Minnesota opens season Sunday vs. Lipscomb

by Bob Wothe

The building process continues as the regular season commences for Minnesota’s men’s basketball team Sunday.

But the quality competition is still to come.

The Gophers open their nonconference schedule taking on Lipscomb at 3 p.m. Sunday at Williams Arena.

“Everybody says (Minnesota) is a team of unknowns,” coach Dan Monson said. “And we really don’t know what we’re going to get until we go out and play.”

While Monson might not know what he’s getting against a Division I opponent, fans have seen something to be optimistic about in Gophers’ wins against Division III St. Thomas and Division II St. Cloud State in the last two weekends.

By definition, the Bisons should pose more of a threat – but not by much.

That’s because this is just Lipscomb’s second season of Division I competition. The Bisons stumbled to a 7-21 record last year and, to make matters worse, the team graduated its entire starting front court.

But Bisons coach Scott Sanderson does return his top two scorers and said he thinks his team can come to Minnesota and compete at a high level.

“Minnesota probably isn’t concerned with us because of their size and strength,” Sanderson said. “But we’ll be switching things up a lot and, if we can rebound, we’ll try playing up-tempo.”

It’s that kind of different gameplan that concerns Monson.

“Lipscomb will give us stuff we haven’t seen,” Monson said. “The question for us is whether we’ll be able to calm down and play within ourselves and avoid getting sidetracked.”

Although almost all signs point to a Gophers victory, a slip-up Sunday could be disastrous to the young team’s confidence.

“We’ve just got to do the little things to get a win,” center Spencer Tollackson said. “We’ve got to play hard, because we can’t afford a letdown on any play.”

It’s this playing-hard attitude that Monson said he thinks the Gophers must count on for much of this season, including against the Bisons.

Monson said he thinks defense and rebounding will be key factors and must account for a majority of the Gophers’ baskets, both on Sunday and throughout the season. He put the onus of scoring on the whole team – not just one player.

That will be especially true Sunday with center Jeff Hagen and wing J’son Stamper, the team’s two leading scorers against St. Cloud State, still limited with injuries.

“Experience is so valuable, because you know what you’ll get,” Monson said. “I guess we’ll find out Sunday.”