Minnesota Men’s Basketball has now released their full schedule for the upcoming season. The Gophers will play a compressed Big Ten schedule, though unlike other Big Ten teams will not be playing two early Big Ten games in December. Instead, they will play Rutgers and Nebraska.* What can we expect from this year’s slate?
First, Minnesota clearly believes (correctly in our view) that they will be a tournament team. How else to explain a non-conference schedule that provides at this time very little bump to the SoS. That is not to say that there are not potentially good games aginst good teams. Arkansas on the road, Miami at home, Alabama at home, and Providence all provide the potential for good wins. The same cannot be said about the rest of the schedule. You can mentally copy and paste the following keys to the game for every other game on the schedule.
- No one get injured.
Sure Harvard is on the schedule, and could be a little trappy, but the rest of this schedule is on paper terrible. Seven teams were ranked below 240 in KenPom last year. That’s not beneficial to the strength of schedule.
Why then make the non-conference this way? One reason is that the schedule is unlikely to be as big of a help to the team’s tournament aspirations. Pitino can clearly put together a hard schedule-see last year as an example-so the decision to play dregs is clearly somewhat calculated. Another reason is that other teams have less of a desire to play Minnesota and get whooped. Last year, a decent mid or low major team was more likely to take the chance.
As was mentioned in the last post on this, the schedule this year is compressed. Last year, that may have been more challenging because the team was young, coming off a terrible year, and needed the practice time. This year the entire rotation returns with the exception of Akeem Springs. Practice time should be less of a problem this year. Additionally, the team’s recruitment of Isaiah Washington will be very helpful to Nate Mason. Last year, Mason played too many minutes because there was not a quality second option at the 1. If Michael Hurt and Bakary Konate can show improvement, the Gophers could very easily have a strong nine man rotation. This will allow them to win games while not overplaying key players, essential for down the stretch. I predict that the bench minutes will be the difference in this being a special season or a ho-hum record.
The Big Ten schedule starts well for the Gophers. They get to play multiple teams with new coaches early in the season, and play Rutgers and Nebraska. In order to win the Big Ten, the Gophers will likely have to start the season 6-1 or 7-0 heading into the Maryland game. After playing Maryland the Gophers have a neutral site game against Ohio State at Madison Square Garden because $$$$$. It is entirely conceivable that the Gophers have at least 8 wins heading into the back half of the season.
They will need all of those wins as well because the second half of the schedule is a bear. Minnesota finishes the season with three of their final five games on the road. There are pros and cons here. The con is obvious. With a compressed TV schedule, that’s a lot of traveling in late February. The pro is that the Gophers have a chance to majorly improve their seeding with another late February run. It is unlikely that the Gophers will have a similar run as last season, but the team can impress the committee late.
If you are a fan wanting to go to three games, I would pick Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State. All three will play an interesting style of basketball, and the Gophers’ record against these three teams will be an excellent barometer of how far Minnesota can go in the Tournament.
*Yes, this is a joke. Rutgers and Nebraska are part of the Big Ten. Please don’t get us in trouble by emailing/calling/texting/snapchatting/wechatting/whatsapping/signaling/dm-ing/etc-ing about this.