The non-conference portion of a typical college basketball season, especially in Gopherville, is pretty much fool’s gold. This is where the home team’s fans are fooled into thinking such a gaudy win-loss record will translate into a successful conference campaign.
Both non-league-winning Gopher squads begin conference play this week — the men on Thursday, the women on Saturday. If the guards don’t handle pressure better than they did in a loss to UCLA last month, or if other players don’t become more consistent offensively, it will be a long Big Ten season for the Minnesota women (now 11-3).
“Other people need to step up — we need to find a third scorer on this team,” bemoaned Coach Pam Borton.
This doesn’t apply to junior guard Rachel Banham, who’s averaging over 20 points a contest and is ranked among the nation’s top 20 scorers. Or to redshirt freshman center Amanda Zahui B., who is 15th nationally in blocks and boasts the conference’s only triple-double this season.
But the R&B two-woman show alone won’t get it done for Minnesota if the Gophers are to finish in the conference’s first division for the first time since 2009. “We’ve just got to be tougher finishing in the paint and getting to the rim,” admitted Borton, who wants her team to rebound better as well as protect the ball like gold rather than junk.
Furthermore, if their early RPI ranking (U of M currently is No. 19) is any indication, the Gophers also will be in the NCAAs for the first time in five years. However RPIs don’t come into play until late February when the tournament-selecting folk factor this into their seeding decisions.
Now for the men: Minnesota’s non-conference winning record (11-2) is against teams not at the same caliber as the Big Ten teams they will face, beginning with Michigan State on Thursday, and should therefore be viewed with caution. See how the Gophers fared away from home against two quality opponents, Syracuse and Arkansas — both resulted in defeats.
Nonetheless, some folk are goldenly giddy over the Gophers. It was laughable when this columnist last month read in a St. Paul newspaper that the U of M men will be seeded in the NCAA. There’s too many games left to make such bold predictions, particularly for the state’s only Division I men’s squad.
The Gophers men lack athleticism on the wings and lock-down hands in the post. Save for a couple of players, along with a new coach who until this week hasn’t coached in the grind-it-down Big Ten, this is the same roster that former coach Tubby Smith had last season. But it’s also hard not to notice the honeymoon fever that has engulfed some media folk now that first-year Coach Richard Pitino is on the sidelines.
Finally, as often the case, fool’s gold is the stuff dreams are made of. Real college basketball contenders don’t rely on such currency to prove their worth. And their fans and followers don’t get fooled either.
Allina Starr (Minneapolis DeLaSalle) is one of six freshmen and two junior college transfers on this year’s Auburn roster. The Tigers played Minnesota December 22 at Williams Arena.
“She’s a freshman and has got to get out of all the bad freshman mistakes. She has to learn how to play a little harder, how to play defense — typical freshman things she has to learn,” noted Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy of Starr.
Next Week: Coach firings raise concerns.
Read ‘Another View Extra” on this week’s MSR website for Metrodome post-final game comments.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.