Last year's team was known for its ability to score, but it was also a unit that had problems stopping opponents. Through the first four games this season, there are still questions about Minnesota's defense.
Those questions came to the surface in the Gophers' 86-78 loss to Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Cavaliers were regularly able to work the ball down low and get good scoring chances that they converted on consistently.
The Gophers were fully motivated to take Virginia down to the wire after suffering a 12-point loss to Utah in the Preseason NIT on national television earlier in the year. The last thing Monson wanted was to see his team get beaten again in front of a national audience.
Virginia freshmen Gary Forbes and Elton Brown had no problems knifing through the Gopher defense. The pair combined for 48 points and were able to get relatively easy shots when the game was on the line.
"Our defense needs a lot of work," Monson said. "You can't go on the road and give up 86. Part of it was our offense. We gave up 15-20 points off of bad offense when they got run outs and layups."
The Gophers have a chance to get back on track against Western Illinois and Long Beach State, but beating those teams will hardly give Monson the confidence that his team is improving. Until they beat a solid team — they travel to Texas Tech on Jan. 1 — questions will abound.
The Gophers have been a high-scoring team known for its ability to fill it up. However, through the first four games, the Gophers are shooting 41.8 percent from the floor having made 107-of-256 shots. Opponents are shooting 46.1 percent from the floor.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Forward Kris Humphries, forward Michael Bauer, guard Moe Hargrow, guard Ben Johnson, guard Adam Boone.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We played two bad minutes and we were down 10. They're a very streaky team." — Minnesota guard Jeff Hagen on the 86-78 loss to Virginia. Minnesota had tied the score at 61-61 with 8:20 left, but the Cavs put the game away when the Gophers had several defensive lapses that led to easy shots.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Western Illinois, Saturday, Dec. 6; vs. Long Beach State, Tuesday, Dec. 9
KEYS: The Gophers should be able to handle both opponents this week without much of a problem. However, head coach Dan Monson needs to have his team step it up on the defensive end. That will only come with consistent, repeated effort, and the Gophers have not shown that in the past two seasons.