As families return home for Thanksgiving, the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team has a different destination route.
Hide the turkey and the stuffing, bring the sunshine and the beaches. The Gophers are off to the Bahamas for a Thanksgiving tournament that will have them square off against some of the toughest teams in the nation in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
The first-annual event encompasses four of the top-20 teams in the country. The second team in the nation, Louisville, is among the talented squads that will make the trip to the Bahamas.
Minnesota is set to face one of the top-five teams in the country in Duke on Thanksgiving Day at 2:30 p.m. It will be the Gophers toughest game so far, and will be the first of two ACC teams Minnesota will have to face in a stretch of six days.
The 4-0 squad under coach Tubby Smith has a lot to cheer about so far. After battling back to beat the Richmond Spiders on Sunday, Minnesota has averaged 75 points a game through four. The Gophers are making just under 49 percent of the their shots.
Senior Rodney Williams is leading the way so far this season for Minnesota. His 14.5 points a game is tied with junior Austin Hollins for top honors on the team. Williams has shot over 73 percent and has showed poise.
A cause for concern for Smith could be the turnovers, especially by the sophomore duo of Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman. The two have combined for 24 turnovers this season.
Minnesota will have all it can handle in its opening match against the Blue Devils. While Duke is still searching for its team identity, Coach K and company took care of business at the expense of Kentucky last week.
Senior Mason Plumlee is finally surging as a post player in Duke’s system. He has averaged 21.7 points a game through three games while holding a field goal percentage over 77 percent. The Blue Devils have tinkered with its starting lineup in each game so far, including one game where guard Seth Curry came off the bench.
Duke has the size to combat the Gophers along with the scoring ability. If Minnesota is able to take control of the paint early and get the elder Plumlee in foul trouble, the Gophers would be able to feast upon Ryan Kelly and Marshall Plumlee.
The pairing next to Minnesota/Duke is Memphis/VCU. There are multiple storylines here. Both Hollins are from the state of Tennessee, including Andre who lived very close to Memphis growing up. As for VCU, the Rams lost its athletic director to Minnesota in Norwood Teague this past spring.
The other four teams in the tournament are Louisville, Missouri, Northern Iowa, and Stanford.
Minnesota is currently ranked just outside the top-25 in the latest AP poll. Winning two of its three games during Thanksgiving weekend should boost the Gophers closer to the goal of being one of the top 25 teams in the nation.