The season officially tips off on Monday. The Gophers will open the 2022-23 season next week against Western Michigan. So next week we will quickly get into the meat of the season and you will get to watch Gopher basketball into March.
Tonight is the exhibition game. Every season they face a local, lower-level team on the Williams Arena floor. This year it is a unique homecoming of sorts as the Gophers are facing St. Olaf. The Oles have been led by Coach Dan Kosmoski for 29 years. Before taking the head job in Northfield, Coach Koz was an assistant coach for the Gophers under Clem Haskins.
Personal Note: I’m glad there will be up to date photos in the program for tonight’s exhibition game with @StOlafMBB for the coaches. Will be different not sitting next to one another on the same bench with my friend “Koz” in The Barn. #TrueFriends pic.twitter.com/nealJz0n2i— Coach Dave Thorson (@GrindersWinDT) November 2, 2022
As a young, Minnesota kid who attended Clem’s basketball camp, I remember Koz as a younger assistant who made us learn the Rouser and sing it in the courtyard before we were allowed to go get breakfast. I’ve also been fortunate enough to sit on the opposite bench several times to watch him and his Oles.
Tonight, the Oles are going to lose. The Gophers are not a great team this year, but they are facing an Ole squad that finished 5th in the MIAC last season and is not going to be capable of taking down, even a weak, Big Ten team.
BUT, there are things we can learn from the game tonight. There are many questions we have around this team and tonight is when we can begin to see some answers.
1 - What will be the starting lineup? And what does the rotation look like?
This may change, of course. But with so many new faces, the actual starting lineup and who comes off the bench to contribute is going to be interesting. The consensus opinion is that we know who starts at PG and PF. Ta’Lon Cooper is the transfer who is very likely going to be the primary point. And Jamison Battle is a lock to start, likely at PF. But did Carrington earn the spot at SG? They are really high on Josh Ola-Joseph and Pharrel Payne, do either of them sneak into the starting lineup? Dawson Garcia would seem to be the most likely starting center, but maybe things get shuffled around.
2 - What are we going to get from Cooper at PG?
This is going to be hugely critical to the team’s success this year. Peyton Willis has a fantastic senior season and was an extension of Ben Johnson on the floor. He was also a Big Ten-caliber scorer. Now we have Cooper, a transfer from Morehead State. Is he going to be a Big Ten-caliber point?
3 - Offensive reliance on the three.
We shot the three pretty well last year and we were roughly in the top quarter of teams in terms of % of points that came from made threes. Gone are Willis and Elijah Stephens who both shot well from three. Those guys are being replaced with some really big unknowns.
Conversely, this team may have an advantage on the interior with Garcia, Payne, Battle, Thompson and maybe even Kadyn Betts. Does the offensive strategy shift a little? And if not, if we are going to run an offense that shoots a lot of threes, do we have guys who can make them?
4 - What do we get from the freshmen?
It is a big freshman class and it needs to be a good one. There are questions around all of them, but maybe the second biggest key to the Gophers showing dramatic improvement from last year is a breakout season from one of the freshmen (or a couple of them, if I’m being greedy).
Carrington, Payne and Ola-Joseph are the most likely candidates. And maybe none of them are true breakouts, but maybe all three of them are just “good.”
Tonight we will learn a little more about them and how much they’ll be relied upon to contribute.