Monday, November 3, 2014

Big Ten Basketball Preview: #4 Minnesota Golden Gophers

Hell I don't know.  This feels both overly optimistic and totally right, so it's probably viciously wrong but I'm going with it.  Every team I have ranked below the Gophers either has serious questions or serious flaws, and it's not like the Gophers are perfect or anything, but they're more settled than almost every team in the conference, aren't they?  AREN'T THEY?  They have 64% of their minutes back from last year, which I'm guessing without doing the math is fourth behind Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Penn State.  They have their starting back court back, which can only be said by them Iowa, and kind of Northwestern and kind of Nebraska.  They also have forwards and centers and stuff back.  I hate being optimistic, but I'm optimistic.

The back court with Dre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu might be the best in the conference.  We all know Dre was a bit off last year after the ankle injury as he pretty much turned into a jump shooter, taking just 17% of his shots at the rim last year, which also dragged his field goal percentage down to a career low 38%.  In fact, Hollins didn't make over 50% of his shots in any one of the team's last 7 games, and actually he shot just 24% from the floor during the team's NIT run.  Obviously his health and return to form is going to be the major key to the Gophers' season.  We know we don't have to worry about Mathieu, who is completely awesome and unstoppable in every way.  If he looks for and improves his outside shot he's going to be an absolute star.  I love him so much.  Freshman Nate Mason sounds like a really fun player and should be able to fill in at either guard spot.

The paint is mostly set too, with the two headed monster of Elliott Eliason and Mo Walker at center.  If the Gophers can get first half of season Elliott and second half of season Walker that's going to be one hell of a tandem.  That out of nowhere five game run where Mo averaged 14 and 6 was pretty much the most fun thing about last year (besides Honey Gopher, of course) and the fact that it didn't come against the patsies but in the heart of the Big Ten schedule tells me he's for real.  Hopefully Eliason's late season swoon isn't, or the Gophers will need more from freshman Bakary Konate than they're likely planning on, although early reports on him are positive.

Forward is where the questions lie with Minnesota, though there's plenty of bodies it's more how they'll fit.  In an ideal world newcomers Carlos Morris and Josh Martin would be able to step in and start with Joey King paying his "offense off the bench" sixth man role and Konate, Charles Buggs, and Daquein McNeil, who will also add minutes at the 2, backing them up with Gaston Diedhiou hopefully getting himself eligible for the second semester.  I think it's more likely King starts the season as the starting power forward which I don't love as he's a tweener between a 3 and 4 so it's not a perfect fit wherever you put him.  He did clearly work last year to improve his power forward type of skills and you could see the positive results by season's end, so hopefully he's been doing more work.  And getting like, more faster and jumpy and stuff.

Yep, Gophers still have plenty of questions, but they also have more answers than an awful lot of teams in the Big Ten.  It feels very strange writing something this positive, and even though I believe it I also don't believe the Gophers could possibly finish 4th in the conference and have an NCAA bid sewed up prior to the B10 Tournament.  Things never go that well for Minnesota teams, so I'm expected some kind of a major injury either around game 4, or one of the first few Big Ten games after a really good pre-conference start.  It's bound to happen.  It's science.


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