Minnesota Gopher Basketball Hot, but Can it Last?


Tubby Smith

The Minnesota Gophers basketball team is the hottest in the country right now.

As pretty as those words sound to what Tim Brewster once called “Gopher Nation”, the last two of that sentence are the ones that will matter the most in the long run.

With great success comes great scrutiny, and with great scrutiny you might start to see things that you may not want to.

Is that the case with this team?

Only time will tell, but here’s a few things to consider in your unabashed support of the Gophers and their hot start, as well as a few things to watch out for down the road.

SCHEDULE: This goes both ways, because on paper the Gophers schedule has been extremely strong so far.

But consider the teams the Gophers have played up to this point and what they really bring to the table.

Wofford and Siena were tournament teams last year, and both nearly knocked off their respective Big Ten opponents in the first round.

Still, both are mid-majors at the very best, and neither faces top competition very often, it would’ve been a resume win for either program had they been able to knock off Minnesota.

Western Kentucky posed the Gophers no threat in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip Off, and when the Gophers took out North Carolina it was a huge win.

But looking closer at North Carolina, they should be considered a drastically overrated team.

Having lost their top three scorers from last year, their best player was a first team All-American who had never played a game at the college level.  It showed against the Gophers, as Harrison Barnes went a pitiful 0-13 from the field.

Harrison Barnes

North Carolina also proceeded to lose to an unranked Vanderbilt team after losing to Minnesota, dropping them to #25 in the AP poll.

Minnesota’s upcoming schedule will be cake, with the remaining non-conference schedule posing little to no threat of a slip up.

They should be undefeated going into the conference season, but with a strong Big Ten, as was the case in 2008-09 when they opened up with a start similar to this by beating Louisville and going into the conference season undefeated, the conference season is where they will have to prove themselves.

Don’t overreact to any of the wins the Gophers have had, specifically against North Carolina.  There are at least four teams that pose more of a threat to the Gophers in the conference than the Tar Heels do.

Devoe Joseph: With Joseph out due to suspension, the Gophers are playing out of their minds.

Joseph, who could be considered the Gophers best pure scorer, does not have a timetable for his return and if the suspension should spill into conference season, where points are at a premium, the Gophers could be in serious need of a spark plug off the bench.

Should Joseph come back and be able to provide that, it would be a great asset to Tubby Smith’s squad, but there’s another way it could go.

With the team clicking so well, plugging a new piece right back into the offense is dangerous and there’s no telling how it would affect the games of Al Nolen and Blake Hoffarber specifically.

Nolen and Hoffarber have been very good so far because they have had the chance to be on the floor so much and get a feel for each other.  It could be that the offense operates better with a seven man rotation than it would with Joseph coming in to break up the groove the offense has been able to get in.

He is the wild card of this season at the moment, and he could be a giant asset or somewhat of a negative when he gets back.  That is, if he gets back.

Sustainability: As I mentioned, we’ve seen this act before.

The 2008-09 season was precisely what this year is shaping up to be in the non-conference, an undefeated walk in the park.

Still, the Gophers hit the Big Ten season and seemed to have a little bit of culture shock.

Guys that were getting whatever they wanted against inferior competition, specifically Blake Hoffarber (6 non-conference double digit games, one in conference) could not hold up their end of the scoring load in the Big Ten.

The Big Ten is a defensive minded conference, and without playmakers like Kalin Lucas, Evan Turner, or Demitri McCamey, it’s hard to establish a solid offensive foundation.

Evan Turner

One thing is for sure, the Gophers do not possess anyone as gifted as those players on this team.

Off the court sustainability is just as important as the on-court execution.

The Gophers have experienced slip-up after slip-up away from the floor, and keeping the negative events that happen in personal lives away from the team will be instrumental in this team’s success.

It is vital Devoe Joseph’s incident is the only one that hurts this team off the court this year because of the serious lack of depth this team has.

To keep their depth even serviceable they will need to stay away from injuries as well.

The Gophers are essentially dealing with a seven man rotation and the players behind those seven are inexperienced and not ready for the college basketball court.

As harsh as it may sound, Minnesota could be one injury away from being insignificant in the conference title race.

Should the Gophers not be able to sustain their fast start, their off court behavior, or their overall health, red flags will be popping up everywhere to doubt this team’s legitimacy.

For now, however, everything is rosy in GopherLand, and people around campus could not be more thrilled with the start.

Now it’s just about keeping it up.

-Mike Gallagher

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