Welcome to Gopher Basketball 2014-15! This year there is no easing into the schedule, no low-major opponent or two to work out the kinks before potentially a ranked opponent at a Thanksgiving Tournament. Nope, the season tips off with a top-10 opponent, a premier college basketball program against a Hall of Fame coach who just happens to be the father of our coach.
The plan here at TDG is to use this new format to preview Gopher basketball games. The intent is for this to give you three points about the game. Something simple and short, but hopefully valuable to you as you prepare for the game. Three quick points is all you'll get, but first a few facts.
Opponent: Louisville Cardinals
Game Time: 6:30 CST
1. The Backcourt
Yes, this is a VERY broad category and point about tonight's game but there is just so much I'm anxious to see and learn about our backcourt. I want to see a healthy Andre Hollins and what he can do against elite competition. The team leader and exciting scorer was a bit dinged up much of last year and I am excited to see him healthy once again. But he's not the only thing I'll be watching closely in the backcourt tonight.
Can Deandre Matthieu limit his turnovers? The lightning-quick point guard has little trouble getting penetration and I expect he will contribute double-digit points for the season. But can he cut down on his turnovers to give us more chances to score. Particularly against a really good Louisville backcourt, keeping his turnovers in check will be a big deal. Watching him up against Chris Jones and Quentin Snider is going to be one of the highlights of the night for me.
And finally much has been made of the offensive improvements from Daquein McNeil and I'm very intrigued. It is not uncommon for a sophomore to be much more confident and aggressive after getting a taste of things during their freshman year. If the reports are accurate, not only is Day Day playing with confidence but he has added an element of being dangerous on the offensive end of the floor. The kid can defend, if he can score then get used to see him on the floor an awful lot.
2. The Newcomers
Related to #1 for the most part but not entirely. This incoming class is bringing four fresh faces to the team and all expect to play a role. I am most excited to see Nate Mason off the bench with his quickness and scoring ability. I'm afraid he has become my favorite player and I haven't even watched him play one possession. I will have to re-evaluate after tonight.
Carlos Morris is likely to get the start at SF and replace most of the minutes lost by Austin Hollins. I am very curious to see how he fits into the offense and what he brings to the table on both ends. I have never hidden my excited for Mason but Morris is going to be integral to the team's success.
In the frontcourt we have a couple guys who expect to get minutes but their actual impact is kind of a mystery. Josh Martin at power forward and Bakary Konate in the paint are both guys with upside but it will be interesting to see what kind of minutes they get in these early games.
3. The Opponent
Not very often you open the season against a team that legitimately is a Final Four contender. And we are getting prime-time coverage on national TV. Louisville has outstanding players highlighted by Montrezl Harrell and then of course a quick and explosive backcourt. They might be under-ranked at #8 in the country and we will most certainly have our hands full. Harrell being defended by Joey King is not a great match up for us and should be of great concern. I take a little comfort in the fact that Minnesota will be starting a couple of senior guards who should be capable of handling the Cardinal pressure. But it will come in waves and will be relentless.
After Harrell watch out for sophomore Terry Rozier who looks to be the next "special" guard in the Rick Pitino system. He may lead the team in scoring this season.
And have you heard that the Cardinals are coached by Richard Pitino's father? I guess that makes for an interesting plot line before the game.
This is a tough one for the Gophers at this stage in the program's overhaul. I like the makeup of this team and I believe this will be an entertaining game, but Louisville is the better team. If the Gophers mitigate turnovers, hit threes at a decent clip and are able to keep Harrell from dominating the boards we have a good chance. And accomplishing those three feats is not a crazy thought. The turnovers are my biggest fear. I do not anticipate that our press will be particularly effective but if/when we drop back into the halfcourt I think our bigs can defend well and offensively it is entirely possible that we hit a high percentage from behind the arc.
Can it happen? Yes. But I'm not willing to call it. Louisville wins by 11.