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Tuesday, November 30, 2010
TMA: Minnesota and the 'double surprise'

By Eamonn Brennan

The Morning After is our semi-daily recap of last night's best basketball action. It recommends a well-rounded breakfast.

Virginia 87, No. 13 Minnesota 79: Dan Hanner of the excellent Yet Another Basketball Blog is also a Minnesota fan, and he wins the award for best new term (unless it's not a new term, in which case it's just a good term, but whatever): the "double surprise."
And with the Gophers leading a terrible Virginia basketball team by 13 at home, my rooting energies were firmly behind the Gophers on Monday. This made the 26 point collapse (from a 13 point lead to a 13 point deficit) all the more painful. I was emotionally invested in a punch to the gut.

Minnesota coach Tubby Smith
Minnesota pulled a "double surprise" on coach Tubby Smith by losing to Virginia in the opener of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
In the process, Minnesota became our first "double surprise" team of the season. They surprised us by being better than we thought, and now surprised us by reminding us that maybe they are not so great. Many teams have not even given us one surprise yet; Minnesota has already provided two. But the heartbreak is still tolerable. It is early in the season, and it is hard to be crushed by any loss.

This is probably the best assessment of Minnesota's young season to date. After Puerto Rico, the Gophers looked like a potential Big Ten title contender. After Monday night's surprise loss to Virginia -- a 4-3 team that's been blown out by every good squad it's played so far this season -- well, who knows? The good news is that Al Nolen was missing from action; Nolen in particular has been a stable presence. But even without him -- and even taking into account the difficulty of losing any player from your rotation, no matter how obvious that player's production -- Minnesota is not a team that should be losing to Virginia at home.

Here's the thing, though: It's still very early. The wins in Puerto Rico were nice, but we might have made too big a deal of that mid-November success. Were those wins a fluke? Was the Virginia loss telling? Or vice versa. We don't know. It's a pratfall that rears its head every year, and it's one to be very wary of. If nothing else, we might thank Minnesota for that much. It's a healthy reminder.

(All of which is not to take credit away from the Cavaliers, of course. That was a quality win, and while they might not shoot 10-of-13 from 3 every night, the fact is they did it at a very tough road environment. That's laudable.)

In the meantime, those of you who actually care about the ACC-Big Ten Challenge tally, well, things are looking a little different now, aren't they? Minnesota-Virginia seemed to be one of the more foregone conclusions in the entire slate; not one of our ESPN folks picked against them Monday. The upset clouds an already very close picture, and the Big Ten's road to a second-straight overall victory doesn't look nearly as clear.

Everywhere else: Kansas State's win over Emporia State went about as well as you could ask for; the Wildcats cruised to the sort of easy blowout you'd expect when a good team plays a Division II squad. There was one interesting footnote, though: Jacob Pullen hit four 3s, and in doing so broke the K-State school record for 3-pointers in a career. Newsflash: Jacob Pullen hits a lot of 3s. Now you know ... Elsewhere in the Big 12, LaceDarius Dunn was encouragingly good in Baylor's dominant win over Prairie View A&M ... We just got done talking about making rash assumptions early in the year, but, um, yeah: USC is not good. After an 81-69 loss to TCU, that's probably a fair assessment ... And, hey, guess who's 8-0? That would be the Cleveland State Vikings, who remained unbeaten with a 58-53 win over Robert Morris. The Vikings haven't exactly played the toughest schedule in the world -- there are no real marquee victories or major upsets here -- but given Butler's well-documented struggles in the non-conference portion of its schedule, and the ascendancy of Detroit still in question, maybe (maybe) Cleveland State makes some noise in the Horizon this year. Hey, it's possible. But let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet. (See: Minnesota.)