Thanks to Andy Katz, the season is proven over before it starts for the Minnesota Golden Gophers for the second straight season. Last year, Katz was drooling over the talents of Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III, and how the Gophers would impress many to make a push towards the top of the standings in the Big Ten. Oh, was he wrong. But it didn’t start out that way.
Minnesota got on a plane to Puerto Rico and dominated the Puerto Rico tip-off. After beating Western Kentucky, Tubby Smith and the Gophers took down both North Carolina and West Virginia in a blink of an eye. Suddenly, Minnesota looked like the real deal. They stumbled once they returned home and faced Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but overall…Minnesota had a great non-conference run.
It all ended abruptly once Tubby Smith took his team down to the Kohl Center to take on their rival in Wisconsin. By the score of 68-60, Minnesota saw their first loss against a tough team. It never really stopped for the Golden Gophers besides an excellent victory at home against Purdue in the middle of the season. Minnesota ended up losing 10 of the final 11 games, which many thought was going to be the easy section of the Gopher’s schedule.
But, it’s another year and Andy Katz likes Minnesota again. They return Trevor Mbakwe, but still lack a legit scorer on the perimeter. They are going to rely a lot on their incoming players to help pad the score sheet. Junior college transfer Julian Welch is projected to get a lot of playing time at point guard with incoming freshman Andre Hollins. Hollins, who has no relation to Austin Hollins (another Gophers guard), won Mr. Basketball in the state of Tennessee over Adonis Thomas, the top-ten recruit signed by Memphis.
Minnesota begins the conference schedule on the road for two games at Illinois and in Michigan. Both opponents should make the Gophers excited because neither team has a strong front-court, which is something Minnesota will take advantage of a lot this season. The Gophers only play Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan, and Nebraska once this season. The first three of those teams are likely the top-contenders in the B1G this season.
There isn’t a severely difficult part of the schedule for Minnesota besides the four-game stretch against Wisconsin, Ohio State, Northwestern, and Michigan State. All but Northwestern are at home for Minnesota, which helps a lot because they normally contend in big games against tough opponents when they play at Williams Arena.
Overall, it’s a friendly schedule for Minnesota especially when they don’t have to go into Columbus to play the Buckeyes, and they don’t have to set foot in East Lafayette. Hopefully Tubby Smith will be the type of coach that Minnesota thought they hired this season. He has a lot of issues to iron out with the playing time between the guards being the main concern.