Hoops looks to avoid holiday slump

At 8-1, the Gophers men’s basketball team sit at the same place this year as they did through nine games last season.
What will come of this year’s team is still unknown.
What is known, however, is that Minnesota doesn’t want to repeat games No. 10 through 28 of a year ago.
A 4-15 record followed the fast start of 1999-2000. The same in 2000-01 is not on the holiday wish list.
“We don’t want to pull what we did last year,” junior forward Dusty Rychart said. “We went 8-1 and then blew it in the Big Ten. We can’t get too excited this year. We have to keep our minds focused and keep winning ball games.”
Minnesota has four nonconference games left on the schedule, including tonight’s battle with Louisiana Tech at Williams Arena.
A 12-1 start isn’t out of the question. Then again, with the inconsistency the Gophers have brought to the floor, neither is 8-5.
A near loss to no-name Morris Brown, which turned into a lackluster 11-point win a week ago, proved that.
“We have the capability of winning the rest of our preseason games,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said. “But on the downside, we also have the potential to lose them all. They all become swing games for the postseason.”
A postseason berth has been the motivation for Minnesota ever since the NCAA didn’t place a ban on the team following the announcement of academic fraud sanctions.
While a trip to the NCAA tournament would take an impressive run through the Big Ten and a 20-win season, a berth in the lesser NIT only requires an above-.500 record (about 16 regular season wins).
As the Big Ten season approaches in less than a month, it appears the conference isn’t at its highest this year.
Beyond Michigan State, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin, the remaining seven teams are up in the air.
Rychart said the Gophers may be able to slip their way into the top half of the standings.
“It will all come down to who wins the cat fight,” Rychart “We’re all out there to prove we’re a contender.”
“Proof” is the key word.
Not many expected the Gophers to be in a situation where a postseason berth — albeit the NIT — would be a possibility.
“We’re turning people’s heads right now, and hopefully we can turn more heads in the Big Ten,” Rychart said. “The NCAA (tournament) is our dream and goal, but if it doesn’t come down to that, the NIT would be a great experience for us.”
The road to postseason play will be taken on a game-by-game basis for the Gophers. Tonight that approach continues against the Bulldogs.
Louisiana Tech makes Monson nervous for three reasons — guards Gerrod Henderson and Marco Cole, and forward Antonio Meeking.
At 6-foot-8, Meeking is a big threat inside, averaging 15.8 points and eight rebounds per game. Through eight games, Henderson averages 19.3 points per game while Cole chips in with 12.5 points per game.
“Henderson was the most valuable player in the Sun Belt last year, which was a very good league,” Monson said.
As the Gophers take the floor tonight looking to stop the Bulldogs’ trio, they are also looking to work out their own kinks, as the Big Ten season looms just weeks away.
No one, including Minnesota newcomer Kerwin Fleming, want a repeat of last season.
“These next four games are really important because we need the practice and the time,” Fleming said. “When the Big Ten season comes around I think we’re going to be ready because everybody on the team is pretty much on the same page. When January hits we should be okay.”

John R. Carter and Sarah Mitchell cover men’s basketball and welcome comments at [email protected] and [email protected]