Over the last several seasons, it wasn’t truly basketball season until the Golden Gophers unexpectedly lost a player to injury, transfer, or worse. This season, the unexpected departure was matched with two mid-season additions, as Gaston Diedhiou was finally admitted to the University of Minnesota, and Mike Lukashewich joined the team as a walk-on guard. Both might be nothing more than warm bodies at this point. However, those warm bodies give the Gophers some emergency depth in case of injury, and extra players in practice. The addition of Diedhiou is especially important, giving the Gophers a back-up forward who at least looks like he should be playing in the paint.
No one really knows what expect from either of the additions. They just joined the team today, and they haven’t had enough time to practice more than once. The Gophers have only three more games before conference play, and they should win all three without much drama. Richard Pitino should, and probably will, let both Diedhiou and Lukashewich play plenty of minutes, just to see what he has, in a mostly consequence free-environment.
These non-conference games against what are expected to be bad teams continue to be complicated for many Big Ten teams. Northwestern lost in drama-free fashion to Central Michigan on Wednesday, joining the likes of Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, and Rutgers, who already have seemingly inexplicable losses this season. If Big Ten teams can be divided into three tiers so far, they are Wisconsin, teams without a horrible loss, and everyone else. If the Gophers can manage to win their next three games, they’ll be in the top half of the Big Ten by default.
Minnesota’s quest to avoid a horrible loss continues on Friday against the Seattle University Redhawks, coached by 1997 Elite Eight loser and former UCLA point guard Cameron Dollar. So far this season, the Redhawks are 3-5 against Division I teams. Their best win came against Nebraska-Omaha, and their worst loss was at home against Texas State.
Seattle is not a good basketball team. Of course, neither are Incarnate Word, NJIT, or Central Michigan. While playing a bad team won’t help the Gophers get into the NCAA tournament, Seattle might help the Gophers get better, which is really the point of non-conference basketball games.
The Redhawks excel in only two areas, and coincidentally, they are two areas in which the Gophers struggle. Seattle is an exceptional offensive and defensive rebounding team. Jack Cook, a 6’11” center with something resembling a Big Ten physique, collects more offensive rebounds than any Gopher, and more defensive rebounds than any Gopher other than Maurice Walker. William Powell, at only 6’6” does the same. Seattle’s offense ranks 250th in the country, so it is unclear if they will be able to take advantage of extra chances, but the Gophers should let that stay a mystery.
On defense, Seattle is an extremely passive team, seemingly avoiding fouls at all costs. The Gophers struggle to get to the free-throw line. Only 18 teams allow fewer free-throws, and only five teams force fewer turnovers. They’ll seemingly dare teams to shoot from the outside in a slacking zone. The Gophers, too often, become a jump shooting team, and playing Seattle will give them an opportunity to practice attacking the basket against a team that does all it can to keep from doing that.
If they have any chance for an upset, Seattle’s two big scorers will have to have big games. Isaiah Umipig and Jarell Flora, a pair of senior guards, average 17.2 and 14.1 points per game. Flora, despite being only 6’3”, adds 5.5 rebounds per game. Umipig is very good distributor, ranking 139th nationally in assist rate. Even if both have great games, they probably won’t have enough help to seriously threaten the Gophers.