocre low-major team does not meet all the issues are fixed, and it will important to build and improve in each successive performance.
North Dakota will give the Gophers a chance to build that consistency and momentum. The Fightin’ Whioux compete in the Big Sky Conference, where they went 12-8 last season during conference play and earned a berth in one of those post-season tournaments that isn’t the N.I.T. or NCAA. This season, there are only handful of teams worse than they are, and their only wins have come against Drake and Alabama State, both by single digits.. They aren’t good at all really, though they do take care of the ball and get to the free-throw line often. For the foul prone Gophers who rely on turnovers, this will be a good test, at least before their avalanche of talents buries the Bizon, er, Flickertails, or whatever they call themselves these days