Non-Conference Preview: Minnesota

Is Tubby going to do this every year? Just like last season, the Gophers' non-conference schedule is soft. Cornell and Louisville are the only two likely NCAA teams. I understand the rationale of "scheduling for success" where the team is young, or isn't projected to be any good. But the Gophers won 20 games last season, bring back a lot of good pieces, and welcome a pretty good freshman class (along with some nice JUCO talent). Furthermore, this team wasn't dancing last March in part because of the soft schedule.
Concordia-St. Paul_
Overview: This is a Division II team. C'mon Tubby, the Gophers are better than that! C-SP went 16-12 last season.
What to look for: C-SP is kind of rebuilding here, as they lose 4 of their top 6 players in terms for minutes from last year's squad. They keep it inside (roughly 30% of their field goals are three pointers), as they should (they shot 33.1% from deep last season).
Who to watch: Matt Cadwell is the leading returning scorer, but he's not going to strike fear into the heart of Gopher fans (48.9 eFG).
Expect the unexpected: The defense wasn't bad, limiting opponents to a 49.5 eFG. This team also forced a fair amount of TOs.
Chance of a Minnesota victory: 95%

Bowling Green
Overview: The Falcons went 13-17 last year, which is sort of typical. Most campaigns are losing season, with the occasional 15-18 win season sprinkled in, though Dan Dakich saw some success in the early part of the decade. But Bowling Green returns 8 of their top 9 players in terms of minutes last season.
What to look for: The last two seasons, Bowling Green has sported some pretty good FG defense. Opponents shot 31.7% from 3, and 46.3% from 2 last season.
Who to watch: Nate Miller takes the shots for the Falcons, but perhaps he shouldn't. He shot only 29.9% from 3, and 43.9% from 2 last season. And his 55% FT shooting isn't exactly a positive indicator as well.
Expect the unexpected: Personally, I'd like to see what Brian Moten could do on more shots. He was 42.7% from 3, and 59.4% from 2. And while he wasn't a go-to player, his Shot% (19.7) indicates he wasn't a role player either.
Chance of a Minnesota victory: 70%

Georgia St.
Overview: Georgia State went 9-21 last season, but it wasn't always like this. Back in 2000-01, the Panthers were 29-5. That was back went Lefty Driesell was still bringing his A game. I don't see a lot of improvement, as GSU returns only 63.3% of the remaining minutes.
What to look for: This team keeps it inside the perimeter, and as a result, they're a pretty good offensive rebounding team. But then again, the Panthers shot only 44.5% from 2 last season.
Who to watch: Senior Leonard Mendez will likely take 30% or more of the available shots while on the floor, and he was pretty efficient as well. Unfortunately, nobody else was. Mendez was the only player who cracked the 100 ORtg barrier of anyone in the rotation.
Expect the unexpected: GSU shoots 3s (37%) much better than 2s, and they have a big TO problem (23.0%). Keeping the ball on the perimeter more might help.
Chance of a Minnesota victory: 90%

at Colorado St.
Overview: Colorado State lost all 16 of their conference games in the Mountain West last season. But they do 83% of the returning minutes, and welcome Purdue transfer Dan Vandervieren. But the Rams will still likely struggle to win much more than 10 games this season.
What to look for: This team struggled most on the defensive side of the ball in 07-08, especially with respect to forcing TOs (16.3% Opp TO percentage).
Who to watch: Senior guard Marcus Walker was good last season, and could be even better this season. He shot only 29.7% from 3, but he also sported a 77% FT percentage.
Expect the unexpected: 7-0 junior Ronnie Aguilar was a big time rebounder last season. If he can hold onto his rates (12.1/30.6 OReb/DReb) as his minutes increase, he'll be one of the best rebounders in the country.
Chance of a Minnesota victory: 80%

Eastern Washington
See the Illinois preview for this one.
Chance of a Minnesota victory: 85%

North Dakota St.
Overview: NDSU has had a winning season ever since moving to Division 1 full time since 2005-06. Last season they were 16-13, including 10-8 in the Summit League. That should continue this season, as the Bison return 96.4% of the minutes from last season.
What to look for: A misallocation of resources? The Bison shoot 39.4% from 3, but take only 29.3% of their shots from distance. Would that percentage slip if the Bison shot more of them? Probably. But the gains in eFG would almost certainly be worth it.
Who to watch: Ben Woodside and Brett Winkelman are high-usage, high-efficiency players. They could give the Gophers fits. If only Bill Walker played for these guys, then we'd have great nickname potential.
Expect the unexpected: You don't see a lot of 3 point attempts when these guys are on the floor. Opponents dedicated only 25.3% of their shots from 3, the 3rd lowest total in the country.
Chance of a Minnesota victory: 70%

Overview: Virginia went 17-16 last season, bowing out to Bradley in the NIT. The NIT is a pretty typical destination for the Cavaliers, though they did make the NCAA Tourney in 06-07. Although 62% of the minutes return, many of those that will not return belong to Sean Singletary, the Cavs' best player.
What to look for: Virginia's defense was the problem last year, specifically perimeter defense. Opponents shot well (36.7%) and often (38.2% of all FGAs) from downtown.
Who to watch: Replacing Singletary won't be easy. Mamadi Diane will certainly see his role increase, but I'm a bit skeptical of last year's 41.4% 3P%. Calvin Baker also figures to take some shots, but I have similar concerns about his 37.3% 3P% (both guys shot 67% from the line).
Expect the unexpected: Virginia does bring in a highly touted freshman in Sylven Landesberg (#33 RSCI), and freshman center John Brandenburg could also contribute early.
Chance of a Minnesota victory: 65%

I covered these guys in the Indiana preview.
Chance of a Minnesota victory: 60%

South Dakota State
Overview: SDSU hasn't been nearly successful as their Summit League rivals to the north. Since entering D1 play in 05-06, the Jackrabbits have yet to win 10 games in a season.
What to look for: Similar style to NDSU, as there are few threes attempted on both sides of the ball. But unlike the Bison, the Jackrabbits are not successful when they do attempt threes (33%).
Who to watch: Garrett Callahan is poised to lead this team, and might be in line for some significant improvement, as the 86% FT shooter made only 32.6% of his 3s last year. But he'll need to deal with a larger shot diet as the team tries to replace Ben Beran.
Expect the unexpected: Although opponents rarely shot 3s against SDSU, they shot a red-hot 41.5% from behind the arc. Minnesota might be well served to let the Hoff go off this game.
Chance of a Minnesota victory: 95%

Overview: Louisville was a streaky team last season. After all, this is a team that lost to Dayton last year, at home, and yet this same team not only beat Marquette twice, but blew the doors off in both games. They lost to Seton Hall, by 10, on the road, but then they destroyed Tennessee by 19 to advance to the Elite Eight. The Cardinals bring back 77% of the minutes from last season.
What to look for: I think everyone has this image of Pitino teams running, and while 67 possessions might be fast for the Big Ten, it's not really all that quick in a national sense. Furthermore, the Cardinals have slowly but surely phased TO-forcing out of their gameplan, but the defense hasn't suffered as a result. I have no idea if this is intentional on Pitino's part or not - it's hard to believe that the guy who coached a team (Kentucky, 96-97) that forced a turnover on 29.7% (!!!) of their opponents' possessions would ever give up that style.
Who to watch: There are a lot of juniors and seniors on this team, and many of them are talented enough to be a go-to scorer. But so far, none have grabbed that mantle, so it's likely that will continue. Earl Clark is a lot of fun to watch, but he either needs to work on his shooting (22.7% on 3 pointers) or give up on the outside scoring. Samardo Samuels (#3 RSCI) should play immediately.
Expect the unexpected: The Cardinals are somewhat of a stat geek darling. Not because they have an especially effective scheme out on the floor, but for some reason, this team is always underseeded in March. Consequently, the stat geeks proclaim the Cardinals to be a sleeper team to watch (and they usually are). Last year, these guys had a 3 seed - they destroyed Tennessee before giving UNC a real game in the Elite Eight. They had a #6 seed in 2007 and came within 3 points of #3 seed Texas A&M. In 2005, they advanced to the Final Four as a #4 seed. A lot of this, however, probably can be explained by Louisville's lack of success in the Big East Tournament.
Chance of a Minnesota victory: 25%

SE Louisiana
Overview: The Lions finished .500 in each of the last two seasons. They return 58.9% of the minutes from last year, so don't expect much improvement on that.
What to look for: This team can defend shots, ranking 32nd in the nation in eFG defense. Their defense really isn't that bad, it's the offense that struggles.
Who to watch: Warrell Span figures to be the main weapon on offense. He's an effective post player with a bit of a TO problem, but on this team, it's not that bad.
Expect the unexpected: SELA needs a PG. They turned it over on 24.6% of his possessions last season, and they lost the only thing resembling a PG in Dekyron Nicks last season.
Chance of a Minnesota victory: 80%

High Point
Overview: High Point was 13-14 last year, but their point differential was better than that. They ranked 323rd in "Pomeroy Luck."
What to look for: Everyone knows who Steph Curry is, but a guy who was just as efficient on an even heavier shot diet played for the Panthers last season. Unfortunately, High Point will no longer have the services of Arizona Reid. The only thing better than his name was his game. It's hard to put up an eFG of 56.2 while taking 38% of your team's shots.
Who to watch: When you have a guy like Reid on your team, everyone else looks like a role player. There are only 100% of shots to deal with, and Reid forced the other 4 guys on the floor to fight over 60%. The most likely candidate to step up this season is Eugene Harris, who put up a sparkling 58.6 eFG (mostly on 3s) on a 20% Shot diet.
Expect the unexpected: Even without Reid, this team will likely shoot pretty well, as they were 74.4% from the line last season (and Reid was not carrying that average either).
Chance of a Minnesota victory: 85%

What's strange about Minnesota's Charmin Extra Soft Schedule is just how out of character it is for Tubby. Although it was Kentucky, Tubby's non-conference slates were pretty challenging in Lexington. In his last season with the team, the Wildcats faced UCLA, Memphis, UNC, Indiana, and Louisville (UCLA and Memphis were in Maui). While I don't expect Smith to line up the same type of opponents for Minnesota, I'm not sure how beating up 10 teams with inferior athletes is going to help the Gophers take the next step.