Minnesota defeated Green Bay 99-69 to open the season at Williams Arena. If you were nonpartisan, then this game had everything: dunks, alley-oops, heinous three-point shooting, a brief foray into extreme stupidity on both ends of the floor, an All-Big 10 PG, and at the end just missing triple digits.
I will not go in-depth on the flow of the game other than to say that Minnesota beat the tar out of Green Bay in the first half, forgot how to play for about 14 minutes of the second, and then remembered how to play to comfortably stroll to a 30 point win. The most important takeaway from this game is that the Gophers won, and no one was injured.
Marcus Carr opened his account with a strong performance on both ends of the floor. In 30 minutes of play, Carr had 35 points on 12-22 shooting, was a perfect 7-7 from the free-throw line, and dished out 4 assists. On defense, he picked up 6 defensive boards (plus 1 on offense for good measure). At some point this year, Carr will get a triple-double. The three TOs are a bit high, but the first game of the season is the first game of the season.
Liam Robbins is very tall. Brandon Johnson is very tall. Both Gach is very long and pretty tall. The three transfers put up 20 combined points, and nearly all fouled out, so they will fit right into a Minnesota frontcourt. Robbins can definitely fill in as a rim protector, especially when the Big Ten rolls around the ticky-tack foul calls disappear in the post against any team not named Wisconsin. Johnson will likely take the starting four spot over and appears to be a grinder with some ability to put the ball on the floor. Gach is wonderfully athletic and a slasher first at the three. Returner Isaiah Ihnen put in a solid 22 minutes and went 2-5 from distance. The sophomore is more comfortable on the defensive end, and he remains my pick for most likely to have a breakout season.
Jamal Mashburn Jr. had a smooth 14 minutes with 5 points and 2 assists, and a steal to one turnover. From a talent perspective, it will be hard to get Marcus Carr off the floor. Still, the sooner Mashburn gets comfortable running the offense as the backup, the sooner Carr can play 28-30 minutes instead of 40 minutes a night.
Pieces to have is a primary takeaway for me from this game. Minnesota was without both Tre Williams and David Mutaf for undisclosed reasons leaving the backcourt depth rating incomplete. The frontcourt runs at least two-deep at every position. Mike Grimm relayed on the radio broadcast that Richard Pitino slimmed down the playbook but demanded that every player on the team be able to take over any other position. In the frontcourt, that seems eminently plausible. Color me skeptical that Liam Robbins is going to be an elite PG.
As my blogging compatriot Zips pointed out, there is a lot to like about this team, but they will go nowhere if Gabe Kalscheur continues to be broken from distance. Marcus Carr is the best player on the team. I think that Kalscheur is the most important. Tonight, Kalscheur was just 1-8 from behind the arc. That is concerning given the struggles from last year. From the view from my couch, Minnesota will be at their best in a slash heavy offense. For that strategy to work, there needs to be one (or two!) shooters who will constrain weakside helpers from sagging inside. Kalscheur can do a lot on a basketball court even without making three-pointers. The Gophers will not reach their ceiling if he continues to be cold from distance.
Minnesota next plays on Saturday against Loyola Marymount in the first game of a back to back with, checks notes, Loyola Marymount.