The formula last year was pretty simple. Win a lot in your non-conference games. Beat the Big Ten teams below you and lose to the Big Ten teams above you. No stunning upsets in your favor or against you, until the Big Ten Tournament but it was too late by then.
Fast forward to the 2008-09 seasons and the formula for success will have to remain pretty much the same. The non-conference portion of the schedule sets up very nicely to get 10 or more wins before we hit the Big Ten.
Here is how the schedule breaks down for the 12 games prior to Michigan State on New Year's Eve ...
10 of the twelve games are absolute must wins. These wins will do very little for the NCAA resume, but a loss would be devastating.
Concordia-St. Paul - D2, must win
Bowling Green - returns 5 starters from 13-17 team. Player to watch-Chris Knight.
- Georgia State - return 4 starters from 9-21 team, Player to watch-Leonard Mendez
Colorado State - 7-25 a year ago and they were bad. Player to watch-Marcus Walker
Eastern Washington - lost best player from 11 win team. Player to watch-??
North Dakota State - the best of this group of 10 teams, they return a lot of scoring and will be dangerous. Player to watch-Ben Woodside (he is really good).
- Virginia - Big10/ACC Challenge more in a minute.
Cornell - returns 9 of top 10 scorers from 22 win team. Cornell will be a solid challenge. Player to watch-Ryan Wittman, son of Wolves coach Randy Wittman.
- South Dakota State - Return 4 starters from 8 win team. Player to watch-Kai Williams.
- #3 Louisville - more on them below.
Southeastern Louisiana - return three starters from 17-13 team. Player to watch-Kevyn Green who gets the first semester before his eligibility runs out and he is not allowed to finish the season (odd? I think so).
- High Point - has just one senior on team, should be a warm up for B10 season.
Cornell and North Dakota State should be competitive teams and I look forward to watching those games. Then the only other two games with any significance are the Virginia and Louisville games.
Virginia - returning starters at SG-Mamadie Diane, SF-Jeff Jones and PF-Mike Scott the biggest question surrounding this team is who replaces Sean Singletary at PG. Junior Calvin Baker should get first crack at starting PG but the likely option to replace Singletary's scoring, although may not play PG, is McDonald's All-American Sylven Landesberg. The 6-6 freshman averaged just under 30 ppg and 11 rpg last year in NYC. Along with Sylven the Cavs bring a couple highly ranked big men in John Brandenberg (6-11) and Assane Sene (7-0).
Virginia will be very similar to the Gophers. A talented young core trying to come together is a more experienced backcourt. The storyline of RSIII playing against the school of his father will be interesting.
This is a winable game for the Gophers. We'll know more after a week or two, but since it is at home and Virginia isn't loaded with a ton of experienced talent this is an opportunity to get a win over a BCS team.
Louisville - currently #3 in the country, 27 wins a year ago and returning four starters. Then they add the #1 center recruit in the country, Samardo Samuels. The Cardinals are experienced, explosive, can defend and should be battling for a #1 seed all year. This game will be on a nuetral court in Arizona so the "atmosphere" should be very interesting.
Chances of winning are slim here. The Gophers are improving and are capable of winning but only if Louisville decides to lay an egg. This will be fun to watch and most importantly it should give us a great gauge as to what we can expect from this team. Can we match up athletically and keep this competitive? We will certainly learn a lot about what to expect in the Big Ten after watching the Gophers in this game.
As I see it there are eight games that you absolutely have to win and win them all comfortably (all but Virg, L'ville, Cornell and NDSU). Because basketball is the way it is you may have a hot shooting team come in and make a game close but if that happens more than once in the eight must-win games then there may be a problem.
Next we have two games that we should win but Cornell and NDSU are experienced and talented. Both have aspirations of winning their conference and making the NCAA tournament. Both should be 20 win teams so they won't be cake walks. But with that said if we want to be an NCAA team we have to take care of these games on our home floor.
Then the two "marquee" games are Virginia at home and Louisville in Arizona. Forget about the L'ville game, they are just too talented for this year's Gophers. Much crazier things have happened but if we played 10 times we'd lose that game eight or nine times. The goal here is to be competitive. The Virginia game isn't going to blow anybody away when the NCAA selection committee sits down to look over our tournament resume. But a home lose to a second tier ACC team doesn't scream that we deserve a chance at a national championship. This is a winable game and since it is on the raised floor of the Barn I'd really like to see a W here.
11-1 in the non-conference is very doable. 10-2 still gives us a fighting chance. 9-3 and we'd have some work to do in the Big Ten.
Hopefully as the Gophers improve in the coming years so will our non-conference schedule. You have to get your fill of guarantee games, but sprinking in another BCS team or two would be a welcome addition. As the expectations grow so should the competitiveness of the schedule.