Well that couldn't have gone much better. Montana is a step up from Lehigh and will be in the running for an NCAA bid (by winning the Big Sky, not at-large) and the Gophers simply crushed them. The press hassled Montana from the get go and helped the Gophers jump out to a big lead they'd never relinquish. The Gophers (still questionable, imo) front court was able to destroy the Grizzlies on the glass 45-29. Although the rebounding margin should be celebrated too excessively given that Montana is a horrendous rebounding team, for the Gophers it is definitely a step in the right direction. The Gophers also unleashed the three, which will likely end up being a big part of their offense, and hit 11 of 25. Much of the Gophers success this year will be determined by their ability to create turnovers with the press while limiting their own, being competitive on the glass, and being able to hit the outside shot. I'd say this game was an A+.
Dre Hollins - simply a star. He looks like he's taking his game to another level, and he's a rare player who can score from three, taking it to the rim, or with a mid-range jumper and can do all efficiently. His free throw shooting will be a huge asset this year with the new rules continually putting driving guards at the line. The addition of Mathieu makes him even better because he can play off the ball and run off of screens.
Dre Mathieu - I love watching him play. He may get himself in a little too deep driving the ball from time-to-time, but that's just his mentality - he gets the ball and looks to drive. His excellent vision is going to create a lot of open shots for teammates, and he's so fast he should be able to get to the line quite a bit simply by taking it right at his defender and creating contact before they can get out of the way.
Austin Hollins - I have a feeling these three are going to be talked about a lot this year. Austin continues to have a clear sense of purpose, confidence, and leadership, and when he needed to help out in the paint he just went ahead and grabbed 10 rebounds. Very much a senior year Damian Johnson type of feel to him right now in terms of leadership and just rising to the occasion.
Elliott Eliason - He's starting to develop and almost adequate offensive game, and his defense and rebounding are absolutely crucial to this team as the only real post presence (we'll see about Mo when he's back). Even when his numbers aren't there (they were last night with 8 boards and 5 blocks), he alters enough shots and takes up enough space to make the defense much better. Whenever Eliason is in foul trouble it is going to be a very big deal.
Oto Osenieks - Hit two threes and grabbed six rebounds and finished without a single turnover. You can actually see his confidence starting to return after the combination of a horrible year and Tubby somehow reduced him to worthless. I said before the year started that if he could find his shot he would be able to thrive in the type of system Pitino is going for, and although he isn't nearly there yet he's moving in the right direction.
Joey King - Still drives me crazy, but at least he dialed back the perimeter stuff and attempted six two point shots compared to just one three point shot. Managed just two rebounds in 15 minutes, and one of them was tipped out to him on the perimeter. Also clapped for himself when he made a shot.
Malik Smith - Any time someone is described as a streaky shooter you know what you're getting, and right now Smith isn't looking impressive at just 3-11 while doing absolutely nothing else on the court. I assume at some point the buckets will start falling and he'll probably basically win a game for the Gophers single handedly. At least that's the hope.
Maverick Ahanmisi - I don't even know what to write about Mav anymore. He's questionable with the ball, passable defensively, rebounds well for his position, and can knock down an open shot. Rinse, repeat.
Wally Ellenson - I have no idea why he's on the team other than as a ploy to try to get his brother to commit here. Amazing athlete without much skill. Loves to shoot.
All in all, I'm very encouraged by that game as I expected the Gophers to struggle, at least a little bit, before ending up with a low double-digit win. I certainly didn't expect them to nearly win by 30. Everything went right that game, but things get a lot tougher this weekend with a trip to Richmond. The Spiders are a step up from Montana (I like the first three game opponent difficulty progression quite a bit) and being on the road is always dicey. After tonight, confidence is high, however when I write my later this week I suspect I will talk myself out of it.