As I'm sure you are aware, the Gopher hoop team will be in Orlando for the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving rather than spending it with their families, simply so the unwashed masses can be entertained rather than actually talking to their family members. I, for one, could not more be thrilled by this. Of course, the last time the Gophers played in this particular tournament it was an absolute disaster when they finished in 8th place (out of 8) after getting swept by the murderer's row of Marist, Southern Illinois, and Montana on the way to the end of Dan Monson and the two least enjoyable seasons ever. Should we fear a repeat? Yes. Absolutely yes.
The DePaul Blue Demons will be the Gophers first round opponent on Thursday, and even though that's a scary name they're still the worst program in the Big 6 conferences over the past like 20 years or so - how ever long Mark Aguirre graduated. DePaul is 2-52 over the last three years in Big East (no that is not a misprint), play in one of the worst arenas in the world, and although they come into the game 2-0 those two wins are over two of the worst programs in history (TX-Pan American and Miss Valley State) and they haven't exactly impressed (beat MVSU by only 10). So yeah, they're pretty terrible.
That doesn't mean they don't have some interesting pieces/players and can't be dangerous, however. Cleveland Melvin (nice name, poindexter) is one of the best players you've probably never heard of. He was originally a UCONN commit before they told him they expected him to be a power forward (he prefers to play SF) and he won the Big East Rookie of the Year last season after averaging 14 & 5 per game. He's kind of like Rodney Williams in that he's a small forward with no jump shot who uses his athleticism to get the rim, only if Rodney paid attention all game and actually, you know, wanted to score on something other than a put back dunk over a small white kid.
The other legit scoring threat on this team is fellow sophomore Brandon Young, who is averaging 15.5 per game with four boards and six assists per to follow up a nice freshman year (13, 2.5, and 4). Young and Melvin actually give the Blue Demons a nice 1-2 punch and they are the reason the Gophers can't show up and just sleep walk through this game. Luckily, however, I don't think they have much else to get worked up about.
Senior guard Jeremiah Kelly is actually leading the team in scoring at 17.5 per on the strength of 4.5 made 3s per game and a .500 shooting percentage from deep. This despite being a career 32% 3-point shooter, so I'm sure this will last. They have two other players who are averaging 10 per game but I don't know who they are and I'm pretty sure Mt. Saint Mary's point guard could score 10 against the competition DePaul has faced.
Oh, and speaking of that competition, guess what DePaul is absolutely dreadful at so far this year - allowing offensive rebounds. Against TX-Pan American and Miss Valley State they've given up offensive boards on 39.7% of all missed shots, good for 315th in the country. Against Pan American and MVSU. Trevor might get 20 boards. Gophers roll: Minnesota 80, DePaul 63.
Following that rout, the Gophers will face the winner of Texas Tech and Indiana State, and defeating either shouldn't be all that daunting of a task.
Indiana State isn't a great team by any means, but they should end up in the top half of the Missouri Valley, and go ahead and take that for what it's worth. They come into the tournament sitting at 4-0 with wins over some nobodies (East Ill, LA-Monroe, Ball St., and Green Bay) and they've won those four games by a grand total of 27 points so you could say they know how to play in a close game. You could also say that they haven't looked very good thus far. Don't forget though, this is the same team that made a run in the MVC Tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament, and they've got four starters back so they ain't no slouch.
They're woefully undersized with their top two scorers and rebounders both being guards, and only two major contributors are 6-8 or bigger and one of them is a freshman. Despite that they do a good job of keeping their opponents off the boards and take care of the basketball. This is a team that the Gophers are immensely more talented then, but are the disciplined type of team that could give them a real problem if they're enjoying Orlando too much and don't focus Rodney and Ralph. If the Gophers play Indiana State they shouldn't have any real problems: Gophers 74, Indiana State 65.
On the other hand, if the get the Texas Tech Red Raiders they should be fine, because T Tech is horrible and I'm starting to think they should be kicked out of Division I or at least have to go play in the SWAC or the Southland or something. They're 3-0 but the beat Troy by 5, North Texas by 5, and Steve F. Austin by 12. And no, none of those are sleeper teams. They're absolutely brutal defensively, but could get a little pesky because they play an uptempo style and are very efficient with the basketball (#1 offensive efficiency in the country despite turning the ball over constantly thanks to 44% shooting from three and 61% from 2).
The only real danger from Tech is getting caught up in their style, taking dumb shots, and letting them run-out to get open lay-ups and good looks at the hoop. They can obviously shoot it, but they haven't gone up against a D-I level defense yet, and even if Tubby is a terrible offensive coach he can handle it on the other end. Gophers 85, Texas Tech 70.
Then on the other side of the bracket, game 3 will come against either Fairfield, Arizona State, Dayton, or Wake Forest. You can read about Fairfield here and here. Arizona State has three guys I'd actually be interested in watching play in Trent Lockett, Carrick Felix, and Keala King but they also come in at 1-2 with losses to New Mexico (understandable) and Pepperdine (gross). Dayton would be semi-interesting because they actually have some size and their fans are tools, but they already lost to Miami-Ohio so yuck. And Wake is desperately trying to rebuild their program after one of the worst years in major college history that included a 1-15 conference record and an 8-24 overall mark that included losses to teams like Stetson and Presbyterian. In other words, the Gophers are better than every team on this side of the bracket as well.
Look, the Gophers are the best team in this tournament and it's not close. Every one is picking them to win, and they should because they're an obvious pick. The way I see it this can go one of four ways:
1. Gophers cruise to the title. Good, great, grand, wonderful. Everything is happy and it looks like the team is likely headed for an upper division Big 10 finish and a comfortable Selection Sunday.
2. Gophers win the title by winning some tight games. Nothing hurt and it's always excellent to win a tournament. It might not have been pretty but they won the games they needed to win, it's early and the team's first games away from Williams, and maybe grinding out these wins will help in the future. I'd still feel good about the team's bid chances, but with a little less confidence.
3. Gophers win 2 of 3. Bad, but not a complete disaster. None of these teams are terrible enough that a loss would spell doom to the season even though the Gophers should be around a 6-8 point favorite or so against everybody. This would be a pretty big disappointment, and would probably mean that us fans are in for a long year with a lot of inexplicable losses and just enough wins to keep the nail biting going in March.
4. Anything else. Complete meltdown. It doesn't matter if it's one win or zero wins, it means the same thing because losing to two of these teams is just completely unacceptable. Anything fewer than two wins means the season is done, sell all your tickets before everyone else catches on, and fire up downwithtubby.com because it would be a complete disaster. Please please please don't let this happen.