As TDG continues to bombard you with tantalizing, deep and informative Gopher basketball previews. OK maybe not tantalizing or deep but we try to be informative and get a conversations started. I took a look at the roster earlier this week and PJS then wondered where the scoring was going to come from. Next I'm going to take a look at the schedule.
For the purposes of this post the 2010-11 schedule breaks down into three categories. The Non-Conference Gimme games, the Non-Conference Resume games and of course the Big Ten Schedule. Unfortunately the pre-Big Ten schedule has far too many gimme games and not enough resume building games. But this is what we have to work with so let's make the most of it.
Non-Conference Gimme Games
Siena (Nov 15) - An NCAA Tournament team a year ago and favored to return this March but they are replacing three starters and their coach who moved on to Iowa. The two returning starters, Ryan Rossiter and Clarence Jackson, are both very good players who combined for over 27 points and 13 rebounds per game last year. This was a deep team last year so while they have some big shoes to fill they will still be a favorite in the MAAC. They may not finish 17-1 in conference this year or finish with a top 35 RPI again but they are still the team to beat. At the very least this should be a win over a tournament team. It won't be a huge resume booster but it isn't at terrible game on the schedule.
Western Kentucky (Nov 18) - The Hilltoppers were a hard-luck team last year losing five games by a combined six points but still managed a 21 win season. They missed out on the NCAA Tournament after reaching the Sweet 16 in 2008 and the second round 2009. Western Kentucky loses three very good starters from last season but they return two very good starters and have a couple of transfers expected to make immediate impacts and a couple of freshmen capable of contributing immediately. Of the games in this "Gimme" category this is the strongest of the bunch, WKU is a recognizable mid-major program that may very well be a tournament team. This is game one of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off so it is neutral court. That shouldn't matter too much considering we are clearly the favorite, but strange things happen in these tournaments.
North Dakota State (Nov 24) - NDSU returns three starters from last year. PG is their biggest question mark early and that should mean an opportunity for the Tubby Smith pressure defense to do it's magic and create a lot of transition scoring opportunities. Michael Tveidt is the Bison to most concern yourself with, he is a returning 15.7 ppg scorer and should be NDSU's best player.
Cornell (Dec 4) - The Big Red lost a lot from last year's surprise team of the Tournament. This shouldn't be a game to concern ourselves with. Chris Wroblewski is the lone returning starter and returns the most ppg. They'll likely be in the Ivy League hunt again this year but in the Barn this is a W.
@ St. Joes (Dec 8) - Returning three starters and a surprisingly good recruiting class. The Hawks are bringing in a four-star center and shooting guard with a 91 rating by ESPN. C.J. Aiken is the center who Rivals ranks as the #8 center in the 2010 class and Langston Galloway was offered by Baylor, LSU and Cincy but the shooting guard chose St. Joes. Some talent worth watching and they may be building something for the future but this year the Gophers should handle them at home.
Eastern Kentucky (Dec 11) - A 20-win team last year and returning 3 starters. Justin Stommes is the team's leading scorer returning and the senior forward is their player to watch. The Colonels had a couple freshmen who made solid contributions last season who should provide more this year. A solid OVC team.
Akron (Dec 15) - This MAC team won 24 games last year and returns three starters but the roster is much different. Two starters graduated and four others are no longer on the roster. In their place are three transfers and four freshmen who will mesh with a few returning seniors and a 7-0 sophomore to make up an interesting roster. Zeke Marshall is the big man who was a four-star big man last year and he is a big man that the Zips are going to heavily rely on.
South Dakota State (Dec 23) - Another team that lost plenty to graduation and lost a couple underclassmen for various other reasons. Clint Sargent is the best returning player. Sargent was 2nd team All-Summit last season and scored nearly 13 ppg. The Jackrabbits might be the weakest team on our schedule.
These are eight wins that should be locks. If we lose any of these games it is time to be alarmed.
Non Conference Resume Games
Wofford (Nov 12) -This is a real test and if we do not play UNC in the Puerto Rico Shootout, this will be our toughest non-conference game. Wofford is legit and do not take them lightly. This team made the NCAA Tournament last year, return four starters including SoCon player of the year and very nearly knocked off Wisconsin last year in the first round as a 13-seed. Interestingly the Terriers have a few Minnesota kids who are all key players for them. Noah Dahlman is a Braham product and is the reigning SoCon Player of the Year. And the backcourt is manned by a Minnesota duo of Cameron Rundles and Jamar Diggs, both from Minneapolis. This will be a very good test and I wish it were not the first game on the schedule.
North Carolina / Hofstra (Nov 19) - If we get to play the Tar Heels this will easily be the most difficult non-conference game on our schedule and really the only one I'm not certain we'll win. Last year was an unusually bad year for UNC. Hard to believe a Roy Williams Tar Heel squad finished with a 5-11 ACC record and wasn't even on the bubble for NCAA Tournament consideration. Carolina graduated or lost three starters from last year's NIT runner-up, but as usual they replace that with one of the best recruiting classes in the country. The one to watch out for is Harrison Barnes, a preseason All-American and a certain one-and-done lottery pick. A couple of really interesting match-ups should play out if this game occurs. Al Nolen defending Larry Drew should be a lot of fun to watch and the center match-up of Ralph Sampson III vs. Tyler Zeller should be a very good litmus test for RSIII. Tubby has treated us to some great non-conference wins over Louisville and Butler the last couple seasons and adding a W over UNC would rank right up there. I hope this game takes place. (I'm not even going to preview Hofstra)
Vanderbilt / Nebraska / West Virginia (Nov 21) - one of these three will likely be our third opponent of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, assuming we get by Western Kentucky. If we manage to upset UNC then West Virginia is the likely opponent, if we lost then we'll probably face the winner of Vanderbilt or Nebraska. I'm not going to spend too much time predicting who we play here. West Virginia would be resume boosting win and Vandy is strong candidate for an NCAA Tournament bid again this year. But too many scenarios to predict anything here and who knows we may end up facing Davidson or Nebraska. Chances are it will be a resume boosting opponent and a winable game.
Virginia (Nov 24) - Big Ten / ACC Challenge really should be a win for the Gophers (if we want to be considered a strong team this year). Virginia might be our only BCS opponent this year. They may not be the strongest team in the ACC and they may not make the NCAA Tournament but this is better than playing Akron. It won't really boost the resume but it will help a little and a BCS opponent is usually better than a non-BCS opponent. Tony Bennett's teams will always scare me a bit even with the loss of a couple starters including Sylven Landesberg. I am thankful this one is at home and we really should win this game over a Virginia team expected to be at or near the bottom of the ACC.
Wofford is actually a game that concerns me. That is a team with confidence that they can knock off a Big Ten team and they will not be intimidated. This team a year ago beat Georgia, South Carolina and as mentioned nearly knocked Wisconsin out of the Tournament. This game really could be a loss, especially considering it is the first game of the year. The only other game that concerns me is North Carolina. After that Virginia, Western Kentucky and Siena should all be wins. Then of course the last remaining non-conference game is the mystery opponent on day three of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. I'm going to assume a 2-1 tournament. 3-0 is very possible and that should then equate to an undefeated non-conference schedule.
8-0 in the Gimme games and then 3-1 in the Resume games. I think we'd all be happy with an 11-1 record heading into the Big Ten season.
Big Ten Games
The Gophers have a relatively easy non-conference schedule but the Big Ten season is always tough and there is no easing into the schedule this year. Seriously, take a look at that schedule, three of the first four games are on the road against three teams who very well could win the Big Ten! The first four games should be looked at on their own, I'd be REALLY happy with a 2-2 record through the first four games...
- @ Wisconsin (Dec 28)
- @ Michigan State (Dec 31)
- Indiana (Jan 4)
- @ Ohio State (Jan 9)
It can only get easier after that right? But the next stretch is a five game stretch sandwhiched between two Purdue games. With Hummel out for Purdue I don't think splitting with them is unreasonable. This very easily could be a 4-1 stretch if things go right. Iowa and Northwestern at home should be wins and Michigan is pretty down this year so I think a road win in Ann Arbor is very reasonable. After nine games I think best case is 6-3, worst case is 4-5. It could be better or worse but most likely we'll be in that range.
- Purdue (Jan 13)
- Iowa (Jan 16)
- @ Michigan (Jan 22)
- Northwestern (Jan 26)
- @ Purdue (Jan 29)
Now we are into Feb and we are half way through the conference season. This is the month we have to make some hay and climb the standings. My next grouping is a six game stretch ending with Michigan State at home. But the key game in this grouping is the home game against Illinois. We don't have to travel to Champaign this year so the home game could a be huge factor in the final standings and tournament seeding. We could easily go 3-3 here winning the road games and losing the home games. I'm hoping for a 4-2 record through these nine games. Best case running total is 10-5, worst case is 7-8. At this point my realistic guess is 9-6.
- @ Indiana (Feb 2)
- Ohio State (Feb 6)
- Illinois (Feb 10)
- @ Iowa (Feb 13)
- @ Penn State (Feb 17)
- Michigan State (Feb 22)
And we finish with three games that are all very winable. 2-1 is a minimum expectation here. At Northwestern is always a tricky game but I really think we'll finish with a strong three game win streak heading into the Big Ten season.
- Michigan (Feb 26)
- @ Northwestern (Mar 2)
- Penn State (Mar 6)
I'm guessing we finish the Big Ten season with a 12-6 record, that is my own cocktail of conservative-optimism. The Big Ten is really tough and I don't think anything greater than a 13-5 record is realistic. Worst case (unless bad things happen like injuries or the chemistry implodes) is 9-9 but I don't think that happens either. Anywhere between 10 and 12 wins is the smart money.
The college hoops season is very long and there will be stretches where the Gophers will play very well, probably winning a game or two they shouldn't, and of course there will be stretches where they struggle and they'll lose a game or two they shouldn't. These down periods need to be short! But I think this is an experienced team that is well balanced. 23 or 24 wins is a bit optimistic but I think it is well within our reach.