#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.

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Gophers Rodney Williams: most overrated NBA Draft prospect ever?

rodney-williams

Minnesota Golden Gophers forward Rodney Williams is a bonafide NBA draft prospect. Not so much this year, but for 2013 (where we have him projected as a mid-2nd rounder), and I can’t for the life of me understand why. (But I’m a NFL draftnik, not an NBA draftnik) When fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives this week, the 6-7, 205 junior forward from Minneapolis just disappeared in the 2nd halves of both games. Each of these contests saw Minnesota drop a second half lead and eventually lose.

When you lead the team in scoring, rebounding, blocks, steals, field goal percentage and minutes, you are expected to BE the leader, and THE GUY who takes over in crunch time.

In the loss at Northwestern, Williams had 7 points at halftime, but just two points and two shots in the second twenty minutes. In the 66-61 loss to Michigan State, Williams VANISHED in the second half when Minnesota Tubby Smith needed him most. And in the closing minutes with the game tied, he cost his team dearly at both ends of the floor.

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5 Reasons Gopher Basketball Finishes in Big 10’s Top 3

Tubby Smith

Royce White gone, Cory Joseph never arriving, leading scorer graduated, no impact recruits.

Now that we have the negatives out of the way, it’s time to flip the script and turn our attention to the optimism flying around the Minnesota Gophers Basketball program with the top five things that could lead the Gophers to the top of the Big Ten conference. [Read more…]

Gophers Basketball Season Recap

By Mike Gallagher

In a season full of more ups and downs than a VH1 Tool Academy marathon, the Gophers strangely faded off into the college basketball offseason without a peep. [Read more…]

Gophers Hopes Fading With Heartbreaking Loss to Michigan State

By Mike Gallagher

What a difference a week makes…..

The Golden Gopher basketball team’s hopes were higher than ever at the beginning of this week, with Royce White practicing for the first time in nearly three months.

The next day things took a drastic turn for the worst.  One of the nation’s top perimeter defenders and captain of the Gopher offense, point guard Al Nolen, was ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA.

It seems that’s how the season has gone for the Gophers, good news followed by equally damaging information.

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Six Presents Under University of Minnesota Basketball’s Tree This Christmas

By Mike Gallagher

As I sit in my $325 a month house in North Minneapolis, and stare at the recently found dumpster Christmas tree right across from me that has one present under it, I am thankful that present is a case of beer.  More relevant to what you folks came to this article for, is the wonder of what is under other Christmas trees at this time of year.

Specifically, I stop and think about the University of Minnesota’s basketball program, and how their stash of gifts is looking under their undoubtedly monstrous tree this year.  As fans gather around and look at the wealth of delights under the maroon and gold-lighted tree, they can barely contain their excitement as they approach their first present.  That’s right everybody, it’s in your hands.  You are fans, the ones that drive the program and keep it successful, without you, sports would cease to exist.  With that being said, aren’t you sick of waiting to see what you get heading into conference season?

First Present:  Tubby Smith.  It was a wise choice to open this present first and a good start to Christmas.  You chose the best present Gopher basketball has received, and it’s the gift that keeps on giving, year in and year out.  He gave you only your second NCAA Tournament appearance in the last ten years, and a great resume behind him to show that he has and will build winners for years to come.  Aside from being a great coach, he also is a great recruiter, and has your squad in the running for two of the top 30 recruits in the country.  Trey Zeigler, Rivals.com #26 nationally, and even more exciting, Devoe Joseph’s brother Cory, Rivals.com #7 in the nation are expected to make spring decisions on where they will go.  This present is a keeper.

Second Present:  Royce White.  Quick, look in the box for a gift receipt, because if it didn’t come with one, you might be out a present.  As much as I still think White will be back to the program despite his announcement of quitting the Gophers, it doesn’t appear it will be anytime soon.  After all, if my prediction of him redshirting and being ready to play next year comes to fruition, you can put him on your list when this time comes around next year.  Bring him back to the store right away.

Third present:  Trevor Mbakwe.  Wow, a Christmas that looked so fruitful in the beginning has quickly turned rotten.  This is another gift that you have to throw back in the car after feigning excitement and thanks to a person that clearly doesn’t know you at all.  You could throw him in the back of the closet until he is cleared to play, but as you can read in my last article, it’s increasingly unlikely he will see the court this year.  With the pre-trial date set for January 7th in his assault case and there being only two months at that point until the end of the regular season, it’s tough to see how he can come back and get in the rotation that late in the season, let alone be productive.  He should redshirt, leaving you with only one worthwhile present with two to go, cross your fingers…..

Fourth Present:  Blake Hoffarber.  Awesome, this present has the most potential of any one so far.  Somehow Santa must have managed to grab you one of the last ones on the rack, because he is a hot item right now.  He won Big Ten Player of the Week last week even though the Gophers played only one game, an 89-48 win against Northern Illinois.  That game was a big one for Hoffarber, who recorded 26 points, six rebounds, and four assists.  The award had been building for a few weeks, as Hoffarber has been on fire the last five games, all wins for the Gophers.  His 17.2 PPG over that stretch leads the team and he recorded his first double-double in the victory over Brown.  This present is a great complimentary one, as it is much better coupled with other good presents.  It comes with an attachment of an extra large sniper rifle that shoots basketballs, which he’s been using lately to sharp-shoot at a 60% clip in the last five games from three-point range.  Look closely at the tag, though, as it does come with a disclaimer that reads:  “WARNING:  Player may vanish for periods of time unexpectedly and extra large sniper rifle can misfire for long periods of time.”  Well, enjoy it while you can.

Fifth Present:  Rodney Williams.  You’ve got that look on your face, don’t you?  You want to be excited, but you really can’t be.  You like the gift, but you wish Christmas would’ve come a month earlier for this present.  Well, since Christmas is in December, let me help to solve that look on your face.  Don’t mind the throbbing red foot on your Rodney, he had an MRI a week ago and they’re just resting him as a precaution at this point, it should go back to a regular foot in a few days.  He’s a great talent so you should be thankful to the one who gave this to you, as this present will pay off down the road.  For now, you may want to set it aside, at least until that foot heals, and proceed with caution after that, because the conference season is tough and the way things have been going for Williams, may be a little much to handle at this point in his career.  You’ll definitely want this present as you move forward though, it will bring you a lot of joy in the future.

Sixth Present:  Momentum.  Nice! This is the perfect thing to round out your Christmas.  It’s perfect for this time of year, and well earned might I say, as the team has won five in a row.  This giant box of it will help the squad carry some confidence into the conference season.  This present is kind of like a chocolate Santa, it’s amazing, but it’s gone so quick, unless you savor it.  We’ll see what the Gophers do with their chocolate Santa, can they savor it and make it last a while, or will they be bad and eat it all at once and not have any more for the next few games.  Let’s hope Tubby keeps them discipline and makes them take only little bits at a time so it will last them into the conference season.

Well, overall Gopher fans, a pretty solid Christmas.  Yeah, it had it’s ups and downs, but doesn’t every Christmas?

Hopefully you came out of your holiday happy, and after reading this, with a better idea of what to expect from the Gophers in the second half, rather than a look of confusion trying to sift through all the analogies and comparisons you’ve just encountered.

Gophers Basketball Showing Depth Despite Off Court Troubles

jmp 8 gopher mens media day

By Mike Gallagher

While Trevor Mbakwe was in suit and tie on the bench, Devron Bostick home sick, and Royce White nowhere to be found during the Gophers 82-42 drubbing of Stephen F. Austin, Rodney Williams Jr. was making the Williams Arena crowd forget those three were ever part of the Gophers 2009-10 plans.  The crowd began to chant his name after the third of his explosive dunks on the night.  He finished with 14 points after his 15 point effort vs. Tennessee Tech.

Williams has stepped up early, taking over for those that overshadowed him in this recruiting class.  Mbakwe and White, White being a top 50 recruit while Mbakwe took the JUCO route and greatly improved his stock coming to the D-1 ranks this year, were both expected to compete for time at the PF spot. Williams was not expected to play a lot this year with the addition of those two because of that.  But with Mbakwe and White out because of their problems with the law, Williams was called into duty. At this point, Williams is building a strong case to get playing time even if Mbakwe and White return.

His versatility has brought a great deal of flexibility to a lineup that is only dressing ten guys.  Junior starting forward Paul Carter is more suited to play the three rather than the four, so Williams stepped in at the four and the offense was much smoother in the second half, putting up a whopping 56 points.

Williams athleticism is not only an asset at the offensive end, but at the defensive end he is able to guard the power forward spot without a problem.  He will need to improve his strength in order to guard the spot consistently, but his leaping ability and speed make up for some of the muscle he may give away.  With him playing extensively at the three and four, the Gophers have held their two opponents under 30% from the field.

Another early surprise has been the play of Devoe Joseph, the backup at the point to Al Nolen.  He has averaged 11 a game over the first two contests as opposed to the five a game he gave them off the bench last year.

devoejoesph

Obviously it is early, but if he is relied on more this year and continues to get the opportunities to perform and can continue to put up points, putting him and Nolen in the backcourt together could be a nice look to throw at teams to give Lawrence Westbrook a rest.

The team will be able to experiment with that and many other things, as they will not be challenged by a majority of their non-conference opponents.

The matchups against Butler and Miami (FL), however, will be their two early season tests.  Those two games will be a good barometer of how this depth, specifically Williams and Joseph, will be able to hold up against, in Butler’s case, top competition.

The rest of the Gophers non-conference schedule is extremely soft as well, which should be a good thing for Tubby Smith and Co., as they’ll have some time to re-tool some things off those two big matchups, and get their feet under them headed into conference play.

Once it is clearer what exactly the future of Mbakwe and White are, I’ll give my Gophers season preview.  I choose to wait because those two would make this team drastically different.

However, even without those two, the team looks very impressive right now, and with a big thanksgiving matchup vs. aforementioned Butler right around the corner, it will make for some exciting early season drama.

Minnesota Minutes

By Andy Weise

-Good ole Peter King is stirring the pot once again in Minnesota after his recent interview on PTI suggesting that if Brett Favre were to return another season in the NFL, he’d want to play for the Minnesota Vikings. Cue up the endless amounts of speculation and most likely another set of tampering suspicions that the Vikings organization will endure if Favre actually does end up here in Minnesota. I’ve always said from day one, he can play for Minnesota for a year – that will be fine with me as I just want to see the expression on the face of Packers fans when their hero runs out wearing white, purple and gold.

-The Minnesota Twins are pushing the debut of more commercials this year focusing on the marketing of Target Field, the new home of the Twins that will open a year from now. I’m curious if the money that no longer goes to the payroll of the players is going to this product rollout. After trading Johan Santana and letting Torii Hunter walk a year ago, the Twins have given raises to Joe Nathan, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer. Jason Kubel got a recent bump, but the team is still well below the 2007 payroll. I’m rooting for the Twins to actually step up and make an offer to free agent third basemen Joe Crede, come on Billy Smith.

-When the Gophers ended that terrible streak against Illinois, I had a couple of text messages waiting in my outgoing box for the last; let’s just say it’s been awhile since Minnesota beat those guys. I’m heading to a classic match-up of high school b-ball on Tuesday when Robbinsdale Cooper faces off with Hopkins. It’s a match-up featuring Rodney Williams (4-star Gophers’ recruit from Cooper) against his best friend Royce White (5-star Gophers’ recruit out of Hopkins). Hopkins features a team with at least five future division 1 players and could probably beat a lot of D1 college teams right now. Hopefully White and Williams do not disappoint.

-Kevin McHale got a standing ovation as he entered the floor of the new Boston Garden when the Timberwolves faced the Celtics on Sunday. Now as I saw the replay of the standing ovation I thought: Are they cheering for him because of his playing days in Boston? Surely he was a great player, but then I reminded myself – “Well he did give Boston another title last year.” Not only did he trade Kevin Garnett to Boston but he also traded them Wally Sczerbiak a year and a half prior. Wally ended up landing them Ray Allen. The Wolves have done well as of late, but they still need to add better defensive players at the point guard and center position. With multiple picks coming this offseason, they could land Hasheem Thabeet and one of many point guards available.

-One rumor that won’t go away? Flip Saunders will return to coach the Timberwolves in 2009 when Fred Hoiberg takes over the Vice President of Basketball Operations position. Flip is still sitting at home collecting money from the Detroit Pistons and will definitely be a candidate for multiple openings next year. While McHale has certainly improved the team over his second run as coach, McHale dislikes the travel from his many years as a player and in the end, and that will be enough for McHale to decide he’s had enough. I hope he does go out on a positive note though. He was tremendous during his playing career at the University of Minnesota and he did have some success during the Kevin Garnett era. But most would agree that his stay has been extended too long.