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Minnesota Basketball: Time to Start Getting Excited About Gopher Hoops

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NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Minnesota Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The last time many of you were paying attention to Gopher basketball they were in the midst of possibly the worst season of our collective lifetimes, looking utterly lost against Big Ten competition and enjoying a PR nightmare with the Twitter video scandal. It was ugly. There was promise of additional talent and hope that the team would be better in 2016-17. Personally, I was skeptical and I don’t think I was alone.

Well, we are 5 games into the 2016-17 season, one is a mid-major projected to win their conference and we’ve faced two teams from a power-5 conference including one that is supposedly going to be talented enough to sneak into the NCAA Tournament. The Gophers have won all five games and it has been convincingly.

I’m here to say that you can officially begin to be excited about this Gopher basketball team. Not only are they winning but this team is legitimately fun to watch. They are talented at multiple positions, they have some pop off the bench and they appear to be having some fun on the floor, which is getting contagious for the fans at the Barn.

But you can start to enjoy Gopher Basketball again and here’s why.

Unselfish and Balanced Scoring

This team has four guys scoring in double-figures per game and any of the top 7 are capable of having a big night in the box score. In each of the five games this year there have been at least five guys in double figures. Of the seven guys who are getting the majority of the minutes. It could come from anywhere and this team doesn’t seem to care who it is. Amir Coffey scores 10 one game and 30 the next. Jordan Murphy meandered to 6 points in the season opening game but has been in double figures ever since.

They currently rank 4th in the Big Ten with just over 17 assists per game. They have some depth and talent at every position, as opposed to the last couple of years where guys were playing out of position and depth was a major issue. But we have a PG, we have shooters, we have a talented wing, we have a PF, a true center and big man off the bench who can play either. Balanced.

Point is, this team has some scoring options and they play unselfishly.

Amir Coffey (and Eric Curry too)

Of the seven guys getting the majority of minutes, four of them were not playing a year ago. But two of them are a couple of exciting freshmen.

We all were hoping that Amir Coffey would live up to the 4-star ranking, and he has. The kid is savvy, has a great basketball IQ, can pass and he can score. He can pass, he can dribble, he can rebound, he can shoot...he just does so much, so well. He’s everything advertised and probably more. And he’s a local kid who may very well be leading this team in scoring as a true freshman.

But don’t forget about Eric Curry who is a steal of a recruit. He was “just” a three-star recruit who didn’t have a lot of offers. But this true freshman the key big man off the bench, making 86% of his free throws, blocking shots and not fouling in the process. Currently averaging 8 points, 6 rebounds and 23 minutes per game. This kid is fun to watch and

3M (Mason, Murphy, McBrayer)

The newcomers are fun and have injected some life into this program. But the returning core of Nate Mason at point, DePree McBrayer at shooting guard and Jordan Murphy at power forward are really a huge reason why this team is showing some consistency.

Mason is the floor leader, Murphy is a stud in the paint and McBrayer is the team’s best perimeter defender who is shooting better. The four additions to this year’s team are huge, but these three are the core. They combine for 37.2 of the team’s 85 points. Mason’s leadership, McBryer’s defense and Murphy’s toughness are going to be the reason this team succeeds or not.

They Are Having Fun

Last year was painful to watch and it was clear throughout the season that they just weren’t having any fun. This team is different. They are much more up-tempo and they are smiling a lot on the floor.

That is contagious and it has been picked up by the fans at The Barn. This team is having fun, they are fun to watch and now is the time to start getting to know them.

BUT...

I will let the governor kick in here and temper your my excitement just a little bit. This team is not winning the Big Ten, nor will they be a Final Four threat. What I’m saying here is that this team is much better than it was a year ago, they are really fun to watch and they have a chance to win a lot more games. If things go back south or when they struggle it will possibly be for one of these two reasons.

Defense Against a Team that Really Executes on Offense

There are some areas where this team needs some significant work, particularly on defense. Most of the teams we have played thus far are teams that like to get out and run, without an offense that is structured and well-executed. When we face a more disciplined team that has an objective to put our defense out of position so they can exploit it, I fear we will be exposed. That includes many of the teams we’ll face in the Big Ten (Michigan State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa

Depth is a Little Concern

We are 7 deep. After that it gets to Matthew Hurt and Ahmed Gilbert, both of whom are fine and have had their moments for the team this year. But if you have to count on these guys for 12-16 minutes per game, you will see diminishing returns. Depth may be a real issue if we see any injuries to one of those seven guys for any significant time. Depth is much better than it was, the talent floor is much higher than it was; but we need to stay healthy to compete in the Big Ten.

——-

This team is really fun to watch this year (have I said that yet?) and it exciting. Are they going to be a top 15 team? Are they going to finish in the top 4 of the Big Ten? No. But are they going to be able to beat anybody on any given night? Yes. Are they going to be good enough to get themselves into the NCAA Tournament? Maybe, and that’s a lot more than I would have said a few weeks ago.

The bandwagon is going to fill up, get on now. This team is worth your time. Get on board now cause this season will be fun (and spoiler alert: next year they might be REALLY good when they add another PG and a really good shooter).

Welcome back Gopher Basketball!