The University of Minnesota men's basketball team is undefeated with a perfect 2-0 record. But given the quality of the opponents, that should come as no surprise.
Gophers head coach Tubby Smith led the program to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in just his second season with the university, creating a lot of hype on campus and throughout the Twin Cities.
But shoplifting allegations against prized recruit Royce White and senior guard Devron Bostick and their resulting suspensions two weeks ago have stolen the spotlight from the Gophers' impressive start. Instead, Smith has been pestered with questions regarding the future of these players.
Neither player has been dismissed, and, according to ESPN.com, White's court case is scheduled for Nov. 25. Smith has made it clear that White will not play and most likely will not be seen at any home games until his legal issues have been resolved.
The good news for the Gophers is they can concentrate on improving with another likely victory on Thursday against Utah Valley. They will need it to prepare for their next matchup against Butler in the opening round of the 76 Classic presented by ESPN on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26.
The chances that White makes the trip are practically nil, given that his court appearance is the day before. But Smith has made it clear that the Gophers will move on without him, and it wouldn't be a surprise if the freshman sat out until the start of conference play on Dec. 29.
Through two games, the Gophers have dismantled their opponents defensively and been boosted by efficient offensive performances from multiple players. Somewhat surprising is the point differential by which they've bested their counterparts.
In the home opener, the Gophers beat a Tennessee Tech team, which finished the 2008-2009 season 12-18, by 37 points. They followed that up with a 40-point margin of victory at home over 2008-2009 Southland Conference Champion Stephen F. Austin.
There have been several keys to their victories. For starters, the Gophers have held their opponents to an average field goal percentage of 29.4. Senior Lawrence Westbrook is leading the team in scoring through four games (two exhibition) with an average of 18.5 points per game and shooting 65.2 percent from the field.
But freshman Rodney Williams has been perhaps the most surprising element of the Gophers' success. The 6'7" forward from Minneapolis has averaged 14 points and limited his turnovers to only two in 38 minutes.
Clearly, Gopher basketball is moving in the right direction. If Minnesota is lucky enough to keep Smith and continues to bring in top recruiting classes, the team will be a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten Conference.
Westbrook's scoring ability and Damian Johnson's on-the-ball defense might be the best in the Big 10. Thanks in part to those two seniors, 2009-2010 could be a very successful season for the Gophers.