Golden Gopher coach Tubby Smith is prepared to come out fighting this season with sixth-year senior Trevor Mbakwe back in action. After finishing second in the NIT, does the schedule pack enough big games to impress the selection committee at the big March tournament?
Duke, Nov. 22 (Battle 4 Atlantis, Bahamas)
Memphis/VCU, Nov. 23 (Battle 4 Atlantis)
at Florida State, Nov. 27 (ACC-Big Ten Challenge)
Duke is Duke. Whispers around the college basketball world suggest that the Blue Devils may be free to play a better team game without having to cater to first-round draft pick Austin Rivers. A win here would truly stamp Minnesota's ticket back to national relevance.
The second Atlantis game will be one to watch as well, whether it features VCU or Memphis, both of whom are movin' on up the college basketball ladder. Both have become perennial NCAA tournament teams, and while this win wouldn't quite generate the buzz of one over Duke, it would still be a welcome shot of adrenaline for Gopher Nation.
Florida State has to replace Bernard James, who was a veteran in more ways than one, along with solid players like Xavier Gibson and Deividas Dulkys. Still, if Michael Snaer can back up his swag with production befitting the best shooting guard in America, FSU will be good enough to provide another huge win if Minnesota can do the job.
American, Nov. 9
Tennessee State, Nov. 15
South Dakota State, Dec. 4
at USC, Dec. 8
American won 20 games last year and went to the CIT. The Eagles lost their top two scorers, but are expected to regain forward Stephen Lumpkins, who averaged 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds in 2010-11. He left to pursue a baseball career, but is now seeking a return to hoops. His matchup with Mbakwe could be an interesting one.
Minnesota should be able to take TSU, but mark this game if you haven't taken a look at Tigers senior Robert Covington. Saint Louis was the only opponent to hold him to single digits last season, but he has had issues against big competition. He may match up with the Gophers' Rodney Williams in a fun battle.
SDSU lost only one player from last season's Summit League champion, and it wasn't 21-PPG guard Nate Wolters. The Jackrabbits have three other players who shot 46 percent or better from three-point range last season. If Wolters gets his stroke back after last season's 24-percent debacle, the Gophers' perimeter defenders will be working overtime.
USC will be praying for better health this year, and they've also added a transfusion of talent.
Transfers Ari Stewart, J.T. Terrell (both Wake Forest), Renaldo Woolridge (Tennessee) and Eric Wise (UC Irvine) could push the Trojans back into the NCAA tournament if they mesh well with returnees Maurice Jones, Jio Fontan and Dewayne Dedmon. Both of these teams will have a lot to prove.
Toledo, Nov. 12
North Florida, Dec. 1
North Dakota State, Dec. 11
Lafayette, Dec. 22
Toledo lost only sixth man Curtis Dennis from last year's 17-win CIT team, but still doesn't have any capable size. Mbakwe and center Elliott Eliason should feast on the glass.
NDSU made the CBI last season, which gives the Gophers only three opponents who did not make a postseason tournament. That alone makes this one of the toughest slates in the Big Ten.
TBD, Nov. 24 (Battle 4 Atlantis)
Either Missouri, Stanford, Louisville or Northern Iowa await in the Gophers' third game in the Bahamas. Seriously, the Battle 4 Atlantis is the most loaded tournament this year. Get NBC Sports Network so you can watch it. Now.
UNI would qualify as a "Don't Sleep" matchup, and all the others should be excellent.