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Breaking Down the Non-Conference Basketball Schedule

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The Vancouver Showcase, B1G/ACC Challenge and a U.S. Bank tilt highlight this year’s pre-conference lineup

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

We’re less than a month away from the opening game of the 2018-19 basketball season (Nov. 6 at home against Omaha), and the schedule is locked and loaded. We couldn’t say that just a few weeks ago, when Minnesota’s holiday tournament, the Vancouver Showcase, didn’t even have clarity on which teams the Gophers would face as part of the contest, but that’s been resolved.

So where are we at? Early indications are that the Gophers have a non-conference schedule difficulty that falls somewhere in the middle. It’s not the hardest one in the land, but it’s certainly not the softest.

Buzz King did some legwork in ranking the non-conference schedules of all Power 6 teams, and ranked the Gophers 43rd out of 75. Not too bad. For comparison, that makes it the 10th hardest schedule in the Big Ten, ahead of Iowa, Northwestern, Rutgers and Michigan.

The Games

The Opener
The Gophers start things off on Nov. 6 against the Omaha Mavericks. Omaha was a late addition to the schedule but is a regular visitor to Williams Arena, having been here in 2013 and 2015. They gave Minnesota a run for their money in 2015, taking the Gophers to the wire in a 93-90 loss. This year the Mavs are expected to finish in the bottom third of the Summit League, but could push for middle of the pack with a bunch of returning starters.

The Power-6 Home-and-Home
After that the Gophers stay at home to kick off the front end of a home-and-home series with Utah. The Runnin’ Utes lost in the NIT championship game last year, but lost four of their five starters. Utah is picked to finish 7th in the Pac-12, but with a couple of high-profile JUCO transfers, they could end up the top four — right around where they’ve been the past few seasons. It’s a decent home-and-home series with Power 6 conference foe.

The Tournament
From there Minnesota heads west for its holiday “tournament,” the Vancouver Showcase. Originally an eight-team event with two four-team brackets, the event ran into scheduling troubles and had to ditch bracket format and switch to a four-team round robin. That actually benefits the Gophers, who are are now guaranteed a game against Washington, the best team in the field. Along with the Huskies, the Gophers get games against Santa Clara (meh) and a down Texas A&M squad, which could make for a nifty trip out west if things fall right.

The B1G/ACC Challenge
After Vancouver it’s the annual date with an ACC foe as part of the B1G/ACC Challenge. This year the Gophers get to go on the road against Boston College (hey, not Virginia Tech or Florida State!). Any road game against a power conference opponent is difficult, and the Eagles are no exception. They were an NIT team last year and beat Duke, Syracuse and Clemson at home. The Gophers should have their hands full.

The Neutral Site Game
Before the stupid new two-game conference intermission against Ohio State and Nebraska, the Gophers take on Oklahoma State at a “neutral site” game at U.S. Bank Stadium, which should be interesting. While the Cowboys don’t look to be any sort of threat in the Big 12, hosting a neutral site game in your backyard should at least feel like something of a home game.

The Rest
After that, it’s a string of cupcakes against Arkansas State, North Florida, North Carolina A&T, and Mount St. Mary’s. While North Florida is a sleeper Atlantic Sun championship contender and NC A&T won 20 games last year, none of the games should be close.