Gophers MBB Surprisingly Impressive to Start Season

Photo: University of Minnesota

The Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball team, which was unanimously picked to finish at the very bottom of the Big Ten this season, is off to a 2-0 start.

Of course, it’s a small sample size so I’m not trying to get too far ahead of myself, but I’ve watched both games, and most of their exhibition last week, and I’m telling you… this team might be worth paying attention to.

Minnesota Gophers dominate first two games

Neither of Minnesota’s first two mid-major opponents, Bethune-Cookman and Texas San Antonio, are Big Ten caliber teams. But sometimes, it’s not about the win, itself, as much as it is the way you get it done.

Unlike what we’ve seen in Ben Johnson’s first two seasons as head coach, the Gophers have done exactly what a power-5 conference team should do to smaller schools that are being paid to, in theory, get their asses kicked at The Barn.

Related: Gophers Ink Their Future Point Guard Isaac Asuma on National Signing Day

Minnesota led both games wire to wire and have outscored their small-school opponents by a total of 46 points. They’ve looked bigger, faster, stronger, more athletic and better coached.

In theory, that’s what should happen. But in reality, bottom-feeder Big Ten teams do not usually dominate lower-conference competition like the Gophers have, early on.

In fact, four Big Ten teams (one ranked in the national top-10) — Ohio State, (4) Michigan State, Maryland and Rutgers — have already lost to mid-major opponents and the 2023-24 NCAA men’s basketball season isn’t even a week old yet.

Gophers MBB Blossoming Talent and Healthy Roster

The biggest difference for the Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball team this year, that the experts and oddsmakers may have overlooked, is health. One reason why Ben Johnsons’s first two seasons have been so bad is because they lost two of their best talents, Isaiah Ihnen and Parker Fox, to season-ending knee injuries in both years.

On Friday night, Ihned scored 20 points in just 19 minutes, shooting a perfect 7/7 from the floor, including 5/5 from deep. Both players have logged over 15 minutes each game and have made a noticeable difference on both sides of the floor. Everything about the Gophers, so far, has looked much more Big Ten like.

Then, there’s Dawson Garcia, who looks on his way to cinch 1st Team conference honors, if he stays healthy. He’s scored a total of 55 points, grabbed 20 rebounds and dished 9 assists through two games. But, I could go on and on.

Transfer point guard, Elijah Hawkins, looks 100% like he can handle the step up in competition, after two years at Howard University, this year and brings a perfect true PG veteran presence to the lineup. True freshman Cam Christie might be the most exciting part of the entire roster.

Related: Do Not Rule Eric Musselman Out as Next Gophers MBB Coach

He missed game one due to an illness but, on Friday night, scored 18 points off the bench, in his college debut, with 4 assists and 3 rebounds to go on top. I’m just telling you, man. My eyes don’t lie. I know a good Gophers team when I see one and this looks like it could be that, though two games.

They will get a power-5 test next week, when they host the Missouri Tigers (SEC) at The Barn on November 16.

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