Old Spice Classic kicks off in Florida

Minnesota will play three games in four days.

by Charlie Armitz

Playing beatable teams at home is one thing. Playing them in succession at a neutral court âÄî as the Gophers menâÄôs basketball team will do this weekend at the Old Spice Classic âÄî is another.

Minnesota (4-0) will play its first three games away from home Nov. 24-27 at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla. While the nonconference competition isnâÄôt as tough as Minnesota has had in past years, itâÄôs still an improvement from the teamâÄôs early-season competition in 2011-12, junior Rodney Williams said.

âÄúThe level of competition is definitely going to be a step up,âÄù Williams said. âÄúThe teams will be a little bit bigger, more our size, so weâÄôre going to have to be more aggressive on the rebounds, and going to the bucket stronger.âÄù

The Gophers have yet to face a big team with depth inside, but that is likely to change this weekend.

DePaul, which Minnesota plays at 1 p.m. Thursday, starts Krys Faber, a 6-foot-10-inch, 258-pound senior, at center. The Blue DemonsâÄô two starting forwards âÄî Cleveland Melvin and Moses Morgan âÄî stand at 6 feet 8 inches and 6 feet 6 inches, respectively.

Texas Tech, which the Gophers could play in their second game Friday, lists three players at 6 feet 10 inches or taller and nine players at 6 feet 6 inches or taller.

Indiana State, the GophersâÄô other possible second-round opponent, has seven players listed at 6 feet 6 inches or taller and none shorter than 6 feet 2 inches.

The Sycamores are the only team in the field that made the NCAA tournament last season. They lost in the first round to third-seeded Syracuse, 77-60.

Two teams made the second-tier postseason tournament, the NIT, including Fairfield, which the Gophers beat 67-57 on Nov. 17 at Williams Arena.

Through two weeks of nonconference play in 2011-12, none of the eight teams in the tournament have played a top-25 opponent and three âÄî Dayton, Arizona State and Fairfield âÄî have already lost a game.

DePaul is 2-0 on the season with wins over University of Texas-Pan American and Mississippi Valley State.

Gophers head coach Tubby Smith said the lack of high-ranked tournament competition doesnâÄôt concern him.

âÄúWe really donâÄôt look at whoâÄôs ranked, we really donâÄôt care whoâÄôs ranked whenwe play them,âÄù Smith said. âÄúThere are good teams in here like DePaul and Texas Tech. WeâÄôve got to play the game whether theyâÄôre No. 1 or No. 121.âÄù

He added: âÄúThese teams may be struggling early on, but theyâÄôre like us. TheyâÄôre like many teams âÄî theyâÄôre trying to find their role and find a flow, find the right combinations. EverybodyâÄôs going through the same thing that weâÄôre going through.âÄù

Minnesota will play one of four opponents Sunday âÄî Dayton, Wake Forest, Arizona State or Fairfield âÄî in its tournament finale, which will serve as the championship game if the Gophers win their first two games Thursday and Friday.