Hoops teams open season with midnight practices

Making it to the Big Dance is already on the mind of the men’s team.

Adam Fink

Michael Bauer was the last player introduced to the estimated 5,000 fans at Midnight Madness on Friday evening, strolling in from the bleachers toward center court and his waiting Minnesota men’s basketball teammates.

After receiving high-fives and hugs, Bauer and the rest of the Gophers officially kicked off the season, starting practice at 12:14 a.m. Saturday when Aliou Kane and Kris Humphries fought for a jump ball.

After three straight National Invitational Tournament bids, the goal for the season is nothing short of an NCAA tournament bid.

The Gophers have failed to make the NCAA tournament since the academic scandal in 1999.

“We have talked about (an NCAA bid) all summer,” Bauer said. “You always want to see improvements. This program has come a long way since I got here (in 1999).

“It’s time to return to the NCAA tournament.”

An immediate area of concern for the Gophers will be finding scorers.

Minnesota lost three of its top five-point producers when Rick Rickert (15.6 points per game) left school following his sophomore year and Jerry Holman (9.9) and Kevin Burleson (6.7) used up their eligibility.

The Gophers’ other top two scorers are both nursing injuries.

Moe Hargrow is recovering from a wrist injury, while Bauer is recovering from ankle surgery. Both hope to play in the preseason NIT starting Nov. 17.

But Bauer is optimistic about Minnesota’s offensive threats.

“We have so much talent,” Bauer said. “I am not worried about it.”

Minnesota will also benefit from a strong freshman class, led by Humphries. Newcomers Kerry Wooldridge, Jordan Nuness and Kane, a redshirt freshman, are also expected to contribute.

However, the attention will circle around Humphries, a top recruit out of Chaska, Minn.

Like Rickert, Humphries enters Minnesota as a state native and hailed by many as the centerpiece to returning to the big dance.

“Everyone feels pressure,” Humphries said. “I am focusing on right now. We have the talent to go far.”

While the team can now practice together, the Gophers will not have to worry about team building as much as might be expected.

The players spent the summer together, working out and bonding.

Bauer says team unity was the biggest surprise before practice started.

“We always stress family values,” the senior said. “But we seem to already have chemistry.”

Bauer and the rest of the team can only hope that translates to points on the scoreboard and wins in the standings.