Minnesota is coming off a winning scrimmage against DePaul from last weekend where Coach Richard Pitino singled out Akeem Springs, Dupree McBrayer, Nate Mason, Eric Curry, and Amir Coffey as standouts. Springs knocked out seven three-pointers giving the Gophers a day of shooting and Minnesota needs shooting.
The Gophers are coming off an eight win year and turmoil that included an inappropriate video making it public, an allegation against Reggie Lynch that resulted in no charges, and ridiculous articles about the athletic staff allowing Coach Pitino and a few others to spend more money than they had budgeted for.
The ridiculous is out of the way, it’s now time to play. And the Gophers have something to prove. The first team in front of them is Bemidji State and Minnesota is motivated to show the local fans, the Big Ten, and the nation they are better than people believe.
What kind of fight will the Beavers put up against the Gophers? As we said they won ten games last year, seven in the Northern Sun. Four of the top six scorers from the team have moved on although double figure scorers Ben Best and William Harvey are now seniors and return to lead the team.
The Beavers are a Minnesota team but only five of the fifteen players are from this state. Freshman Aage Rovney is a partial scholarship guy from St. Croix Lutheran in St. Paul, Christian Pekarek is a hard working guard from Upsala High, John Vogeler is a partial guy who is a shooter from Alexandria, Jacob McNallan is a tough sophomore guard from Andover, and Kyle Sorenson is a red shirt freshman big from Caledonia. Only Pekarek (a starter) and Rovney saw time in the Beavers 71-48 exhibition loss to Northern Iowa last Friday night.
The Beavers were able to rebound with a good Northern Iowa program (39-37 UNI edge) but Bemidji State turned the ball over 18 times on 71 possessions. Also. Northern Iowa shot just under 50 percent from the floor and only took 13 treys as they got many good looks around the cup.
Six-foot-8 215 pound Beaver senior Ben Best was able to hit five of eight shots against the Panthers most of which was in the paint. Best grabbed five boards, had a couple assists out of the post and was the only Beaver in double figures. Freshman Jai’Vionne Green came off the bench and scored four times in 19 minutes. He’s one to watch.
Maybe the two biggest concerns that Minnesota has coming into the season is foul trouble and shooting. We know the trouble that Reggie Lynch and Jordan Murphy have had with fouls (plus Eric Curry had five against DePaul last weekend) but the shooting is something that will be more talked about.
Akeem Springs hitting seven treys against DePaul is a good sign. That’s a step forward from the 12 of 43 shooting the team displayed overall in the Maroon vs Gold scrimmage a couple weeks back.
As a team last year Minnesota was 11 makes away from shooting below 40 percent for the season (final total was 40.5 percent field goal shooting as a team). Yes it was that bad, plus they shot 31 percent from the arc a year ago. No guards or wings on the team shot in the 40th percentiles (except Charles Buggs although I will still argue that since he couldn’t defend a small forward he was a power forward playing small forward).
For a division two team the Beavers have some good length up front. Six-foot-1 Pekarek plays in the backcourt with 6-foot-2 guard Sharif Black while the 6-foot-8 Best is up front with 6-foot-7 senior William Harvey and 6-foot-6 freshman Peyton Dibble. The frontcourt reserves are also 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-8.
This will not be the smaller teams that Minnesota has faced in the past from the division two level but they will not be as athletic as Minnesota. A frontcourt like the Beavers will give Coach Pitino several chances to play Jordan Murphy and Eric Curry together up front against Best and Harvey. The Beaver bigs should have a lot of trouble trying to finish over the length of 6-foot-9 Reggie Lynch and 6-foot-11 Bakary Konate.
In the backcourt Christian Pekarek is one of the hardest working players in the NSIC. He will bring a ton of effort into defending Mason and/or McBrayer. Pekarek averaged only five a game last year while Sharif Black shot below 40 percent at Chadron State (a D2 school) a year ago to get his 11 a game. Minnesota’s backcourt should not have much trouble slowing them down defensively but Black, Pekarek, and Green will be a decent test in the backcourt as far as Minnesota getting their offense started goes.
For the Gophers it will be very interesting to see their rotation. Based on comments from scrimmages and practices I would expect Minnesota to start Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy for sure. After that you have to wonder if it will be Konate or Curry up front at the five, and out of Coffey, Springs, and McBrayer, one of them will not start. Whatever the case, out of those seven guys you can expect five starters and the first two off the bench.
Then Reggie Lynch should play the same 15 minutes he got last weekend off the bench, and maybe a few more as he gets back into full health and conditioning. I believe we will see Michael Hurt play before we see Ahmad Gilbert (unless they come in together) followed by maybe a few minutes from Gaston Diedhiou.
Will Minnesota beat Bemidji State? Yes. Will it be a constant stomp? No. This is the start of the year with a bunch of Gophers that quite new to each other. There are five new faces in the rotation and if it’s a nine man rotation that five of nine. There will be some struggle.
Will Minnesota go on big runs? Without a doubt. They have been ridiculed and made fun of for nearly a year. Time to take out all their frustrations on opponents. In the end they will have to many open floor baskets and halfcourt scores at the rim for the Beavers to stay with them. It will be a 25 point win for sure. It will be a 36 to 38 point win if they can make some jumpers.
Minnesota 81 Bemidji State 50.