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Minnesota Basketball: Non-Conference Preview

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There are a few highlights, but it’s not what we’re used to

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Northwestern Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Well, everybody. It’s here. Can you believe it? The Gophers kick off the regular season on Friday against the hated USC Upstate Spartans, which will usher in one of the most anticipated seasons in recent memory. Minnesota is ranked #15 in both national polls and expectations are high, as the team has its sights set on being at the top of the conference. But before we get to conference play (it’s ridiculously early this year), there are few land mines the Gophers must navigate in the non-conference season.

This year’s non-conference slate has a different feel than recent years. In past seasons the coaches have done a great job of bringing in teams that toe the line of being beatable (always a plus), but end up with a respectable RPI and compete in the conference. Think Coastal Carolina.

Now, those teams aren’t a dime a dozen, so it takes some finesse and strategy to build a non-conference slate that can actually help your postseason seeding prospects. The Gophers had become quite adept at that in recent years. You never want to be in Iowa’s boat where they schedule terrible teams and then find themselves in bad shape come tournament seeding time.

This year? There’s only so much lipstick for this pig.The non-conference slate can be largely divided into “crap” and “wow, that would be a nice win” and the latter encompasses only four or five games. That means the vast majority of the non-conference schedule won’t do a thing for the team except present the opportunity for a humiliating loss or an injury.

However, with the Gophers hopefully nowhere near the bubble by the time the season ends, I guess they don’t need to spend as much energy building a sexy resume. Of course, you want to schedule as many good teams as you can, but here we are. Just beat the creampuffs and take care of business in the Big Ten.

That said, let’s take a look.

Cream of the Crop:

Miami Hurricanes (home)

For the first time since the Big Ten and ACC got together to form The Challenge, the Gophers aren’t playing Florida State, Clemson or Virginia Tech. Okay, maybe not really. The Gophers finally have a prime slot and will face the #12 Hurricanes. On paper it’s a good matchup. The ‘Canes lost their two best defenders from last year and need to prove they can shoot the three. Couple that with this game being at The Barn on national TV and we have a very intriguing early season contest.

Alabama Crimson Tide (neutral site)

The Tide is sneaky, so this will be an interesting neutral court matchup as part of the Barclays Center Classic. Avery Johnson has taken Alabama to back-to-back NIT appearances and added a top-10 recruiting class (including two 5-star recruits), so you know they’re coming. They’re a tenacious defensive team, but they can’t score. This could be a game that ends with both teams in the 50s.

Providence Friars (road)

The Gophers don’t waste any time this year before heading out on the road for their one true away game of the non-conference schedule. This one is part of the Gavitt Games, which pits Big East teams against Big Ten teams for eight games each season with four games being played at a Big East school and the other four at a Big Ten school. Providence is in the “others receiving votes” category to start the season and should be a tough out in their home gym. It’s a great early test for a veteran Gopher squad who can set the tone in the second game of the season.

Arkansas Razorbacks (road)

That’s right, another true road game. This time it’s the back half of a home-and-home the Gophers miraculously scheduled with a real live BCS opponent. Minnesota punched the Hogs in the mouth last year early on in a 14-point win, but heading out to Fayetteville is an entirely different story. The Gophers will be coming off two early conference games, which will make this one feel weird and maybe slightly less important. They’ll have to dig deep mentally to pull it off.

Just ... No One Get Hurt

Harvard Crimson

Projected to be one of the better teams in the Ivy, but that’s all relative. Probably the best opportunity for a home-court upset.

Massachusetts Minutemen

This is not the UMass of old. This the UMass of now. It’ll be on a neutral court as the other half of the Barclay Center Classic games, which gives the Minutemen a better chance. Still, the Gophers should roll.

Niagara Purple Eagles

They return all five of their starters, but are still picked to finish in the middle of the MAAC.

Drake Bulldogs

Remember that one year Drake won the Missouri Valley, was a 5 seed and won 28 games? That was a long time ago. They’re projected to finish in the conference basement again this year.

Oral Roberts Golden Eagles

The Eagles failed to make the Summit League conference tournament last year, and prospects aren’t improving for the program this year either.

Western Carolina Catamounts

They have a guy named Haboubacar Mutombo. Not related to Dikembe. Still, the Cats are projected near the bottom of the SoCon. The one thing I remember about WCU was when they almost upset Purdue as a 16 seed in 1996.

USC Upstate Spartans

Upstate actually made the postseason last year. Granted, it was the CIT, but it still counts. KenPom hates the Spartans, but that’s probably because they’re a middle of the road A-Sun team.

Florida Atlantic Owls

Apparently FAU’s rival is Florida International. Do you think that’s because they have unusual directions after the state name? Seems convenient. When they play each other in football it’s called the Shula Bowl. FAU is not good, by the way.

Alabama A&M Aggies

Boy, this keeps getting worse. Did you know that the Aggies are ranked as the second-worst team in the entire nation? 350th. We can do better than this, guys.