Much scoring, too few stops

Much like Glen Mason's Gophers football team, Dan Monson's basketball team is strong on offense but so far lacking on defense. That has to change to have a chance in Big Ten play.

There are some similarities between Dan Monson's basketball team and Glen Mason's football team.

Like the football team — which picked up a bowl win over Oregon and won 10 games during the season — the basketball version of the Gophers is high scoring and exciting to watch from an offensive point of view.

The basketball team is led by outstanding freshman forward Kris Humphries. The Chaska, Minn., native leads the Big Ten in scoring and rebounding and has an excellent chance at winning the NCAA's freshman of the year award.

However, handing out awards before the first Big Ten game of the season can be a dangerous proposition. Nobody is denying Humphries has legitimate talent, but will it come to the surface on an every-night basis in this physical conference?

The guess is that Humphries will have a fine year and should be able to have many memorable games — especially when the Gophers are playing at home. However, when they go on the road, he will be tested.

Humphries gets plenty of scoring help from guards Ben Johnson (12.2 ppg) and Moe Hargrow (13.5 ppg) But scoring is not the issue for this team — defense is.

The Gophers are last in the Big Ten in scoring defense as they give up 72.3 points per night. Minnesota loves to play an uptempo game and leads the Big Ten in scoring with 78.8 points per game. While that is part of the reason they rank last in scoring defense, that's not the only reason. They rarely play consistently on that end of the court and that has cost the Gophers in the past.

If Monson can see just a small amount of improvement on that end, they have a great chance to make some noise in the conference this season.

KEY EARLY-SEASON CONFERENCE GAME: vs. Michigan State, Jan. 28 — The Spartans are off to a slow start this year, so the Gophers should have plenty of confidence in this game. This is one night where head coach Dan Monson should turn up the heat and make this as much of a fast-break game as he can. The Spartans don't appear to have the firepower that the Gophers bring to the table.

TOP CONFERENCE RIVAL: The Gophers have a pretty good rivalry with Iowa. The two teams share a common border and also recruit from the same talent base. If Minnesota can win two games from Iowa this year, they might be able to make some progress on their recruiting in the state.

LAST YEAR'S CONFERENCE RECORD: 8-8, tied for sixth place in Big Ten

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES: This team can run and score. Freshman forward Kris Humphries was highly touted before the start of the season and he is on his way to fulfilling all of his potential. Moe Hargrow and Ben Johnson are also good scorers. On the downside, the Gophers haven't played consistently on the defensive end for many years, and this year's version of the team does not appear to be any better.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Forward Kris Humphries, forward Michael Bauer, guard Moe Hargrow, guard Ben Johnson, guard Adam Boone.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It hasn't been just his first couple of games. It hasn't been against people he should do it against, it's been against everybody, it's been in practice and it's been every day almost." — Guard Ben Johnson on the development of freshman forward Kris Humphries.

UPCOMING GAMES: at Penn State, Jan. 7; vs. Princeton, Jan. 10

KEYS: The Gophers have an extra week to prepare for the Big Ten. They should be able to handle Princeton at home before they open the Big Ten season at home vs. Iowa. While the Gophers will want to run against Princeton, opportunities may be limited because Princeton will try to slow things down.

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