Gophers rocky in Puerto Rican season opener

We’d read about it for days, feared the worst, hoped for the best and tried to close our eyes and pretend like it didn’t exist. No, it wasn’t the Pitino vs. Pitino narrative jammed down our throats by ESPN but, rather, Montrezl Harrell the monster, who bullied the Gophers all night and came even better than advertised in an 81-68 season opening win for¬†Louisville in the Armed Forces Classic in Puerto Rico. Minnesota had absolutely no answer for Harrell, considered to be one of the…

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Gophers will have their hands full with Harrell, Louisville.

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.

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6 things I’m watching for when the Gophers face Louisville

So it begins. We’ve seen one live exhibition and one intra-squad scrimmage, and heard from second and third-hand sources about another. What do we know about this year’s Gopher team? Well, not much. Andre Hollins is healthy, I guess. That’s about all we know. And that’s why the season opening game against Louisville is so simultaneously frightening and exciting. The Gophers return almost everybody important, which bodes well for continuity. And from what we’ve seen, most guys have matured and expanded their game. But that’s…

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Richard Pitino is the Gophers’ shortcut to the spotlight.

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.

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Gophers rip Minnesota-Duluth in not-secret exhibition

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…

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The Gophers will be short-handed in last chance tune-up.

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.

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Gophers fall to Iowa State in secret scrimmage

Technically it didn’t happen, because scores, stats and individual performances are barred from being reported per NCAA rules, but indications are the Gophers lost 103-78 in Ames in Sunday’s secret scrimmage. Secret scrimmages aren’t anything new as they’ve been around since the early 70s. But it’s been quite a while since the Gophers actually partook in one, so it feels a little strange, considering the mystery that surrounds them. A rule on exhibition games prohibits D-1 teams from playing in front of the public if…

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What to watch at Sunday’s open scrimmage.

Basketball season gets closer and closer and Sunday afternoon (doors open at 3:30 at The Barn) will be the first chance for many to see the 2014-2015 Golden Gophers. Rather than the time-wasting and excruciating “contests” of the various incarnations of the Tubby Tip-offs, like last year we should be treated to a scrimmage that actually resembles basketball. While we probably won’t learn too much about this season’s team, there are certainly a few things to watch.

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The front court closers, and not the starters, will determine Minnesota’s success

One must forgive the media and message board posters for being, in the words of Richard Pitino, “obsessed about starting line-ups.” A lot of ink and pixels can be used when described by arguing who should start and come off the bench. There is also the matter of fancy graphics packages on television and pre-game introductions (of which “I AM… OTO OSENIEKS” was the greatest ever) which place undue attention on the matter of who will be on the court when the jump-ball occurs. However, basketball games are 40 minutes long, and often the last four minutes, and not the opening four minutes determine the outcome of a game. In a better, albeit very disjointed world, the lights would dim after the under four minute time-out, and we’d have a proper introduction for the players who matter most: the closers.

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Temper your expectations, even if Bakary Konate is ahead of Gorgui Dieng.

Bakary Konate is an international man of mystery. On Tuesday, we finally found out how to pronounce his last name (like a coconut, without the first “co”) but we still don’t know what position he will play, how much he will play, and just how good he can be. We do know that he has been and will continue to be compared to Gorgui Dieng of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Both are from west Africa, play center, were three-star recruits, played at a prep-school before heading off to college, and both have been coached by Richard Pitino. Dieng himself has compared himself to Konate, suggesting that the freshman Gophers’ center is better than the then freshman Louisville Cardinals’ center. We also know that Konate is a bit buried on the depth chart behind two experienced centers, and that three-star recruits don’t often usurp the starting spot of experienced players. So is Konate better at this stage in his career than an NBA player was, or is he a moderately-touted recruit who will struggle to find playing time? The answer is probably both.

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