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Minnesota Basketball: A look at the non-conference opponents

Who do the Gophers play in the non-conference and what can we expect?

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Minnesota Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

We have not talked much basketball here lately. And now we know what the non-conference schedule is going to be for Ben Johnson’s program this season.

Time for a brief look at the 11 teams we will face before jumping into the teeth of the Big Ten schedule.

Nov 7 - Western Michigan (H)

Last Season: (8-23) with 2 wins against non-D1 opponents

What to expect: Well a team that went 8-23 is not expected to turn things around and beat a Big Ten program (even one that is down) in the first game of the season.

The good news for the Broncos is that they are returning their top 3 scorers along with adding 2 grad transfers who appear like they will be immediate contributors. Tray Maddox Jr. comes from Cal-State Fullerton where he was the Titan’s 3rd leading scorer. And Tafari Simms from Milwaukee played about 20 per game and averaged 7 points. Both would seem to be transfers who will help the Broncos.

I suspect this is a Gopher win, but Western Michigan will be an improved team this year. This game will not be a resume builder and it is a must-win if the Gopher want to somehow end up on the good side of the bubble in March.

Nov 11 - St. Francis-Brooklyn (H)

Last Season: (10-20)

What to expect: The Terriers were basically the same level of bad as Western Michigan was last season. But they also had 7 players transfer out of the program this offseason. As a team, they ranked 320th if offensive efficiency and they have not had a winning record since 2015.

Again, this should be an expected win.

Nov 14 - DePaul (H) - Gavitt Games

Last Season: (15-16) with KenPom Rank of 103, just a few spots ahead of last year’s Gopher squad

What to expect: The first Power 5 opponent of the season and one who also struggled last year. The Blue Demons have essentially lost their 2nd leading scorer to transfer former Gopher Brandon Johnson to graduation.

Their additions are a 4-star PF and then three transfers. Caleb Murphy was the leading scorer for South Florida, Umoja Gibson was Oklahoma’s leading scorer and Javan Johnson who played nearly 30 min per game for Iowa State in the 2020-21 season. All three, plus the freshman, would appear to be strong additions to the Blue Demons.

I would imagine that DePaul will be better and this will be a very interesting matchup between two programs looking to take a step forward after both first-year coaches struggled in their initial seasons. I really like that this game is home for the Gophers.

Nov 18 - Central Michigan (H) - SoCal Challenge

Last Season: (7-23)

What to expect: Another directional Michigan school that was really not very good last year. Gone is 2nd leading scorer Cameron Healy and 3 other role/bench players. Incoming is Copping State’s leading scorer Jesse Zarzuela and a D2 guard.

The Chippewa’s biggest asset returning is MAC All-Freshman guard, Kevin Miller who averaged 13.1 points and 4.6 assists per game last season. But there does not appear to be much around Miller.

This will be the most certain win of the first 4 games of the season. Not remotely a help to the resume.

Nov 21 - Cal Baptist - SoCal Challenge

Last Season: (18-16) - started the season 10-3 before ending up 7-11 in the WAC.

What to expect: By my research, I see 5 incoming transfers and 4 outgoing. Forgive me if I don’t plan to spend too much time researching the ins and outs of the Lancer program. A couple P5 incoming transfers from Utah and Georgetown to go along with Joe Quintana who was the 2nd leading scorer for Loyola Marymount and shot 43% from three last season.

Now sophomore guard, Taran Armstrong was the WAC freshman of the year and the Lancers return their leading scorer, Ty Rowell.

This may be the toughest mid-major on the non-conference schedule. But also, should be a win and will not be a resume-building win.

Nov 23 - Southern Illinois/UNLV - SoCal Challenge

Last Season: SIU - 16-15, but a respectable 125 KP rank. UNLV - 18-14 with a 90 KP rank

What to expect: With SIU, the Salukis may be a formidable Missouri Valley opponent. Their record may not have been indicative of how good they were, they return their top 2 leading scorers and they’ve added 4 incoming transfers. This may be a dangerous non-conference opponent. Bryan Mullins may have his Salukis poised to make some noise in the MVC, a win over a P5 opponent may be exactly what he needs to give his team some confidence.

UNLV is also returning a lot and the Runnin’ Rebs are bringing in 6 transfers, 5 of them from a P5 school. Elijah Harkless from Oklahoma is really the only one who scored in double-figures last year, but some of those 6 will contribute and this team could be loading up to be in the mix in the Mountain West.

Either opponent will be an interesting challenge.

Nov 28 - Virginia Tech (A) - Big Ten / ACC Challenge

Last Season: (23-13) - finished 7th in the ACC but beat Clemson, Notre Dame, UNC, and Duke to win the ACC Tournament and get into the NCAA Tourney.

What to expect: It was quite a run to get from likely being on the wrong side of the bubble to an 11-seed in the Big Dance. Then the Hokies got good news that Justyn Mutts, their 2nd leading scorer, was returning to go along with an exciting incoming recruit and transfer Grant Basile.

The Hokies should be a good team, they are at home and this is likely a loss for the Gophers. But should also be a good barometer for this new Gopher squad.

Dec 11 - Mississippi State (H)

Last Season: (18-16) - losing to the Gophers at home in early December and eventually making the NIT before losing to Virginia in the first round.

What to expect: Gone are 2 of their top 3 scorers along with 7 other transfers (none being all that significant). Incoming are 4 transfers that include Albany’s leading scorer from a year ago and Oregon State’s PG who was also their 2nd leading scorer (and 5.5 ast per game).

The Bulldogs are still led by Ben Howland and you can certainly expect that they will play excellent defense.

Yet another game where I feel fortunate that this game is at The Barn. The Bulldogs are replacing some good players, the Gophers are replacing some good players and it is TBD as to which team is more improved in 2022-23.

Dec 14 - Arkansas Pine Bluff (H)

Last Season: (7-24) and ranked in the bottom 10 teams per KenPom ranking.

What to expect: This will be year 2 for coach Solomon Bozeman and the Golden Lions and last year was a rough one. A number of key pieces return, and several transfers are coming in but it still appears that this is certainly a win for the Gophers.

Dec 22 - Chicago State (H)

Last Season: (7-25) and losing 12 of their last 13 games of the season

What to expect: Yet another opposing coach who is also in just his 2nd season as a head coach, but year 2 for Gerald Gillion looks like it is going to be rough. The Cougars are losing a LOT to the transfer portal with 4 names coming in.

Typically these last couple games between the end of finals and the start of the Big Ten season are games against teams they should absolutely beat. This is one of those games.

Dec 29 - Alcorn State (H)

Last Season: (17-17) - 14-4 in conference to be regular season champs before losing in the SWAC championship game. Played Texas A&M in the NIT and lost in the first round.

What to expect: Last year’s team was balanced with 9 guys playing right around 20 min per game and all averaging in the 6-10 points per game range. The Braves were not affected much by the transfer portal this year and brought a lot of those 9 guys back. Gone is leading scorer, Justin Thomas and the rest is kind of hard to determine who still has a Covid year of eligibility or not.

So the Braves were the best team in the SWAC last year and look poised to be at or near the top of their conference again. But this should still be a win for a Big Ten program.

That’s it, that is the non-conference schedule for your 2022-23 Gophers. Say what you want about Richard Pitino, but he usually put together a nice non-conference schedule with opportunities for resume-building wins. This year’s schedule does not look like it would do the Gophers any favors should they land themselves on the Bubble in late February.

But there are wins out there to be had and the hard truth here is that we have no idea what to expect with this year’s team and perhaps a lighter non-conference schedule is what they’ll need.