Welcome to The Sports Bank’s second annual college basketball season preview series. Last year we looked at 99 teams in 99 days. This year, we are being slightly more aggressive and expanding to 111 teams in 111 days. We will rank the 74 power conference teams and top 37 mid-majors in reverse power ranking order. We’ll break down rosters, non-conference schedules, and pick a player to watch for each team.
Tubby Smith has to be on the hot seat, right? In his four years as Minnesota head coach, the Golden Gophers have not finished with a winning Big Ten record or picked up a NCAA Tournament victory. With a young roster and unproven backcourt, that trend will likely continue in 2011-2012.
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MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS
Last Season: 9th, 6-12 in Big Ten, 17-14 overall
Predicted Big Ten finish: 9th
Projected Depth Chart
C: Ralph Sampson III (Sr)/Mo Walker (So)/Elliot Eliason (Fr)
PF: Trevoe Mbakwe (Sr)/Andre Ingram (Jr)/Oto Osenieks (Fr)
SF: Rodney Williams (Jr)
SG: Austin Hollins (So)/Chip Armelin (So)/Julian Welch (Jr)/Andre Hollins (Fr)/Joe Coleman (Fr)
PG: Maverick Ahanmisi (So)
Gone: PG-Al Nolen, SG-Blake Hoffarber, F/C-Colton Iverson (transfer-Colorado State), PG-Devoe Joseph (transfer-Oregon), F/C-Dominique Dawson (transfer-Kentucky Wesleyan)
The Achilles heel for the Gophers last season was their guard play. With Devoe Joseph’s off-the-court issues and eventual transfer and Al Nolen sidelined with a broken foot, Minnesota’s backcourt depth was depleted. Tubby was forced to play Blake Hoffarber out of position at the point while freshmen Austin Hollins, Maverick Ahanmisi, and Chip Armelin learned on the fly.
The aforementioned trio now provides the experience in the Gophs backcourt and will be expected to take on bigger roles this season. JUCO transfer Julian Welch along with freshmen Joe Coleman and Andre Hollins add more depth and a ton of options at shooting guard. However, Ahanmisi is the only true point guard of that bunch again leaving Minnesota short-handed at the one. Also, the Gophers need to find a three-point threat who can replace Hoffarbur.
Athletic junior Rodney Williams returns to the small forward spot. He has underachieved in his first two years at Minnesota and will need a breakout season for the Gophers to be in the NCAA Tournament picture. With no true back-up for Williams, expect Tubby to use a three-guard look for stretches when Williams is on the bench.
Despite Colton Iverson’s decision to transfer, Minnesota’s strength will still be up-front. Trevor Mbakwe was as good as advertised in his first season with the Gophs leading the team in scoring and rebounding. He made the USA team at this summer’s World University Games and is a force down low due to his strength and athleticism.
After testing the NBA Draft waters, Ralph Sampson III wisely chose to return to school and will start at center. His inside/outside offensive ability and length as a shot blocker make up for his lack of strength down low.
Like the shooting guard situation, there will competition to see who earns minutes behind Mbakwe and Sampson off the bench. Mo Walker is a big body down low and the only reserve post player to see minutes last season, though he only appeared in twelve games. Redshirt freshmen Elliot Eliason and Oto Osenieks will try to work themselves into the rotation along with JUCO transfer Andre Ingram.
With no true road game in the non-conference schedule and a weak field at this year’s Old Spice Classic, Minnesota should be able to get off to a solid start just like they did last year. I just do not see this team finishing with a winning conference mark unless the guard play really exceeds expectations. Then we can let the Tubby Smith hot seat really catch fire.
Player to Watch: Rodney Williams
While Williams is explosive at the rim and uses his length to be a solid rebounder and defender, his offensive game has held him back. He has shown zero consistency with his outside shot and does not possess the ball-handling ability to effectively take defenders off the bounce. If Williams cannot show improvements in those areas, it will not only kill his NBA Draft stock but also hurt the Gophers as a team.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/17 vs. Fairfield
11/24 vs. DePaul (Old Spice Classic)
11/25 vs. Texas Tech/Indiana State (Old Spice Classic)
11/27 vs. Dayton/Wake Forest/Arizona State/Fairfield (Old Spice Classic)
11/30 vs. Virginia Tech (Big Ten/ACC Challenge)
12/3 vs. USC
OTHER 111 IN 111′S:
#81 Western Michigan Broncos
#82 Dayton Flyers
#83 Stanford Cardinal
#84 Yale Bulldogs
#85 Georgia Bulldogs
#86 Rutgers Scarlet Knights
#87 Richmond Spiders
#88 Ball State Cardinals
#89 Utah State Aggies
#90 Arizona State Sun Devils
#91 Marshall Thundering Herd
#92 Oregon State Beavers
#93 Washington State Cougars
#94 Iowa Hawkeyes
#95 Ole Miss Rebels
#96 Nebraska Cornhuskers
#97 Oklahoma Sooners
#98 South Florida Bulls
#99 LSU Tigers
#100 Colorado Buffaloes
#101 DePaul Blue Demons
#102 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#103 Wake Forest Demon Deacons
#104 Seton Hall Pirates
#105 Providence Friars
#106 Auburn Tigers
#107 South Carolina Gamecocks
#108 Texas Tech Red Raiders
#109 Penn State Nittany Lions
#110 Boston College Eagles
#111 Utah Utes
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, 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 on the web.
You can follow him on Twitter at DavidKay_TSB.