Gophers face biggest test yet vs. Syracuse; to play 3 games in Maui


It's a wonderful time of year to be a college basketball fan with national tournaments already underway, and Minnesota at the headlining event of the pre-conference year, the Maui Invitational.

The Gophers have made their way around the U.S. in the past few years, playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas last year, the Old Spice Classic in 2011 in Florida, and the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in 2010. Add that to the the 76 Classic in 2009 in California and the 2007 appearance at the Duel of the Desert in Las Vegas, and this program has touched plenty of the continental United States as well as many surrounding islands.

During those tournaments, the Gophers have upset Louisville, North Carolina, and Memphis among others, showing their solid pre-conference form is a trend rather than an aberration.

This year, things are a tad different.

New head coach Richard Pitino has the Gophers running and gunning, playing an uptempo style of basketball usually not seen in the Big Ten.

One thing that has gone unchanged is the success, as Minnesota sits at 5-0 entering their toughest test of the year, No. 8 Syracuse.

The Orange feature athletic forward C.J. Fair, who is averaging 19 points per game this year, and have moved to the new ACC, heading out of the conference that was their long-time home, the Big East.

Syracuse has played just four times, struggling with St. Francis last time out, but pulling out a 6-point win.

The Gophers best wins are against Richmond and 2013 NCAA Tournament participant Montana, while also dispatching of 2012 Duke-beater Lehigh.

Minnesota currently sits at No. 43 in the AP national poll, receiving six votes in the most recent rankings.

Win or lose, the Gophers will play three games, here's a quick note on each of the other six teams in Hawaii to get you ready for any and all of them.

ARKANSAS: They can score, putting up 88 points per game, good for 27th in the nation. Their offensive attack is led by junior forward Alandise Harris, who is averaging nearly a point per minute.

BAYLOR: Unlike their football team, they won't score much, but they're managing to do a lot else right, as they're the No. 17 ranked team in the latest AP poll. They were the NIT champions last year.

CALIFORNIA: Led by former Gopher guard Justin Cobbs, who is averaging 11 points and six assists per game.

CHAMINADE: Division II school that hosts the tournament, beat Villanova in 2003, and pulled off what may be the greatest upset in college basketball history in 1982, beating No. 1 Virginia.

DAYTON: The Flyers are undefeated, and made the NIT two years ago. They're part of the new Atlantic 10.

GONZAGA: The high-scoring Zags are putting up north of 90 points per game, and likely won't lose more than five games all year, considering they reside in the lowly West Coast Conference. They're ranked No. 11 in the country.

Enjoy, it's going to be fast and furious action, and you can pretend you're in Hawaii while you're watching.

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