Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE
The Golden Gophers made a run deep into the NIT after a sub-par showing in the Big Ten. Minnesota look to be a team on the rise in 2012-13, but there is doubt surrounding their All-Big Ten power forward's availability.
|Last Year||23-15 (6-12)|
|Coach||Tubby Smith, 6th year|
|Who's Gone||Ralph Sampson III, Chip Armelin|
|Who's Back||Trevor Mbakwe, Rodney Williams, Andre Hollins, Joe Coleman, Austin Hollins|
|Who's New||Wally Ellenson, Charles Buggs|
Minnesota had a rough go in the Big Ten last time around, finishing 6-12 and losing seven of eight games in February which ultimately placed them on the wrong side of the bubble. They then sprung to life in the NIT, making it all the way to the championship game in Madison Square Garden where they lost by 24 points to Stanford. All things considered, it was a pretty respectable season for a team that lost its all-conference performer, Trevor Mbakwe, to a knee injury seven games in.
While his knee has reportedly recovered, off-the-court problems for the 2010-11 second-team All-Big Ten performer continue to create questions over his final season as a Gopher. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Mbakwe was able to avoid jail time after violating the terms of his parole for getting arrested for a DUI this summer. Coach Tubby Smith has already "internally reprimanded" Mbakwe, so he won't be missing any games, but it appears one more slip up could cost him his career in Minneapolis.
On the court, sophomore guard Andre Hollins came on strong late last season, averaging 16.6 points per game in the month of March. He was one of the main reasons for the Gophers' resurgence in the NIT, and he'll pair with junior Austin Hollins (no relation) to form one of the better returning backcourts in the conference.
Minnesota returns the highest percentage of minutes in the conference at 85%, and only sit behind Indiana (85%) for the highest percentage of returning scoring (also 84%). Losing only Ralph Sampson III to graduation and Chip Armelin to transfer, the Gophers will have one of the deepest teams in the conference.
Including the Hollinses, there will be five guards earning significant playing time this season. Joe Coleman, Julian Welch and best-name-in-the-conference candidate Maverick Ahanmisi all saw plenty of action last year, and that depth will prove crucial once the attrition of Big Ten play rears its head. Freshman Wally Ellenson looks like he may be able to step in and contribute right away as well.
What the frontcourt lacks in depth, it makes up for in experience. Rodney Williams Jr. is not a very good shooter, but he has improved his shot selection drastically since his freshman season. Williams cut down on his three point attempts in favor of regularly attacking the basket last season, and if he improves his free-throw shooting (59%), we could see a big improvement on his 12 point per game tally. The Williams/Mbakwe tandem will certainly be a handful for opposing frontcourts this season. Oh, and Williams can still jump out of the gym, in case you forgot.
Tubby Smith should have his most talented team at Minnesota since the 2008-09/2009-10 squads led by Lawrence Westbrook and Blake Hoffarber. The problem is, the pinnacle for each of those teams was a double-digit seeding and a first-round loss in the NCAA tournament. The talent is there for a similar run, and if Mbakwe can stay on the court and out of trouble, Smith may just outdo his personal best in Minneapolis.
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