#76 Minnesota Men's Basketball Preview

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Overall Rank: #76
Conference Rank: #9 Big Ten
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2010-11: 17-14, 6-12
2010-11 postseason: none
Coach: Tubby Smith (80-53 at Minnesota, 467-198 overall)

Nothing went well for Minnesota last season. After two trips to the NCAA Tournament, the Golden Gophers had very high expectations heading into the 2010-2011 campaign. However, the team could not overcome some major personnel losses early in the season and Coach Tubby Smith’s team pretty much faded away down the stretch. With a fresh start, and the return of the dynamic frontcourt duo of Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic. Mbakwe led the Gophers with 13.9 points and 10.5 rebounds, while Sampson added 10.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per contest. On both sides of the floor, those two are very dangerous and few teams in the Big Ten can match the frontcourt power of Minnesota.

Who’s Out:
Colton Iverson is out after doing much of the dirty work under the basket. The big man was a solid rebounder and had the size to actually replace Sampson under the basket. When those two were on the floor together it was very tough for the opposition to get anywhere near the basket. The Golden Gophers survived most of the 2010-2011 season without Devoe Joseph and Al Nolen, so moving on without them will not be too difficult. However, the backcourt relied heavily on Blake Hoffarber after Joseph and Nolen were gone. Hoffarber was once pretty much a shooter, but he turned into a fine leader on the floor and led the team with 4.1 assists per game.

Who’s In:
Coach Smith needed to find some depth in the frontcourt and some bodies in backcourt in this class. Julian Welch should be battling for a starting job from day one. The junior college transfer can play either guard spot, but he is a fine ball handler and that is what this team needs. At 6-3 Welch has nice size for a point guard and his experience will give him a great shot at earning the starting job. Andre Hollins is a big shooting guard who can score in bunches. If he lives up to his potential, Hollins will be starting or at least providing a significant spark off of the bench. Joe Coleman will add more depth on the perimeter. There are four new big guys and none of them are true freshmen. Elliot Eliason and Oto Osenieks redshirted last season, Andre Ingram is a junior college transfer and Chris Halvorsen is a transfer from Valparaiso. Eliason and Ingram are the two to keep an eye on this season. Eliason spent last year adding some weight and strength. He even grew an inch. At 6-11 and 242 pounds, Eliason will take over for Iverson and be the other big body under the basket. If it was not for the depth in the Minnesota frontcourt, Eliason would have played quite a bit last season. Ingram is more of a bulky power forward than a center like Eliason. His experience should make him Mbakwe’s main backup, but Maurice Walker will provide some competition.

Who to Watch:
Minnesota has a trio of sophomore guards who were forced into a little more action than they were ready for in 2010-2011. Maverick Ahanmisi had to run the point on occasion and, all things considered, he did not do too poorly. He is not much of a scorer, but if he can take care of the ball, Ahanmisi will battle for the starting point guard job. Most likely he will be relegated to backup duties again. Chip Armelin turned out to be a pretty good slasher. He will need to develop his shot before he sees too much playing time, but that is what summers are for. Austin Hollins, no relation to Andre, has the most potential of the gang of sophomores. He is supposed to be a shooter, but it sure did not look that way last season. To his credit, Hollins did attack the basket more than most expected he would and he did prove that he could finish around the basket. Now if his shot starts falling, he will beat out the other Hollins for minutes.

Final Projection:
The backcourt has to find some playmakers, but Rodney Williams could be the key to the Gophers success this year. He had a pretty disappointing sophomore season. He averaged a healthy 6.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists and did everything a team wants from a 6-7 small forward. However, his expectations are still pretty high and he could be a consistent double digit scorer. He could start doing that by being more confident attacking the basket, but his free-throw shooting ability is lacking and that limits his effectiveness getting to the rim. With some time to adjust to the new faces on the perimeter and a dominating frontcourt, Minnesota should be much better this season, but probably not good enough to get to the NCAA Tournament.

Projected Postseason Tournament: NIT

Projected Starting Five:
Julian Welch, Junior, Guard, DNP last season
Andre Hollins, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Rodney Williams, Junior, Forward, 6.8 points per game
Trevor Mbakwe, Senior, Forward, 13.9 points per game
Ralph Sampson III, Senior, Center, 10.2 points per game

Madness 2012 NBA Draft Rankings:
#33 Rodney Williams
#65 Ralph Sampson III
#70 Trevor Mbakwe

Madness 2011 Men's Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#107 Andre Hollins
#111 Joe Coleman

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