#23 Minnesota Golden Gophers: College Basketball 111 in 111


tubby smith minnesota

Welcome to The Sports Bank’s third annual college basketball season preview series.  Two years we looked at 99 teams in 99 days.  Last year, we were slightly more aggressive and expanded to 111 teams in 111 days and will do so again as we look ahead to the 2012-2013 season.

We will rank the 75 power conference teams and top 36 mid-majors in reverse power ranking order.  We’ll break down rosters, transfers, incoming freshmen, non-conference schedules, and pick a player to watch for each team.

With Trevor Mbakwe returning from a torn ACL, Tubby Smith boasts his most talented roster since arriving at Minnesota.  Now the question becomes whether or not the Gophers can pull it all together and live up to their preseason Top 25 ranking.

MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS
Last Season: 9th, 6-12 in Big Ten, 17-14 overall
Predicted Big Ten finish: 5th

Projected Depth Chart
C: Elliott Eliason (So)/Mo Walker (So)
PF: Trevoe Mbakwe (Sr)/Andre Ingram (Sr)/Oto Osenieks (So)/Charles Buggs (Fr)
SF: Rodney Williams (Sr)/Wally Ellenson (Fr)
SG: Austin Hollins (Jr)/Joe Coleman (So)
PG: Andre Hollins (So)/Julian Welch (Sr)/Maverick Ahanmisi (Jr)

Gone: C-Ralph Sampson III, SG-Chip Armelin (transfer-Southern Mississippi)

2012-2013 Outlook:
“We got a good chance this year to really make some noise,” Gopher senior small forward Rodney Williams told me at the Big Ten Media Day.  “We got everybody back, healthy now.  Our expectations are really high.”

Of course the “back healthy” that Williams is referring to is Trevor Mbakwe.  When he went down with a season ending torn ACL last year, it pretty much destroyed any chance the Gophers had of reaching the NCAA Tournament.  Mbakwe is one of the most relentless rebounders in college basketball so his absence on the floor tremendously impacted Minnesota’s toughness inside.

“Last year we lost close games because we didn’t get the rebounds,” Williams admitted.  “So to have him back, that’s big.”
Besides the injury, Mbakwe is also hoping to put his off-season DUI behind him.  Tubby Smith praised Mbakwe’s character at the Big Ten Media Day and felt assured that the incident was a lapse in judgement and one that won’t affect his status with his team.  (Same can’t be said for Tubby’s son, Saul who is an assistant at Minnesota, and has been put on indefinite leave stemming from his recent DUI arrest.)

The Gophs have plenty of options as to a frontcourt mate for Mbakwe but nobody who truly stands out among the pack.  Elliott Eliason, Oto Osenieks, and Andre Ingram were all role players last season but don’t offer a ton in terms of ability.  Maurice Walker is coming off a redshirt year because of a knee injury and brings a ton of size inside though durability will be a concern.  Freshman Charles Buggs is long and athletic but likely not ready to make an immediate impact.

Williams will return to his starting spot at small forward.  Always known for his incredible athleticism, he has failed to reach his potential because of his inability to consistenly hit mid-range jump shots or three-pointers.  He told me that working on his ‘j’ was his biggest focus this summer so we’ll see if that hard work pays off.  Freshman Wally Ellenson is another freakish jumper but will miss six-eight weeks after breaking his hand in practice last week.

A lot of this season’s end result will likely be determined by the young but steadily maturing backcourt.  There isn’t necessarily a true lead guard among the group of Austin Hollins, Julian Welch, Andre Hollins, or Joe Coleman though all four guards are fairly interchangeable and can play with the ball in their hands or at the two if needed.

I think of the quartet, the Hollins’ (they are not brothers by the way) have the most potential though Welch is a major asset because he’s the best three-point shooter on the squad.  Maverick Ahanmisi will also factor into the equation but there just hasn’t been a whole lot of promise shown from him to make me believe he can be anything more than a spot reserve.

“There’s a lot more expected with our young guards,” Williams stated.  “We’ve seen how hard they worked this summer and how much better they’ve been getting so our expectations are high for those guys.”

Only twice during Tubby’s five years have the Gophers reached the NCAA Tournament.  With lofty expectations heading into the 2012-13 season, you have to figure anything less than a trip to the tourney could end up costing him his job.  With an abundance of talented teams in the Big Ten, the road ahead will make it difficult for Minnesota to maximize their potential.

Player to Watch: Rodney Williams
Here’s a guy with NBA lottery level athleticism but someone who has yet to put it all together.  I got to spend a few minutes talking one-on-one with him at the Big Ten Media Day and he’s a quiet though well-spoken guy.  His game needs to do a lot more talking this year or his career with the Gophs will be considered a disappointment since he was a top-50 recruit coming out of high school.

Key Non-Conference Games:
11/18 vs. Richmond
11/22 vs. Duke (Battle 4 Atlantis)
11/23 vs. Memphis/VCU (Battle 4 Atlantis)
11/24 vs. Louisville/Northern Iowa/Missouri/Stanford (Battle 4 Atlantis)
11/27 at Florida State (Big Ten/ACC Challenge)
12/8 at USC

OTHER 111 IN 111′S:
#23 Minnesota Golden Gophers
#24 Memphis Tigers
#25 Baylor Bears
#26 Wisconsin Badgers
#27 Tennessee Volunteers
#28 Pitt Panthers
#29 New Mexico Lobos
#30 St. Mary’s Gaels
#31 Georgetown Hoyas
#32 North Texas Mean Green
#33 Ohio Bobcats
#34 Texas Longhorns
#35 Miami Hurricanes
#36 Purdue Boilermakers
#37 Alabama Crimson Tide
#38 St. Joseph’s Hawks
#39 Murray State Racers
#40 VCU Rams
#41 Davidson Wildcats
#42 Stanford Cardinal
#43 UMass Minutemen
#44 St. John’s Red Storm
#45 Butler Bulldogs
#46 Florida State Seminoles
#47 Drexel Dragons
#48 St. Louis Billikens
#49 West Virginia Mountaineers
#50 BYU Cougars
#51 Temple Owls
#52 Washington Huskies
#53 California Golden Bears
#54 Kansas State Wildcats
#55 Nevada Wolfpack
#56 Colorado Buffaloes
#57 Iowa State Cyclones
#58 Northern Iowa Panthers
#59 Colorado State Rams
#60 Iowa Hawkeyes
#61 South Florida Bulls
#62 Valparaiso Crusaders
#63 Illinois Fighting Illini
#64 Arkansas Razorbacks
#65 Wichita State Shockers
#66 George Mason Patriots
#67 Virginia Cavaliers
#68 Villanova Wildcats
#69 Maryland Terrapins
#70 Marshall Thundering Herd
#71 Iona Gaels
#72 Northwestern Wildcats
#73 Oklahoms State Cowboys
#74 Rutgers Scarlet Knights
#75 USC Trojans
#76 UConn Huskies
#77 Harvard Crimson
#78 Xavier Musketeers
#79 Ole Miss Rebels
#80 Clemson Tigers
#81 Oregon State Beavers
#82 Texas A&M Aggies
#83 Providence Friars
#84 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#85 Oklahoma Sooners
#86 Lehigh Mountain Hawks
#87 Washington State Cougars
#88 Long Beach State 49ers
#89 Belmont Bruins
#90 Vanderbilt Commodores
#91 Dayton Flyers
#92 Houston Cougars
#93 UCF Knights
#94 Old Dominion Monarchs
#95 Oregon Ducks
#96 LSU Tigers
#97 South Carolina Gamecocks
#98 Seton Hall Pirates
#99 Georgia Bulldogs
#100 DePaul Blue Demons
#101 Boston College Eagles
#102 Penn State Nittany Lions
#103 Arizona State Sun Devils
#104 Virginia Tech Hokies
#105 Texas Tech Red Raiders
#106 Auburn Tigers
#107 Wake Forest Demon Deacons
#108 TCU Horned Frogs
#109 Mississippi State Bulldogs
#110 Utah Utes
#111 Nebraska Cornhuskers

David Kay is a senior feature NBA DraftNBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank.  He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities.  David has appeared on numerous national radio programs spanning from Cleveland to New Orleans to Honolulu.  He also had the most accurate 2011 NBA Mock Draft and the most accurate 2012 NBA Mock Draft on the internet (Yup, repeat champ… #humblebrag.)

You can follow him on Twitter at David_Kmiecik.

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