After a couple quick appetizers of exhibition games, the Minnesota Gophers basketball team finally gets things underway with a quick couple of games against quality mid-major opponents in the Wofford Terriers tonight and the Siena Saints on Monday. Since I am going out of town this weekend for a much needed vacation away from the kids I won't be computering at all, so I might as well fire up two previews for the price of one. We love to give out sweet deals like that here at DWG, particularly on all your stationery or invitation needs (look to the right).
I'll start with Wofford, since they're first and that's a logical way to do things. The Terriers may be the Gophers' stiffest test that doesn't take place in Puerto Rico this offseason, because this team is very solid. They return four starters from last year's SoCon Champion team, a team that won 26 games last year and almost knocked off Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year and almost beat Pitt in last year's season opener.
Most importantly amongst those returning starters is Minnesota-boy Noah Dahlman, the SoCon player of the year last season after 17 points and 6 rebounds per game while shooting 58% from the floor. He's an absolute brute who never stops working on the glass, and because of that relentlessness he's almost impossible to shut down (he's scored in double-figures 48 straight games). Unless he's added a jump shot in the offseason his range doesn't extend beyond the paint, and that should play well for the Gophers. He won't be able to out-muscle Colt Iverson or Trevor Mbakwe, and even if he can push Ralph around a little he's still got the reach on Dahlman. Wisconsin and Illinois both kept him in check last season (10 and 5, 13 and 2), and I expect the Gophers to do the same.
Dahlman is the only returnee who averaged more than 9.5 points per game last year, so there's no one player to focus on outside of him, but Wofford won a lot of games with their defense last year, ranking 41st in the country in defensive efficiency. Luckily for the Gophers, however, they come by that ranking mainly by defending the three well (not a key for the Gophers outside of Blake) and keeping teams off their offensive boards (not something the Gophers rely on). Most of all, I had the opportunity to watch Wofford play against Wisconsin as well as in the SoCon Championship against Appalachian State. They are slow. S-L-O-W. They caught a huge break getting Wisconsin in last year's tournament because both their pace of play and overabundance of non-athletically gifted white dudes helped Wofford to keep pace. That won't happen against Minnesota tonight. Wofford is a good team, but the Gophers shouldn't have any issues here.
Minnesota 71, Wofford 53.
Now we move on to a mini-Mid-Major dynasty in Monday's opponent, the Siena Saints. Siena has made the last three NCAA Tournaments, notching wins over Ohio State and Vanderbilt, but have some big shoes to fill - they lose last year's national assist leader in Ronald Moore, last year's MAAC player of the year in Alex Franklin, and maybe the best all-around player in program history in Edwin Ubiles - not to mention their coach Fran McCaffery who has gone on to national basketball power and totally good situation Iowa.
That's not to say the cupboard is bare, because the Saints return two absolutely excellent in players in 6-9 forward Ryan Rossiter and 6-4 guard Clarence Jackson - either of whom could end up winning the MAAC Player of the Year Award.
Rossiter, one of the goofiest looking mofos you're ever going to see, averaged 14 points and 11 rebounds per game last season, to go along with 1 steal, assist, and block. He's a smart player who uses an almost plastic-man type body to get himself into great position, and is one of the best offensive rebounders in the country. He doesn't have the size to bang with Iverson or Mbakwe or even Sampson, but he's smart and he's crafty. If Iverson starts on him I'd expect Colt to spend a good amount of time in foul trouble.
Jackson, who averaged 14 points per game last year, is a dynamic scorer who can hit from the outside (71 threes last year led the team) and can also put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. He's streaky, and can be shut down (11 games in single-digits) but he can also explode (9 games over 20 points). It would behoove the Gophers to not let Jackson get off, because he's the type that could single-handedly win a game for the Saints. Since he's probably a little bit too big for Al Nolen to take one-on-one, this could be a great chance for Rodney Williams to show that he can be a defensive stopper. He was the physical tools for it, so this could be a great test if he gets the matchup.
Outside of those guys Siena is a great big pile of unknown, since Jackson, Rossiter, and the three departed starters from last year made up 77% of the team's minutes played and 85% of their points scored. I'm sure there is talent there somewhere since McCaffery had created a bit of a mini-dynasty and that recruiting area is rich with potential hidden gems, but if the Gophers can shut down at least one of the Jackson/Rossiter duo they should have little trouble with the Saints. If this was last year I would be concerned, but since this team is in flux and has a new coach, I'm confident in the Gophers.
Also I want to mention that the Saints have a player named Just-in'love Smith. Ouch.
Minnesota 76, Siena 65
[Since I posted this I saw on Twitter that Devoe is suspended indefinitely due to non-academic off the court issues, and won't be playing until at least after Puerto Rico.
Snacks has since texted me that he "hates Tubby" and "hopes Devoe transfers." I'm not quite to that point, but it is rather frustrating how the Gophers are constantly dealing with off the court issues. Either Tubby is far too strict or he recruits nothing but headcases, either way this is hardly a ringing endorsement of the coach. No matter how you feel about the issue or whose feet you choose to lay the blame at, this clearly sucks ass. Once again a promising Gopher season is starting under a dark cloud.
I'll reserve further judgment until we know more (if we ever do), but it's time for the University to decide if it wants to be a basketball school or not I'm not saying they should let athletes get away with murder, but at UNLV Tre'Von Willis choked his girlfriend and got three games. At Michigan State Korie Lucious was busted for drunk driving and got just one game. At Memphis Jelan Kendrick missed a few practices after threatening his teammates, and it's looking like Lace Dunn might not miss any games at Baylor despite being arrested for domestic assault. And Devoe is going to miss at least five games for something that will likely be in the realm of skipping class or smoking a j.
Look, I understand some people's need to believe that their University "does things the right way" and "doesn't put up with any crap" and "only recruits good kids." I do. And that's all well and good, but, with all due respect to those of that view point, Fuck that. I don't give a crap what Devoe does in his spare time, and if he graduates or not is really the thing I care about least in the entire world. I want him to play ball, and I want my team to win games and I don't care how they do it or whether or not the players still call their mothers every week like good little boys or if they go to church every Sunday. I don't care about that, I just want to win, baby. Royce White was already run off, and Trevor Mbakwe almost followed him. Who's next?]