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Minnesota Gopher Basketball: Previewing the Maui Invitational

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

While we dealt with extremely cold temperatures this weekend the Gopher Basketball team was taunting us with pictures of beaches and warmth via Twitter over weekend.

Andre Hollins

And even Amelia was really rubbing it in for those of us left behind.

Unfortunately SBN refused to send me to Maui to cover this event, otherwise I'd be sending out similar pics.  Mine would probably say something like "Ha, Ha, Suckers!" and then have a pic I would have creepily sneakly taken of chicks on the beach.

Anyway, the Gophers face Syracuse today at 4:30 in round of the Maui Invitational.  I'll do a quick preview by answering 4 questions that several other blogs of teams in the tourney also answered with the Syracuse responses from Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician.

#1 - Who is your team's #1 player to watch, and why might he lead your team to the Invitational title?

This one is easy, Andre Hollins is obviously our best player and has shown multiple times over his career that he can get hot and carry the Gophers to wins over good teams.  Last year's holiday tournament game against Memphis is a great example where Hollins score 41 against his hometown team.  Other examples would be his 22 points at #12 Illinois and 28 points against 6-seeded UCLA in the NCAA Tournament.

This year Dre is one of the top scorers in the Big Ten and is thriving in the new system under new head coach Richard Pitino.

#2 - Who are your under-the-radar player(s), and how might they impact the game?

Austin Hollins has been one of the team's best players who rarely gets the headlines throughout his career.  He is a good shooter, good defender, good passer and a smart player.  He is quietly closing in on 1,000 points for his career after always playing in the shadow of higher profile guys like Trevor Mbakwe, Rodney Williams and Andre Hollins.  But Austin is a great glue-guy on this team and is a consistent double-digit scorer.  I also believe that he is a great fit for the new system under Pitino that is allowing him more opportunities to make threes and putting his length in position to be a real factor defensively.

Smart player and very good defender who will rarely be mentioned in the first sentence of a game recap; but he is vital to the success of this team.  If the Gophers are to pull off a big win over Syracuse this afternoon, Austin will need to have been a huge factor on both ends of the floor.

#3 - Biggest team strength?

I don't really know yet.  With the hire of Richard Pitino, the Gophers have been playing an entirely different brand of basketball.  The new style is supposed to resemble what you would see from Louisville and Florida.  The problem is the Gophers have been on TV just once in their five games this year.  Based on the numbers we have seen a pretty efficient scoring team that doesn't turn the ball over very much.

Facing the Syrcause 2-3 zone in round one is going to be something completely different, requiring different offensive sets (not that we've seen much of the regular offense anyway), so it is near impossible to take a guess at what we'll see today.  I think that we have a pretty good shooting team, if we can get some open looks.  I think we have a pretty good defensive team, but what should be our signature press has actually been counter-productive at times recently.  So I don't think we truly know what this team's strengths are just yet.  This week's games should really tell us a lot.

#4 - Biggest team weakness?

Much like our strengths, I don't really know what our weaknesses are just yet.  I was fully anticipating that rebounding would be a major area of concern this season but through five games that has actually been a strength.  Previous seasons rebounding was a huge strength due to a couple players who gobbles up a lot of missed shots.  This years it has been a team effort with everyone contributing on the boards.

Conversely I was anticipating the full-court press falling back into a pressure man-to-man to be a major strength.  But in the past two games the Gophers have had to fall out of the press and revert to a zone in the latter minutes of games.  So I just don't know much about this team and it's characteristics this year.

I am however looking forward to this tournament and the opportunity to play some quality BCS conference teams.  We are currently sitting at a loft 17 in Ken Poms rankings and have shown some solid efficiency numbers through five games.  A trip to Richmond was our only real test, which is actually a decent test this early in the season, and we came out with a nice win.  But facing a team like Syracuse and possibly the ACC's best player in C.J. Fair is going to be a great test for the Gophers.

To get a quick feel for Syracuse, below are the answers to the same four questions from Sean at Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician.  They have been covering the Maui Invitational like a blanket while we've been covering it like a wet washcloth (not our fault that our football team has been good this year) while Syracuse hasn't recovered from losing to a Tim Brewster led Gopher team).  Anywhere here are his repsonses and if you want to know more about the rest of the field go to California Golden Blogs.Syracuse Orange: Sean Keely, Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician


1) Who is your team's #1 player to watch, and why might he lead your team to the Invitational title?

That would be one C.J. Fair, ACC Preseason Player of the Year. C.J. is a typical Syracuse wing in that he's extremely athletic, can create for himself and at one point in the game you're going to look at the box score, see that he has 15 points and eight rebounds and not know where it came from. He hasn't been blowing things up so far this season but he's shone flashes of his promise. And given that it's his first season as the No. 1 guy, I'm guessing that he's going to turn it on sooner or later. If it does so in Maui, it could be big trouble...

2) Who are your under-the-radar player(s), and how might they impact the game?

Tyler Ennis is the latest young point guard to star for Syracuse. The freshman is going to churn minutes for the Orange and he's slowly but surely coming into his own. He's due for a breakout game one of these days. His backcourt compadre is Trever Cooney, the latest "white guy on Syracuse who seems to only shoot threes." That's still kinda his role and he's very hit-or-miss, literally. But when he hits, look out.

3) Biggest team strength?

Certainly, the zone defense can stifle an opponent whose not used to it. Otherwise, Syracuse's strength is in its ability to find scoring in a couple of different ways. C.J. Fair, Trevor Cooney and Jerami Grant all seem capable of putting up 20 on any given night. And then guys like DaJuan Coleman and Tyler Ennis have proven capable of adding their own fair share.

4) Biggest team weakness?

Probably the big men. Rakeem Christmas has yet to live up to his potential and make "the leap" that most good SU big men make by this time. He's a defensive threat but an offensive liability. DaJuan Coleman seems to be coming long sooner, but he's still capable of some lapses as he figures out his game. Ironically, it's when back-up Baye Keita comes into the game that SU fans feel the most secure. The senior is the team's glue guy and seems much more capable most of the time to play an all-around game.