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Minnesota Men’s Basketball: Breaking down the Gophers’ non-conference schedule

Minnesota will play between 5 and 7 non-con games

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Minnesota David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

The Gophers released their 2020-21 schedule today, revealing their non-conference slate in the process. While there were rumors of what would be included it appeared to pan out the way most people thought it would, with scheduled games against Green Bay, Boston College, North Dakota, Kansas City and Saint Louis. Notably absent from the schedule was the multi-team event (MTE) that had been teased along the way, which was supposed to include Eastern Washington and Loyola Marymount. No word yet on if that will happen or not.

Understanding that this entire season is contingent on working around COVID-19 outbreaks and unforeseen circumstances we can try to break down the non-con season as best we can. Here’s what to look for:

Green Bay Phoenix | Nov. 25

The Phoenix finished third in the Horizon League last year but return just one starter from the team that was bounced in the conference tournament semifinals. That player, though, is the reigning Horizon Freshman of the Year, Amari Davis, who averaged nearly 16 ppg and 4 rpg and broke Green Bay’s freshman scoring record. He’ll be a handful.

Oh, and Green Bay’s coach is Bo Ryan’s son, Will, who is in his first year at the Division I level. Let’s give him a warm welcome.

The Phoenix are expected to be a middle-lower tier Horizon League team and begin the season ranked #266 in KenPom. Minnesota should roll in this one.

Eastern Washington Eagles | Nov. 28 (Minnesota MTE)

Will the Minnesota MTE even happen? Hard to say. EMU’s website says they are scheduled to play Washington State on Nov. 28, but LMU’s says they are playing EMU on Nov. 29 as part of the “Minnesota MTE”. OH WHO TO BELIEVE? Let’s just pretend that this happens.

EMU won last year’s Big Sky regular season championship and was poised to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005 before COVID-19 ruined everything. They return a ton of firepower from that team, coming into 2020 as the team to beat in the Big Sky once again. That makes them one of the tougher opponents on the non-conference docket for the Gophers.

Redshirt senior Jacob Davison (18.4 ppg) led the team in the scoring last year and is the best player on the team, and perhaps the conference. Pair him with returning redshirt junior forward Kim Aiken Jr. (13.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg) and you’ve got a veteran mid-major duo. The Eagles are a veteran squad, which is always a dangerous thing to add to your schedule.

Loyola Marymount Lions | Nov. 30 (Minnesota MTE)

A perennial bottom feeder in the West Coast Conference, the Lions are once again not expected to do much in a conference annually dominated by Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. It’s the first year for coach Stan Johnson, who returns just one starter from last year’s team. However, that one player is Eli Scott, a senior forward checking in at 6-6, 245 lbs. One of the conference’s better scorers, Scott has the opportunity to end up on the All-WCC team when it’s all said and one. Still, the Gophers should have no trouble with LMU should this game come to pass.

North Dakota Fighting Hawks | Dec. 4

The F’n Hawks nearly made a Cinderella run to the NCAA Tournament last year, losing in the conference championship and falling short against NDSU. But that masked what was a pretty bad season in a pretty bad conference. The Hawks lose their All-Summit standout guard but will go to bat with a relatively good front court. Junior forward Filip Rebraca averaged in double figures last season and grabbed nearly 9 boards per night, while De’Sean Allen-Eikens returns after a strong freshman season.

Now, will that hold up against Liam Robbins and Brandon Johnson? Probably not. The Hawks are expected to be a middle-of-the-road team in the Summit, which probably also means another win for the Gophers.

Boston College Eagles | Dec. 8 (Big Ten/ACC Challenge)

Ah, finally, a major conference opponent. Oh, and a new one for the B1G/ACC Challenge at that! The Gophers will host BC in what was one of the first truly “confirmed” games of the young season.

Are the Gophers matched up appropriately with Boston College? I feel like this pairing was made before Liam Robbins and Both Gach were granted immediate eligibility, which theoretically bumps the Gophers up a couple .... you know what? Not this year.

The Eagles are picked to finish near the bottom of the ACC a year after finishing 13-19 overall. Wynston Tabbs is back after missing last year with a leg injury. The standout freshman was averaging nearly 14 ppg two years ago before he got hurt, and the Eagles haven’t really been the same since. As he shakes off the rust he’ll pair with sophomore Jay Heath, a sharpshooting guard who averaged 13.1 ppg in his freshman season.

It’ll be a good challenge for Minnesota, who was hit and miss last year against major non-conference opponents, so maybe we should set our sights a bit lower.

Kansas City Kangaroos | Dec. 10

The Roos join the Summit League after coming from [checks notes] the WAC? Whatever.

UMKC loses four starters from last season’s decent WAC performance (where they almost beat league bully New Mexico State on multiple occasions) so it’s going to be an uphill battle, especially with the increase in league competition. The Roos are led by WAC All-Defensive member Brandon McKissic, who is the BMOC. He did it all last year, averaging 11 ppg, 2 rpg, 3 apg, 1.3 spg, and shooting 37% from three point range. Is that enough to topple the Gophers? Probably not.

Saint Louis Billikens | Dec. 20

Here we go. You might look at “Saint Louis” and think, so what? But the Billikens come into the season ranked 45th in KenPom and return all five of last year’s starters from a team that nearly handed Dayton its only conference loss and finished 4th in the A-10. This year? They’re in the running to win the whole conference.

Senior guard Jordan Goodwin leads the way and is plastered across the country on watch lists for things like the Jerry West Award (top shooting guard) and A-10 Player of the Year. Yeah, he’s good. He averaged a double-double last year (15 and 10) and might’ve been the A-10 POTY if it weren’t for a guy named Obi Toppin.

Also watch out for senior wing Javonte Perkins, who averaged 15 ppg last year as well and is a matchup nightmare at 6-6 and 220 lbs.

If you’re going to circle one non-con game on the calendar this year it should be this one. The Gophers will have their hands full but it should be fun.