What Minnesota’s men’s basketball team needs most is time to work on its own shortcomings.
Unfortunately for the Gophers, they haven’t had time to concentrate on themselves.
Minnesota’s hectic nonconference schedule continues tonight, when the Gophers host Central Florida at 7 at Williams Arena.
The undefeated Golden Eagles, who hail from Conference USA, should be no easy task, especially on the boards.
After being out-rebounded 43-16 against Arkansas-Little Rock in Saturday’s 67-66 loss, Minnesota now faces a team which has out-rebounded its first six opponents by an average of 14 boards per game.
“Go figure,” said interim coach Jim Molinari about playing an extremely athletic team two days after being dismantled on the glass.
“It seems to me, in life, whatever is your biggest issue, you’re usually challenged by it the next time,” he said. “And that’s what’s happened to us.
“The biggest issue for our team (is rebounding),” he said. “We couldn’t meet a bigger challenge (in terms of rebounding) than Central Florida before the conference season.”
Despite being just one of nine unbeaten teams in the country, the Golden Eagles (6-0 overall, 0-0 C-USA) are still somewhat of a mystery, since they haven’t played a team away from home. In fact, they haven’t even played a team from outside of Florida until tonight.
Central Florida sophomore guard Jermaine Taylor has led the team in scoring in four of six games and, although he comes off the bench, averages a team-high 17.5 points per game.
But stopping Taylor might be the least of Minnesota’s concerns.
The Gophers’ (4-7, 0-0 Big Ten) first priority will be rebounding, after they gave up 18 offensive rebounds to Arkansas-Little Rock.
To fix the rebounding problems, Molinari offered many different ideas after Saturday’s loss. Tonight, he might start implementing those strategies.
One way he said he believes Minnesota can turn around its rebounding woes is by starting to develop 6-foot-9-inch freshman center Bryce Webster.
Webster hasn’t seen much time this year, but his strong work ethic earned him praise from Molinari.
“I think here was a time we were emotionally losing him for a little bit, but I think we’ve gained him back and he’s going to play,” Molinari said.
Although bringing along Webster could cause setbacks for the team now, Molinari said, it will be best for the team in the long run.
“I’ve said all along since I’ve got the job, that I’m going to do what’s best for Minnesota,” he said. “And what’s best for Minnesota is to make sure Bryce Webster gets time, because he’s earned it.”
Other than Webster, other changes could be in order.
Fans should also expect Molinari to start playing bigger lineups that include sophomore center Jonathan Williams, who is continuing to improve his stamina so he can stay on the floor longer.
In fairness to his players, who have been taking plenty of criticism, Molinari said he believes some of the rebounding struggles might have to do with fatigue that accompanies playing the frantic nonconference slate the Gophers have had to deal with.
After tonight Minnesota will have plenty of time to recuperate until heading to Nevada-Las Vegas on Dec. 22.
That break is something junior guard Lawrence McKenzie said will be helpful for a team that has had to deal with an emotional overload in recent weeks.
“It’s definitely (been) a stressful time,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of people understand that. When you have to go through practice, (study) other teams and are going through (a coaching change), it’s kind of stressful.”