Toughest Non-Conference Game: UNC

With basketball practice starting on Monday, it is time to take a look at the upcoming season for the Gophers. The Gophers have released their non-conference schedule which includes a multitude of home games and difficult opponents. One such opponent, the Tar Heels of North Carolina, will present the hardest challenge in the early part of the season.

The toughest game on the Gopher's non-conference schedule is not yet set in stone. In the Puerto Rico Tip-off, the Gophers will play in a tournament against Western Kentucky, Hofstra and the University of North Carolina. Although the exact date is not yet set for the showdown between Minnesota and the Tar Heels, it will be the most difficult non-conference test for the Gophers.

The Heels are coming into the season with one of the best recruiting classes in the country. A class that boasted four-star point guard Kendall Marshall, five-star shooting guard Reggie Bullock, and number one player in the country Harrison Barnes.

Barnes is a kid who will be able to dominate the college game. He is a long, athletic player with a silky-smooth jumper. He has the athleticism to take over a game but does not rely on it like some top-rated high school players.

The Barnes, Bullock and Marshall trio will join a team who is coming off a disappointing year but is still loaded with talent. The Heels will return sophomore power forward John Henson. Henson started the season slow but showed lots of improvement in the later parts of the season.

The key for the Gophers will be their ability to stop the prolific offensive attack of Barnes, Henson and Bullock. The good news for the Gophers is that they will have the services of power forward Trevor Mbakwe this season.

Last year, the Gophers were without a true power forward and had to use players like Damian Johnson or Paul Carter at the position. Having a big, athletic body to guard Henson should the Gophers a better chance at stopping the Heels.

Stopping the ultra-talented Barnes will be a tough task for Minnesota. The Gophers could try to use their zone defense that stifled the Wisconsin Badgers last year in order to keep Barnes in check.

Offensively, the Gophers will have to utilize their size in the paint in order to beat the Heels. Junior big men, Ralph Sampson and Colton Iverson will have to use their size against the less experienced North Carolina team.

Last season, UNC lost dominant forwards, Deon Thompson and Ed Davis. While John Henson is good defensively, he is not strong enough to handle the likes of Iverson or Sampson. The Gophers' offensive attack should be centered around getting Sampson and Iverson the ball deep in the post and letting them go to work.

The Gophers do not have elite athleticism of North Carolina and will have to rely on the size of Sampson and Iverson as well as power forward Mbakwe to out-duel the Tar Heels.

If the Gophers can come away with a win against the Tar Heels, it will be a huge confidence boost that will carry them into conference play.

Check back to to see scouting reports for two other important non-conference games this season.

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