The Gopher hoop non-conference schedule was revealed Tuesday. And here it is. Rankings are from last year.
11/8 vs. LEHIGH (RPI 107, kenpom 96): A possible top 100 team is always a solid way to kick-off the new year, however the Gophers are a year too late. The players responsible for that awesome Lehigh win over Duke in the NCAA Tournament two years ago have graduated, with C.J. McCollum in the NBA and Gabe Knutson probably like, filing taxes or something since Lehigh is a nerd school. Nerds and wrestling I think. Definitely not basketball.
11/12 vs. MONTANA (RPI 74, kenpom 160): Hey an NCAA Tournament team last year! Let's rock and roll! Actually the Grizzlies have a nice little program going with back-to-back Big Sky Championships and despite losing two of their top three scorers Montana is the most likely non-conference home opponent to end up in the NCAA Tournament this season. Yes, that is correct. I'm serious. No you shut up.
11/16 @ RICHMOND (RPI 91, kenpom 83): The back half of a home-and-home started by Tubby Smith, Richard Pitino honored the commitment so the Gopher will face the Spiders in their only true home game of the non-conference schedule. Richmond brings back three starters from last year's totally mediocre team, and not only might this be a road game but is likely to be the toughest Gopher opponent this year outside of the Maui Invitational. Richmond plays at a pretty slow pace under Chris Mooney so I really like this one as a test to see if the Gophers can impose their will and influence tempo in a tough environment. Could be a pretty good barometer for the entire season, although I believe it's pronounced thermometer.
11/19 vs. COASTAL CAROLINA (RPI 259, kenpom 226): Not really the Gophers' fault they got stuck with these guys as their "first round mainland opponent" in the Maui Invitational, but they weren't good last year and lost their starting back court so I'm guessing they aren't going to be good this year either. On the bright side, you can count on at least one member of the Twin Cities' sports media to bust out an article about what a Chanticleer is (besides tasty, terrific pizza). I predict Reusse, especially if the Gophers lose the previous game at Richmond. He loves that condescending shit, too bad he doesn't do it well.
11/21 vs. WOFFORD (RPI 250, kenpom 256): Wofford has really fallen off since the great Noah Dahlman brought the Terriers to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments (and near wins against Wisconsin and BYU), but at least they are bringing some firepower back from last year's terrible team. Plus they got a guy named Indiana Faithfull which is pretty fricking crazy.
11/25 vs. SYRACUSE (RPI 14, in Maui, kenpom 8): The jewel of the schedule without a doubt, because Syracuse should be in the mix to be a top 10 team again this year. Also, earlier when I wrote about this match-up I mentioned it would be the great back court of the Gophers vs. the great front court of Syracuse, but it turns out I forgot about Michael Gbinije. He's a combo guard who transferred to the Orange after one year at Duke. He was the #29 recruit in the country coming out of high school. He's also 6-7 and should play at the top of the most wing-spanny zone I've ever seen, which could have all five guys at 6-7 or taller at times. As that weird creepy witch said in the Robin Hood with Kevin Costner, "We're doomed."
11/26 vs. ARKANSAS (RPI 95/kenpom 71)(CAL (RPI 54/kenpom 56) in Maui: Cal should be the better match-up here with both teams saw their top player leave school early to enter the NBA Draft (Cal = Allen Crabbe, first round pick; Arkansas = B.J. Young, undrafted - ha ha!) because Cal brings back Justin Cobbs (back in more ways than one) and most of their team from last year while Arkansas also loses Marshawn Powell, the team's second leading scorer, who left the team to go play in Europe or something. This will either be an addition by subtraction year for Arkansas or subtraction by subtraction and probably that second one. Hope for Cal.
11/27 vs. Team 3 in Maui, anywhere from Gonzaga (RPI 6/kenpom 4) to Chaminade (not in D-I): Other options are Baylor (RPI 70/kenpom 26) and Dayton (RPI 114/kenpom 67). Obviously the better the opponent the better the potential results, but seeing as how it's not a random draw for each game you need to win to continue getting quality opponents. Syracuse will be tough, but losing to them and then beating Cal and Baylor or something would still be an outstanding result. Most likely results are a loss in round 1 and then a win over both Arkansas and Dayton. Not bad, but not great. Like a night with your mom.
12/3 vs. FLORIDA STATE (RPI 84/kenpom 124): Andrew Wiggins screwed up everything by choosing Kansas over the Seminoles and now this game is more yawn than not yawn. Last year was one of the worst year's these guys have had under Leonard Hamilton, and with Michael Snaer gone the question is if they'll be worse. Most the rest of the team is back and guys like Okaro White and Terrance Shannon could certainly take a leap, and there's a nice freshman coming in but Snaer was the do-everything team leader type that's tough to replace. Although given how little that mattered last season maybe it turns out chemistry is overrated after all. Don't tell Gardy.
12/7 vs. NEW ORLEANS (RPI 346/kenpom 346): Now things get really, really ugly. You could probably talk yourself into the schedule so far, but these last four games are just nasty, starting with the worst of the worst in the Privateers and yes I had to look that up. They're also in the Southland starting this year after being independent (looked that up) after they used to be D-I but somehow dropped back into D-II or something like that and then got reinstated (remembering this on my own). Should be a fun game though for the first half at least since they're one of the most uptempo teams in the nation. I got news for you though. Ervin Johnson isn't walking through that door.
12/10 vs. SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (RPI 62/kenpom 103): I'm sure everyone is thrilled again because for some reason people love the stupid little teams from the Dakotas, but guess what? With Nate Wolters off to the NBA maybe SDSU just becomes a shitty little shithead team again. Remember when the Gophers played them last year without Wolters? Yeah it'll be like that again but probably worse because Jordan Dykstra probably still hasn't cut his hair. I don't know what he's waiting for. There is good news, however. According to their website there are ZERO Minnesota natives on the roster this year. So shut it already.
12/20 vs. NEBRASKA-OMAHA (RPI 285/kenpom 321): I think they've been a D-I team for like 2 years, which is usually a pretty bad sign. They kind of give the appearance of maybe being slightly interesting because 6 of their top 7 scorers from last season should be back. The first college hockey game I ever went to was UMD vs. Nebraska-Omaha. Their nickname is the Mavericks and they abbreviate their team NEOM. The college World Series is still in Omaha. I once had alligator in Omaha (not making that up...might have been Lincoln). I'm just writing random facts now. I once spent a night getting drunk in a hotel in Nebraska by myself. Here is what I wrote that night. Gripping.
12/28 vs. TEXAS A&M CORPUS CHRISTI (RPI 323/kenpom 309): Remember when these guys made the NCAA Tournament somehow and threw a little teeny tiny scare into Wisconsin before losing? Man that would have been awesome if they one, am I right? Since then they've had as many seasons with single-digit wins as double-digit, and I don't want to throw too many fancy stats at you or anything but not even winning 10 games in a season is a pretty good indicator of sucking and TAMUCC has back-to-back years with 6 total wins. I was going to try to find something good to say but I need to get a drink so let's just wrap this up.
The key to a good schedule is lots of games against teams in the 50-150 range and avoiding playing teams that are sub 200 and especially sub-300. The Gophers likely will have six or seven games against 200+ teams and might have three against teams in the top 100. A strong league can smooth that out but you have to, you know, win the games. It was always going to be an interesting season, but as Lewis Carroll once wrote, it's getting "interestinger and interestinger."