Tough schedule to test men’s hoops

by Todd Zolecki

In the past, Gophers men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins didn’t appreciate it when people described his team’s nonconference schedule as a series of “cream puffs.”
Unfortunately, many of those games turned out to be just that — a sweet treat without any healthy benefits.
The Gophers paid for it later. While they steamrolled over several teams in the nonconference season, they found it difficult to polish off stiffer competition later in the year. This season it will be different.
“I want them tested,” Haskins said.
His coaching staff made sure of that for the 1996-97 season. Gone are most of the hyphenated and polysyllabic teams such as Bethune-Cookman, Middle Tennessee State, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Texas-San Antonio.
The Gophers now play St. John’s, Alabama, Rhode Island and Nebraska — teams that have legitimate postseason aspirations. Haskins hopes the experience against these teams will better prepare Minnesota once postseason tournament time begins.
“We really like our schedule,” Haskins said. “We have athletic teams to compare to.”
The Gophers ended last season with an 84-65 loss to Tulane in the NIT’s second round. The Green Wave dominated Minnesota with their athletic ability. And the Gophers, who played well heading into the game, couldn’t compete.
That’s because the Gophers never saw a team like that before. Definitely not in the Big Ten and not against nonconference foes like Charleston Southern or Mercer either.
“You don’t see those type of athletes up and down the Big Ten,” sophomore guard Charles Thomas said. “But I think we have a very athletic team. I think we’re a lot better this year and we’ll compete better against athletic teams.”
Players hope the new and improved schedule will help them be a threat in the Big Ten and postseason.
“I think overall it’s a tougher schedule,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to prepare ourselves for the end of the season, to get ready to play for the (NCAA) tournameùnt. Those kind of teams will prepare us. It’ll show us the level of play we have to play at to beat those teams.”
If the Gophers can win some of those games it will boost their chances of making the NCAA tournament. Sophomore forward Courtney James knows all about that.
“If we win those games people will look back and see we played a pretty tough schedule,” he said. “I think it will help us to get ready for the Big Ten too.”
The walking wounded
The Gophers injury list looks a bit better than it did last week, but some key players have missed crucial practice time.
ù Kyle Sanden, who already suffered two concussions this year, must avoid major physical contact during practice for about a month.
That’s the standard procedure for concussions. If Sanden would get another concussion he would have to sit out a year, Gophers trainer Roger Schipper said.
“It’s scary,” Sanden said. “Twice in two weeks. It’s almost more than people have in a lifetime.”
Sanden’s first one came the first day of practice when Sam Jacobson accidentally hit him in the back of the head with his knee. The second was during the Gophers intrasquad game when Trevor Winter elbowed him and knocked him out.
ù Charles Thomas practiced Tuesday for the first time in six days. He has experienced back pain since last week.
ù Kevin Loge will have a pin removed Wednesday from the fifth finger on his left hand. The pin was put in place following surgery to repair the finger after he injured it in a shotgun accident. The freshman will redshirt this season.
Gophers trainer Roger Schipper said Loge’s recuperation is ahead of schedule and that Loge could be on the court in December.