The full slate for the 2016-2017 edition of men's Minnesota Golden Gopher basketball was officially released yesterday. While we knew certain pieces of the puzzle from previous announcements, this release gives Gopher fans the entire slate of games, including the dates for the Big Ten tournament and Big Ten Network games for the non-conference schedule. Below are a few notes on the schedule:
- The Gophers have four major conference opponents in the non-conference schedule, including St. John's and Arkansas at Williams Arena, Florida State for what seems like our annual trip to Tallahassee, and Vanderbilt at the Sanford Pentagon (aka our new home away from home). While none of these teams will be mistaken for world beaters in 2016-2017, it will be nice for the young Gophers to get a look at major conference talent before they plunged into the brutal Big Ten at the end of December.
- Minnesota will be challenged with playing home-and-homes against the likes of Michigan State, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Ohio State. The only relatively "bad" team the Gophers will play twice during conference play is Penn State. The other four teams have high expectations for the coming season so Coach Pitino will have his hands full trying to improve upon last year's record.
- The Big Ten Tournament will be held in Washington D.C. for the first time in its history. I am on record as saying that the ideal place for this event is Indianapolis and the fact that the BTT will be in DC and New York in the future is a foolish money grab on the part of Delaney and the other conference cronies. But it is what it is. Maybe some folks can watch the Gophers get bounced in the first round and then tour the Mall the rest of the time and make a weekend out of it.
- Due to the youth of the squad, the lack of experience in the back court (besides Nate Mason), and the questions surrounding the front court and the folks patrolling the sidelines for the Gophers, it's highly unlikely that any conference game (and most non-conference games) on this schedule will be gimmes. Based on what we saw last year, we can only hope that the general talent upgrade across the squad will allow Minnesota to improve upon two conference victories and eight overall.
The conference slate won't do any favors to a team that is coming off of it's worst season in decades. The Big Ten is never easy but doubling up on preseason favorites Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Maryland is going to make Pitino's job similar to attempting to navigate a minefield. The slightly more challenging non-conference schedule than usual might allow the youth on the roster to mature at a faster rate, or it could make the overall record another ugly sight for Gopher fans. Only time will tell.