Minnesota bench

Minnesota fends off a talented Nebraska-Omaha group

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On the surface, Minnesota leading Nebraska-Omaha — who is in just their second year of playing a schedule comprised of almost exclusively Division I competition — 83-77 with just minutes remaining in regulation may seem like a lackluster effort by the Golden Gophers. That’s far from the case.

Minnesota played well. Their potent offense ran up 90+ points in a 92-79 win, and they excelled in transition throughout the game. Deandre Mathieu poured in 27 points on 9-11 shooting. Their defense left much to be desired, but a tip of the hat must be given to Omaha.

Omaha isn’t eligible to win the Summit League championship as they are still in the midst of their transition to Division I, but they will no doubt be a factor in that league, along with Denver, North Dakota State, and IPFW.

It was clear this wouldn’t be a walk in the park for Minnesota from the beginning as Omaha had an offensive answer every time Minnesota looked like it may go on a run. In the opening half, they used the three-point shot to keep pace and knot the game at 44 by halftime, hitting ten triples.

To think that the Mavericks could duplicate their shooting performance in the second half would have been nearly impossible, and they didn’t. In fact, they didn’t hit one shot from beyond the arc in the second half. Despite that, they leaned on Devin Patterson and CJ Carter, who scored in a variety of ways.

Head coach Derrin Hansen is building something good in Omaha — no doubt about that. A team just doesn’t go into Iowa and lead the Hawkeyes with less than ten minutes remaining without being a talented bunch.

As for the Gophers, they have played well since consecutive losses in Maui against Syracuse and Arkansas, having won five straight games. Mathieu and Andre Hollins both had big nights, but it was the play of Malik Smith off the bench (19 points, 5-8 3PT) that should have Gopher fans encouraged. Minnesota already has one of the better back courts in the Big Ten, and if Smith — who transferred from Florida International to follow Rick Pitino Jr. — fills the role of instant offense off the bench, the Gophers become that much more dynamic.

Minnesota has a final tune-up against Texas A&M Corpus Christi next Saturday, prior to their Big Ten opener vs. Michigan — that’s when the fun begins.

Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
Associated Press
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Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.

Coach Hamilton likes mix on Florida State basketball roster

ACC Basketball Tournament: Florida State v North Carolina
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State is the only team in the Atlantic Coast Conference that returns all five of its starters from last season.

For most teams that would be cause for celebration. For coach Leonard Hamilton it means he is hoping the struggles of the past two seasons have been valuable experience.

The Seminoles had their first practice on Wednesday as they are looking to bounce back from a season in which they went 17-16 and didn’t play in a postseason tournament for the first time in 10 years.

“We have five starters returning from a team that won 17 games. We have guys that have been around, who know their shortcomings and can pass on their wisdom to the younger players,” Hamilton said.

With an experienced roster and a highly regarded recruiting class, Hamilton is hoping to lead the Seminoles back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012, which is also the year they won the ACC Tournament.

Jarquez Smith, the leading returning scorer from last season, said the open gyms before the start of practice have been extremely competitive as the incoming recruiting class has tried to assert itself early.

“We’ve been going at each other’s neck and it has gotten very competitive,” Smith said. “Everyone is fighting for their position because the guys coming off the bench are just as athletic as who is on the court.”

The newcomers feature Dwayne Bacon (a McDonald’s All-American selection), Terance Mann (the Gatorade Player of the Year in New Hampshire) and Malik Beasley (the Georgia 1A Player of the Year). There’s also Chris Koumadje, who at 7-foot-4 will be the tallest player in school history, and Benji Bell, who helped lead Northwest Florida State to the JUCO National Title.

“This is a very confident and focused group of inexperienced players,” Hamilton said. “They want to make something special happen but aren’t taking anything for granted.”

Two things that Hamilton will look to work on during preseason practices is defense and figuring out his rotation. The Seminoles suffered from a lack of depth last season but this year he could have a roster that goes 10 deep and allows him to go to more of a full-court pressing style of defense.

Xavier Rahan-Mayes led the team in scoring last season, averaging 14.9 points en route to becoming the first freshman in ACC history to score 30 or more points three times. The one thing he said he noticed in preseason practices were that everyone played off each other’s strengths.

Florida State’s first exhibition game is Nov. 2 against Lynn University before opening the season on Nov. 15 against Nicholls State.

“I think we have a pretty good combination of experience and an influx of new players. Any time you have that type of scenario you appreciate it,” Hamilton said. “It looks like we have it moving in the right direction. We’ve had a good offseason and regrouped.”