The Gophers are off to a 2-0 start under Dawn Plitzuweit. Our women’s basketball writers virtually sat down to discuss the upcoming season.
Bottom line up front: Will the Gophers make the NCAA Tournament this season?
UStreet: No, but they should be close this season. They have a legitimate superstar in Mara Braun and a supporting cast that has a lot of talent. Still, the team continues to have open questions in the post.
gopherguy05: It still is going to be a struggle. So far they have looked great playing two absolutely terrible teams. We will get our first look at a team with a pulse in NDSU on Wednesday—who beat this Gopher team in Fargo last year, and then in the most anxiously awaited game on the schedule when UCONN comes to the Barn on Sunday. Beat NDSU and play competitive against the Huskies and then we might be able to talk about potential for a bubble team down the road.
Mara Braun became the second fastest player in Gophers history to 500 points against Chicago State. What, if any, awards do you think she will win by the end of the season?
UStreet: First Team All-Big Ten. Arguably watch lists for All American status. She’s that good. Consistency will be the main question, but the talent is there.
gopherguy05: If she plays like she has against the weak teams in conference play there is no reason she won’t be All-Big Ten. First or second team will depend just how the team does—and remember the Big Ten is still loaded with tons of really talented players so she really is going to need to blow people away to make first team.
Outside of Braun, who is the player that will determine how well the Gophers do this season?
UStreet: Sophie Hart, but not for the reason that gopherguy05 describes. The Gophers desperately need someone who can successful in the post on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Under Plitzuweit’s offense, there will be a lot of opportunities for guards to score, but that will be irrelevant if the Gophers continue to struggle stopping opponents from getting easy baskets.
gopherguy05: They need to have a second scorer who can be consistent night in and night out. Braun will eventually have a bad game—or much better teams will scheme to try and shut her down. When that happens Minnesota needs someone to score. That could be Mallory Heyer or it could be Sophie Hart giving them a true inside presence. We have seen flashes from freshman Grace Grocholski that she could be an outside shooting threat as well. Frankly it probably won’t be just one player but it will be via committee night in and night out.
What are you looking forward to seeing in a Coach Plitzuweit team this season? Why should fans tune in to the Gophers?
UStreet: She has a record of being a successful winning coach who plays an attractive style of basketball. The team should score (potentially quite a lot as evidenced by the first two cupcakes), and should play tough on defense. If you want to watch a team that can score with the best of them, that should be there this season.
gopherguy05: They are going to play their asses off. For as competitive as Lindsay Whalen was her coaching style did not always relay to 40 minutes of hard work on the court. I think you will see that for sure under Coach P—because she will not play favorites and will not be afraid to sit anyone on this roster who does not bring it every single day. This team will be active on defense and if they can consistently put the ball in the net should be competitive in nearly every game. Yeah the Iowas and UCONNs of the world will probably still beat this team by 20-25 points, but if the Gophers can claw back to the top half of the conference in year one of Coach P’s tenure, then the future is very bright. Remember this team is still stupid young. Their core group is a freshman, sophomores and a junior. They are set to only graduate one player after this season, so this definitely should be taken as a building block to a hopeful two year run at minimum of NCAA Tournament runs and teams that can compete with anyone in the conference on a nightly basin.