Maine is an unknown for Minnesota

by David La

Defending national champion Maine is in town Saturday, pitting the Gophers against their sternest competition to date.
The fourth-ranked Bears boast senior forward Cory Larose, who leads the team in goals scored with …
Oh, wait. This is the Maine basketball team coming to town, not the hockey team.
In that case, the news is much better for Minnesota (5-0). These Bears (4-1) are not NCAA champs. In fact, they’re not even the heavyweight of the American East conference.
The team’s leading scorer is a lad by the name of Huggy Dye (insert chuckle here). The sophomore guard contributes 17.6 points per game.
But Dye aside, Maine is a team that is finding success in its transfer athletes. Three of the Bears’ starting five are refugees from other programs.
Point guard Andy Bedard and forward Nate Fox made the jump from Boston College. Center Julian Dunkley was a starter at Temple, and forward Carvell Ammons came from Illinois. Ammons, who previously transferred from Northwestern, will not play Saturday because of NCAA transfer rules.
The large number of fresh faces does not concern coach John Giannini.
“Having a transfer gel with your team is one of the easiest things in college basketball,” Giannini said. “They sit out a year and practice with you every day. It’s much harder to get a freshman or junior college transfer to gel with the team.”
Giannini’s band of merry refugees rolls into Williams Arena to face a surging Gophers team. Minnesota is off to a solid start, but takes nothing for granted.
Coach Dan Monson called the Bears a group “more than capable” of posing a challenge.
“They’re a very good shooting team,” Monson said. “That’s their No. 1 strength.”
Minnesota also shoots the ball well, but is experiencing some difficulties in getting the shots to drop lately. Against Valparaiso, the Gophers shot at a 50 percent clip.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well in the (Valparaiso) game,” Monson said. “We’ve got to execute our shots better, one of those being from 15 feet with nobody guarding you.”
Monson can be permitted to laugh. The combination of injuries, suspensions and departures left his bench as thin as Calista Flockhart of TV’s “Ally McBeal.”
The good news is freshman forward Mike Bauer continues his recovery from a dislocated foot and practiced at full speed Thursday — however, he experienced some trouble making his cuts.
Bauer’s presence might cause more shifting in the Minnesota lineup. Monson maintains that the nonconference season is the time to work out the kinks and get your team set for the rapidly approaching Big Ten season.
“You’ve got to get a rotation set and some expectations set,” Monson said. “Guys may think their role is 38 minutes a night when what’s best for the team is that they play 28 minutes.”
No matter who’s on the floor, Giannini knows his team is in for a tough go.
“Minnesota obviously is going to be a difficult game for us,” Giannini said. “Not only because of their talent, but because we’re not playing well right now.”

David La Vaque covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected].