Depleted backcourt hoping to filibuster high-powered Terrapins offense on the Beltway

C.J. Spang

For the paper-thin lineup of Minnesota’s men’s basketball team, three games in the next six days could prove to be disastrous.

Add the fact that the Gophers open that stretch at Maryland in the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge at 6:30 tonight ” two days after being upset at home by Atlantic Sun Conference foe Gardner-Webb, and the next six days look even longer.

The Terrapins (4-1) are ranked 23rd in The Associated Press Poll and have a high-scoring offense that is averaging 89.6 points per game, ninth best in the country.

“We need to get them in a half-court game,” coach Dan Monson said. “We’ve got to control tempo… they’re just so good at getting you out and speeding up the tempo.”

A fast-paced game is something Minnesota’s depleted lineup might not be able to handle.

“No matter how experienced you are, it’s hard when you get tired or frustrated,” Monson said. “Obviously we got fatigued (against Gardner-Webb)… but again, that’s who we are right now and that’s how we have to play.”

This young season has seen a plethora of problems strike the Gophers squad.

Sophomore guard Rico Tucker was placed on “academic lockdown” and has been inactive for all three games this season.

Senior guard Vincent Grier broke his shooting hand in the season opener, and Monday night Dan Coleman had a family emergency and did not play.

Sophomore guard Ryan Saunders also went down early with a leg injury.

While there was some speculation that Tucker might play against Maryland, that “maybe” has turned into a definite no.

“He’s going to go to class tomorrow,” Monson said of Tucker.

To make matters worse, Dan Coleman’s status for the game is unknown.

With so few able bodies, even more pressure has been placed on this year’s freshmen.

So far, they have been up to the challenge and were crucial in Minnesota’s early-season wins.

Tonight, those freshmen will be thrust into the national spotlight against Maryland at the Comcast Center ” a notoriously difficult place to play.

“It’s unexplainable how excited I am,” freshman guard Brandon Smith said. “My main thing is just to stay low-key, not get overhyped.”

“Vince (Grier) has been telling me a lot even though he’s sidelined,” Smith said. “He’s been a big inspiration.”

That’s a reassuring sign for a team that has seen its fair share of tough luck this season.