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A look at the Gophers non-con basketball schedule

It’s not exactly a challenging non-conference slate, but it’s great for team building, probably.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Northwestern
Ben Johnson is hoping the Gophers can come out of the non-conference season unscathed.
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it’s probably not the schedule you ask for, but I guess it’s the one we will go to war with. There aren’t any big-time non-conference matchups this year, unless you get excited about Virginia Tech. The Gophers haven’t been invited to a marquee holiday tournament in a minute either, which means fewer opportunities against some bigger-time teams. This year is no different, as they are playing in the SoCal Challenge, which features Cal Baptist, UNLV and Southern Illinois as potential opponents. A sprinkling of inter-conference events means a few major opponents, but the amount of KenPom 300-plus (5) teams is going to be a metrics drag if they find themselves in the bubble conversation.

But I digress! Let’s take a look at the opponents on the docket and see which of these we should expect the Gophers to beat.

Western Michigan Broncos

KenPom ranking: 268
Last year’s record: 8-23, 4-16 (MAC)

The Broncos finished dead last in the MAC last year and are predicted to be near the bottom again this year. They have a new head coach who is in his first season after leaving Michigan State, where he was an assistant. Lamar Norman Jr. is a guy to worry about as he led the MAC in scoring last year after transferring into the conference and is a great outside shooter. Still, the Broncos don’t appear to pose a huge threat.

Will the Gophers win? Yes.

St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers

KenPom ranking: 346
Last year’s record: 10-20, 7-11 (NEC)

The Terriers finished in the middle of the pack of the Northeast Conference last year and are expected to again this year. Sadly, SFC has never made the NCAA Tournament and it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon. They got ravaged last year when their best player decided to transfer, and didn’t get anything going in a 10-20 season. They were a very inefficient team last year on both sides of the ball and are still searching for an identify.

Will the Gophers win? Yes.

DePaul Blue Demons

KenPom ranking: 88
Last year’s record: 15-16, 6-14 (Big East)

Minnesota will face DePaul as part of the Gavitt Games, which they haven’t taken part of since 2018. The Demons got out of the Big East basement last year for the first time in seven seasons after a surprising start and a few conference wins. However, they lost their top three scorers from last year’s team, including a second-team All-Big East player. They had to hit the transfer portal pretty hard. It’s a very winnable game against a team picked to, once again, finish in the conference cellar.

Will the Gophers win? They will be morning line favorites

Central Michigan Chippewas

KenPom ranking: 303
Last year’s record: 7-23, 6-12 (MAC)

Another 300-plus KenPom team comes through the Barn doors, and it’s another directional school from the MAC. The Chips finished 8th in the conference last year and are slated for a similar finish this year.

Will the Gophers win? Yes.

Cal Baptist Lancers

KenPom ranking: 148
Last year’s record: 18-16, 7-11 (WAC)

Minnesota faces CBU and then one of either Southern Illinois (KP: 90) or UNLV (KP: 118) as part of the SoCal Challenge. The Lancers are finally full-fledged members of Division I, having finished their four-year transition and are a decent team out of the WAC with postseason aspirations. They have an NBA prospect in Taran Armstrong.

Will the Gophers win? It’s going to be a tight win.

Virginia Tech Hokies

KenPom ranking: 21
Last year’s record: 23-13, 11-9 (ACC)

Minnesota draws a road game against Virginia Tech as part of the ACC-B1G Challenge. The Hokies probably feel like they deserve a slightly more respected opponent after turning their season around with an upset ACC Tournament championship. They lost a lot of scoring from last year, but Tech is a deep, veteran team that will be difficult to beat.

Will the Gophers win: Unlikely.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

KenPom ranking: 51
Last year’s record: 18-16, 8-10 (SEC)

Mississippi State comes to Minneapolis for the back half of a home-and-home, which the Gophers took first blood in last season. Since then the Bulldogs have a new coach in Chris Jans, who just took New Mexico State to the NCAA Tournament. Miss State is expected to finish in the back half of the SEC, but would be a nice major-conference pick-up if the Gophers and complete the sweep.

Will the Gophers win? It’s a toss-up.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions

KenPom ranking: 361
Last year’s record: 7-24, 5-13 (SWAC)

Things aren’t good in Pine Bluff. The Lions have one of the nation’s worst defenses and lost five of their top six scorers from last year, including an all-conference guard. They rank as one of the worst teams in basketball this year.

Will the Gophers win? Yes.

Chicago State Cougars

KenPom ranking: 359
Last year’s record: 7-29, 3-15 (WAC)

Chicago State has been one of the worst teams in college basketball for a while now and are just one of two independent teams after they left the WAC. Due to being independent, they only have eight total home games this year. While they have a recent history of futility, they may be on the slightest up-and-up after landing two impact transfers. They still don’t post much of a threat.

Will the Gophers win? Yes.

Alcorn State Braves

KenPom ranking: 334
Last year’s record: 17-17, 14-4 (SWAC)

The Gophers will face their third straight 300-plus ranked team when the Braves arrive. Alcorn State won the SWAC regular season title last year and looks to be in the mix to win it again this year. Still, this is a game Minnesota should be expected to win.

Will the Gophers win? Yes.

Overall, Minnesota has a good chance to come out of the non-conference season with a pretty good record. Even their games against major conference opponents are winnable. It’s just too bad they had to fill several spots with such metrically-bad teams.