Men’s hoops to open season

Adam Fink

In many sports, offensive plays draw the fans’ focus and make the highlight reel. And when points start adding up, weaknesses tend to get overlooked.

Minnesota’s men’s basketball team finds itself in a similar position heading into its season opener tonight at Williams Arena against Missouri-Kansas City in the preseason National Invitation Tournament.

In the Gophers’ two exhibition games, the team scored 179 combined points against non-Division I schools.

And while the offense did struggle at times, Minnesota received at least 10 points from six different players.

But is the Gophers defense ready to be tested? The Kangaroos feature last season’s NCAA’s fourth-leading scorer Michael Watson (25.5 points per game).

In addition, Minnesota has yet to face a dominant inside presence. However, Missouri-Kansas City features 6-foot-9-inch Carlton Aaron at center. The junior could give the Gophers fits inside.

“Right now for us, it is about knowing where you are supposed to be at any given moment,” Minnesota coach Dan Monson said. “It’s a work in progress.”

Against Howard Pulley last Wednesday, Minnesota struggled to pick up defenders in the second half as the Gophers watched a 15-point halftime lead dwindle to three.

At this early stage of the season, Minnesota has only worked on two types of defense: two-three zone and man-to-man.

While many coaches would prefer to mostly use a man defense, mismatches, foul trouble and fatigue contribute to switching to a zone defense.

The Gophers used a two-three zone defense about half of the time last season.

But that lineup – which included the lanky and athletic Rick Rickert and Jerry Holman – differs this season with forward Kris Humphries (6-foot-9, 236 pounds) and the three-guard crew Monson uses to start games.

Monson said the players have only looked “adequate” while practicing zone defense the past three weeks.

“We are still figuring out assignments,” center Jeff Hagen said last week. “It will be nice when it is working. We will be able to change it up, add some confusion.”

However, that is a step above the Gophers’ effectiveness with man defense.

“The zone is ahead of our man,” Monson said. “It’s awfully early to rely on a zone.”

On the offensive end, Minnesota has brought in two new starters who can score. Humphries and transfer Adam Boone can both put the ball in the net.

In Boone, Monson has the established point guard he didn’t have last season.

But it has also brought these new faces to the defensive end of the court.

“We have a couple new guys,” senior Michael Bauer said. “The problem is getting on the same page.”

Monson’s lineup for tonight is expected to be the same small lineup of Boone, Moe Hargrow, Ben Johnson, Bauer and Humphries he used in the two exhibition wins.

The only change could be Johnson. An X-ray on a shooting-hand finger revealed no break, but it has been diagnosed as a sprained ligament. Barring a setback, Monson expects the senior to start.

“Three guards gives you more versatility and helps your perimeter defense,” Monson said.

Whether their defense can make clutch stops and prevent opponents from lighting them up remains to be seen.

And if they do prove to be tough without the ball, then it won’t matter what defense the Gophers are playing.

Scouting UMKC

The Kangaroos went 9-20 last season in Rich Zvosec’s second year as coach.

Missouri-Kansas City averaged almost 68 points per game, but gave up 75.2.

The Kangaroos joined the Mid-Continent Conference in 1994 and have never won the league.