Sports, for better or worse, can be a distraction from the perils of the world. The N.I.T. tournament in New York City was supposed to be that for Gopher basketball fans, and perhaps it can still be. However, the arrest of Daquein McNeil on suspicion of domestic abuse has distracted from that distraction. Zips wrote about the basketball impact earlier today. The non-basketball impact is going to be much more significant, both for McNeil, and the alleged victim. A few things seem to be true. McNeil has had a very difficult life, domestic violence is a learned behavior, and luckily there are wonderful organizations doing great work in Minneapolis to help both victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse. Regardless of McNeil’s future with the team, hopefully he gets the help he needs.
There is more than one way to win a basketball game, and the more ways a team can, the more they will win. So far in this still very young college basketball season, the Gophers have shown the potential to win in diverse ways.
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 early season college basketball tournaments tip-off this week, which means we find out who play in many of those tournaments next season. The Gophers will play in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, and so will Texas Tech.
We’ll be forgoing the typical preview for tomorrow night’s game for something a bit different. The Gophers play a Division II team, in a game that will be ignored by 99% of the college basketball universe, and 100% of the NCAA tournament Selection Committee. I just can’t bring myself to research a bad president (arguably Franklin Pierce’s signing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act directly led to the Civil War) and a really bad basketball team.
The something different is that I had the opportunity to tape this week’s Gopher Sports podcast, which you can listen to here. I expected disastrous results, and I can affirmatively state that it could have been much worse than it turned out. It may sound like it was taped in a closet, because it was, somewhere in the basement of the Bierman Building. There would be no better sales pitch to potential donors to the facilities campaign than the convoluted walk to what was once the athletic department’s photo lab.
Back on the mainland, back in basketball arena, back in The Barn, the Gopher basketball team is back home with a winnable game to open the home season on Tuesday night. Minnesota will still play a team from Kentucky, specifically Western Kentucky University, though the Hilltoppers have little in common with Louisville.
The Golden Gophers finally played their much-hyped game against the much better Cardinals, and the result was much of what we expected. Louisville dominated on both ends of the floor, and it was a bit of a minor miracle that the Gophers kept the game relatively close. After the first day of the season, Louisville, at least according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistical models, is the best team in the country, with the best offense and the third best defense in the country. They are really, really good, and Minnesota won’t play another team that good until late February against Wisconsin.
Once upon a time the only drama surrounding the first game of the Golden Gophers basketball season was whether their opponent could keep the game interesting until half time. It wasn’t that the Gophers were good, it was that their opponents were pretty bad. Ken Pomeroy has been ranking teams using his advanced statistical methods since the start of the 2001-2002 season, and only twice has Minnesota opened its season against a top 100 team. Even then, Wofford and Bucknell, ranked 80th and 79th, didn’t put up much of a fight. Friday’s season opener is a whole new world, when the Gophers take on Louisville, Ken Pomeroy’s third ranked team.
Hiring Richard Pitino was a short cut, and the Gopher basketball team is gaining national notoriety, even if they haven’t earned it yet.
College basketball is all about events these days. It isn’t nearly enough to play a marquee opponent in the non-conference season. That games must be played in a location unaccustomed to basketball. These made for TV events feature some of the best teams and biggest names in the sport, in some very strange places. Perennial Big Ten power Michigan played on an aircraft carrier, and later on an airbase in Germany, where they played Connecticut, who was only two seasons removed from a national title. The Champions Classic, featuring teams with multiple championships, the Dukes and Kentuckies of the world, rotates between NBA arenas and NFL stadiums, in search of TV ratings.
On Friday in a hangar in Puerto Rico, the Gophers will appear in the spotlight. They didn’t earn it of course, unless you think they did by hiring Richard Pitino. The Armed Forces Classic won’t be about the Gophers, or Louisville, or the troops who get to take a brief break from defending the Caribbean (really, Putin, really?). The Gophers didn’t earn the novelty basketball game, the military themed uniform, or the televised press conference. It is all about the Pitinos, and this is fine. This is a good thing.
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.