Tests Upcoming for Gophers MBB
Ben Johnson’s Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball team won again on Friday night, making them 4-0 on the young 2021-22 season. But that record has yet to come with any real tests. The undefeated start is a positive development but a measuring stick stretch is needed for a Gophers team that entered the season as the Big Ten bottom feeders.
Well, we won’t have to wait much longer. The maroon and gold men have one “fluff” game remaining vs the Jacksonville Dolphins (ask the women’s team about them). Then, they enter a four-game slate that starts with the ACC/B1G challenge and only gets more difficult from there.
The ACC/B1G Challenge opponent for this season might be one of Minnesota’s easiest draws since the yearly inter-conference competition tipped off in 1999. The Pittsburgh Panthers (2-2) were picked to finish 14th (out of 15) in the ACC’s official preseason poll. That was before they lost to Citadel and West Virginia by 15 points each. And before they needed last moment heroics to beat teams like UNC Wilmington and Towson.
After traveling to Pitt, the Gophers will pack their bags again and fly south to play (3-0) Mississippi State, who was ranked 8th (out of 14) in the SEC’s official preseason poll. The Bulldogs look like a step up in competition. Much like the Gophers, they haven’t been tested yet but have disposed of the lesser teams they’ve faced.
Early Conference Play
Minnesota will then enter early Big Ten play, a quick two-game intra-conference stretch right before finals week, that is sandwiched into the early non-conference schedule. The extra games were added a couple years ago when the Big Ten went to a 20-game conference schedule in 2020.
The Big Ten is expected to be a juggernaut basketball conference again this year and the Gophers won’t be eased into anything. Their early conference schedule keeps them home vs Michigan State and then at the Crisler Center vs #4 Michigan.
After losing their opener to Kansas, the Michigan State Spartans have gone on to defeat Western Michigan and Butler by a combined 65 points. They may not be ranked (yet) but they’ll be heavy favorites over the Gophers. The Michigan Wolverines, as you may have noticed above, is ranked in the top-5 nationally.
By this time next month, we’ll know a lot more about the 2021-22 Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball team.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan