Haskins hopes for

Murali Balaji

Even though his team is off to a solid 4-0 start heading into December, Gophers men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins was less than overjoyed.
In the spirit of the holiday season, as well as the fact the team was shorthanded for two games, Haskins sounded more thankful than anything.
“We’re very fortunate to start the season 4-0,” he said. “We’ve played four outstanding teams. Seton Hall and Oregon can really play.”
But to jump on the Gophers’ bandwagon and book tickets to the Final Four in St. Petersburg, Fla. would be extremely presumptuous, if not quite dumb. A better gauge of the Gophers’ talents — and shortcomings — will be their next four games, including a trip to Fresno State and a visit from seventh-ranked Cincinnati, which beat then-No. 1 Duke last week.
“The Fresno State game will be a great test for us,” Haskins said.
With the Big Ten schedule looming on the horizon, Haskins says the Gophers will need to put together strong performances against the remaining non-conference opponents.
For one thing, scoring outbursts from forward Quincy Lewis (36 points against Seton Hall) and guard Kevin Clark (31 points versus Oregon) aren’t likely to become the norm. With opponents focused on stopping the team’s scoring duo, players like guards Mitch Ohnstad and Kevin Nathaniel, as well as center Joel Przybilla, will be asked to contribute more to the offense.
A bigger test will be dealing with more physical teams, especially Cincinnati and Nebraska, who take an almost devilish pride in roughing up and smothering opponents under the basket. Przybilla and fellow big men Antoine Broxsie, Miles Tarver and Kyle Sanden will face the daunting task of containing the likes of Cincinnati’s 240-pound forward Kenyon Martin and Nebraska’s Venson Hamilton.
“Cincinnati is a real physical team,” Haskins said. “These next three games, we’ll be tested mentally, physically and by outstanding talent and coaching. I’m looking forward to seeing what our guys can do.”
Haskins said he was concerned with the team’s inability to put together a complete effort for the whole 40 minutes of competition so far this year. This concern is supported by the Gophers’ performance in Monday’s matchup with Oregon, in which they were thoroughly outplayed in the first half — a point overlooked by Clark’s mercurial performance in the second half.
“We’ve got to put two good halves together,” Haskins said. “We’ve got to be able to get ourselves off to a good start.”
But Haskins isn’t oblivious to what will ultimately decide the outcome of these next few games, as well as the season. It was probably the main reason why the Gophers could use a lineup of Tarver, Nathaniel, Przybilla, Ohnstad and Dusty Rychart and still pull off a convincing victory against Winthrop.
“Talent, in the end, wins games,” Haskins said. “That is going to decide how far we go this year.”