Minnesota Golden Gophers
2012-2013 Overall Rank: #37
Conference Rank: #6 Big Ten
Minnesota Team Page
Minnesota struggled when it mattered most last season, losing six of their final seven regular season games. A trip to the NIT was their consolation prize and instead of folding over and continuing their losing ways, the Golden Gophers pulled together and made a nice run to Madison Square Garden. They eventually lost in the NIT championship game to Stanford, but there is now some momentum to build from. The return of Trevor Mbakwe will have Coach Tubby Smith and his Minnesota squad eyeing a deep run in the NCAA Tournament instead of the NIT. Mbakwe missed all but seven games last year after tearing an ACL. In those seven games the 6-8 forward averaged 14.0 points and 9.1 rebounds. A year earlier he averaged 13.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks so Mbakwe has proven that he can be a great forward in the Big Ten. If he can stay healthy, this is a team that can do some damage in the Big Ten.
2011-12 Record: 23-15, 6-12
2011-12 Postseason: NIT
Coach: Tubby Smith
Coach Record: 103-68 at Minnesota, 490-213 overall
The healthy return of Mbakwe negates the loss of Ralph Sampson III. Sampson never really lived up to the massive hype, but he was always a big body who could block some shots and grab some rebounds. The only other departure is that of Chip Armelin. The shooter off of the bench will try to find a little more playing time at Southern Miss.
There is a lot of talent returning so the newcomers will not be asked to do a whole lot. Charles Buggs is a lanky 6-8 forward who can do a lot of different things. That versatility could earn him playing time sooner than later. Wally Ellenson was a big time scorer in high school and could earn some minutes as a shooter off of the bench if his shot is falling. Any production the Golden Gophers can get from Buggs and Ellenson as freshmen will just be a bonus.
Who to Watch:
The stars may be in the frontcourt again in 2012-2013, but it is the play of the backcourt that will propel Minnesota into the NCAA Tournament. Uncertainty at point guard has been a problem for this group. Julian Welch is the experienced senior who led the team with 2.9 assists per game last year. He also shot 43.8 percent from long range and averaged 9.5 points per contest, best among the Gopher guards. But it was Andre Hollins who led the way through the NIT. Andre Hollins was just a freshman last year so there is reasonable optimism that he can turn into a consistent ball handler. Injuries were a problem for both point guards at times last season, so Coach Smith really has two options instead of none. Joe Coleman is ready to take the next step after an impressive freshman campaign. Even with all of the options on the perimeter, Coleman started 20 games last season. The 6-4 slasher will be tough to keep out of the lineup even more so this year. If Minnesota plays small, Coleman could be starting beside Austin Hollins. Austin Hollins started nearly every contest as a sophomore and averaged 9.2 points per game. He is a quality shooter and can attack the basket.
Rodney Williams took over as the star of the Gophers while Mbakwe was out. They will share the spotlight in the frontcourt for one more year. Williams is a versatile 6-7 forward who can score inside and out. He can attack the basket, knock down the occasional long ball, block some shots and hit the glass effectively. Williams can play at the small forward position if Coach Smith wants to use his depth in the frontcourt. Elliott Eliason, a 6-11 center, started 11 games as a freshman and is ready to take on a larger role if he can find the minutes. Oto Osenieks is another sophomore who played well in spurts last season. Perhaps the best sophomore of them all is Maurice Walker. The 6-10, 289 pound Canadian had some great outings back in 2010-2011 before suffering a knee injury in December of that season. He missed all of last year. If he can stay healthy, Walker is a beast in the paint who can do a bit of everything. The frontcourt will be in great shape even if the sophomores do not take a huge step up. That leaves the pressure on the backcourt and getting consistent play from the point guard position.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Julian Welch, Senior, Guard, 9.5 points per game
Austin Hollins, Junior, Guard, 9.2 points per game
Joe Coleman, Sophomore, Guard, 5.8 points per game
Rodney Williams, Senior, Forward, 12.2 points per game
Trevor Mbakwe, Senior, Forward, 14.0 points per game
Madness 2013 NBA Draft Rankings:
#17 Trevor Mbakwe
#41 Rodney Williams