2010 Minnesota Gophers Basketball Season Preview


Minnesota Gophers 2010 season preview

Some would say that the Gophers basketball team overachieved last year.

With the midseason loss of Al Nolen to academic issues and Royce White and Trevor Mbakwe, the Gophers two most highly touted freshman, never seeing the court in the first place, others would say it’s a miracle they managed to make the Big Ten title game for the first time in school history and the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.

Some others would say the fact that the Gophers were able to accomplish all that last year is a testament to Tubby Smith’s coaching ability, and with him returning, you can’t tell what the ceiling is for this team because Smith has managed to do so much with so little.

Whatever you say on the 2010 version of the Gophers basketball team, it’s image has changed greatly since their 11 point loss to Xavier in the first round of the NCAA tournament to end their season.

Here’s a quick look at the returners, newcomers, and what to expect for Tubby’s squad this year.

RETURNERS:  Al Nolen, Senior, PG:  Nolen is one of the best on-ball defenders certainly in the conference, and maybe in the nation.  His ability to shut down the opponent’s best scorer is an asset Tubby missed in the second half of last year.  He has a great deal of potential on the offensive side of the ball as well, with his slashing ability, and if he has developed a jumper since we last saw him, he could be a very dangerous weapon.

Devoe Joseph, Junior, Combo Guard:  Joseph stepped up and played admirably in Nolen’s absence, showing his ability to be a takeover scorer when needed.  With Nolen back to be the true point guard, perhaps Joseph will thrive with the pure scorer’s role he will need to fill with the departure of Lawrence Westbrook.

Devoe Joseph

Blake Hoffarber, Senior, SG:  Hoffarber flat out shoots the basketball.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t do much else, and the Gophers reliance on him to be a true scorer in the beginning of the conference season last year hurt.  Hoffarber can go off anytime, but he can not create his own shot.  He will be asked to stretch the floor and hopefully not be asked to do as much this year as he was last year.

Rodney Williams, Sophomore, SF:  Quite simply, one of the most athletic players in the country.  That being said, it did not translate his freshman year into on-court results.  After lighting up three awful D-1 teams, he scored in double-figures and was used sparingly the rest of the year.  The Gophers would love to see more out of him this year, because he has been rumored to be NBA-bound after the season.

Colton Iverson, Junior, C:  Iverson finished the season strong, with double-digit scoring efforts in four of the Gophers last five games.  Unfortunately, for the better part of the conference season, he was non-existent.  The Gophers will need to see some offensive development out of Iverson if their front line is going to be as intimidating as they hope.

Ralph Sampson III, Junior, C:  Sampson made great strides last year and separated himself from Iverson as THE center on this team.  His eight points and six rebounds a game held it down for the Gophers in the middle, and if he continues to trend in the right direction with his offensive game to match his impressive defensive game, the Gophers will be set in the middle.

Bryant Allen, Sophomore, PG / Dominique Dawson, Sophomore, PF:  Don’t expect much from these two, as they are buried on the depth chart, possibly even behind freshmen.  If any of them will see the court it will be Allen, who saw limited time last year in Nolen’s absence.

NEWCOMERS:  Trevor Mbakwe, Junior, PF:  He’s been around the program, but since he never has actually seen the floor, he will be a first time contributor.  Mbakwe brings some physicality to the power forward position, something the Gophers have lacked with Damian Johnson and Dan Coleman before him.  Mbakwe’s ability to rebound will fit nicely with Iverson and Sampson up front, but he is also somewhat of a wild card since it’s been so long since he has seen college level basketball game.

Trevor Mbakwe

Maurice Walker, Freshman, PF/C:  The only Minnesota freshman of note, Walker was rated as the ninth best center prospect in the country by ESPN.com, and the 118th best overall recruit by Rivals.com.  His size (6’10”, 300 lbs.) is ready for the Big Ten right now, but with Iverson and Sampson at the 5 and Mbakwe sure to start at the 4, Walker could see limited time at best.

Oto Osenieks, Freshman. SF/PF:  Osenieks is a 6’8”, 215 lb. shooter out of Latvia.  He stands out from the rest of the freshman class because of his international experience and the Gophers lack of depth at the small forward spot, which is apparently where Tubby wants to play him.  He would be a great insurance policy for Rodney Williams in case he’s just an athlete, not a basketball player.

Maverick Ahanmisi, Freshman, PG / Austin Hollins, Freshman, SG / Elliott Eliason, Freshman, C / Chris Halvorsen, Sophomore, SF / Eric Stark, Freshman, PG / Chip Armelin, Freshman, PG/SG:  These six represent the rest of Tubby’s recruiting class, one that has drawn criticism for not being able to contribute right away.  Armelin comes from Louisiana, and ESPN.com said he would be a “great addition to a Southland Conference team.”  That’s uninspiring.  Stark is a walk-on that was offered a spot on the team, Hollins and Eliason have been committed to the program for what seems like years, but both were three star recruits and may redshirt, and Ahanmisi was not ranked on Scout.com or Rivals.com coming out of Stoneridge Prep in California, while Halvorsen was at ValPo, but barely played and has gained a spot by walking on.  Needless to say, this class lacks the star power of Tubby’s other two classes, but with how those have worked out, specifically the 2009 class, maybe that’s a good thing.

LOSSES (Graduated): Lawrence Westbrook, Damian Johnson, Devron Bostick:  Westbrook’s loss will hurt unless Joseph or Williams step up and score the points that Westbrook did.  Johnson was long and really helped in Tubby’s pressing style of defense, and he was one of the best overall defenders in the conference.  Bostick did not contribute, but this group as a whole, while it may be small, will be missed for their ability to carry the team on opposite ends of the floor at times.

Lawrence Westbrook

LOSSES (Transfers): Paul Carter, Justin Cobbs, Royce White:  With White never seeing the floor, that softens the blow of the once top-30 recruit in the nation leaving for Iowa State.  Carter is the main loss of this group, as he was expected to take over Johnson’s spot but transferred to Illinois-Chicago to be closer to his family who is struggling with Carter’s sister having cancer.  Cobbs played a small amount last year, but was starting to look like he could contribute, before transferring to California.  All three of these transfers would’ve contributed, likely in a big way at some point, but without them the Gophers may have to push a few freshmen into playing time.

KEYS TO SUCCESS: Replacing Lawrence Westbrook:  Westbrook had his ups and downs for Minnesota, but when it came down to it, he did lead the Gophers in scoring his junior and senior seasons.  His out of control play worried many fans, but his aggressive style and big shots repeatedly got the Gophers out of tight spots.  Devoe Joseph or Rodney Williams will most likely need to be the guys to shoulder the majority of the load, with Blake Hoffarber being a one trick pony and Al Nolen never really being the score first guy.  It might be too much to ask of Williams, who hasn’t had success at the college level, but Joseph just might make people forget about his brother spurning the Gophers for Texas.

Progression of Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III:  The twin towers as they were called when they got to Minnesota have come along nicely and put themselves in a position to have big seasons.  Sampson in particular is developing into an all-around threat in the post on both ends, and his presence down low will be huge for a team that is big at every position.  Depending on what Tubby wants to do, Iverson may start at the 4.  If not, he will be Sampson’s backup and one of the best backup centers in the nation.  Both these men have had great potential for their previous two years, and it’s time for them to fulfill each and every bit of it.

ralph sampson

Avoid Speed Bumps:  2009 was one of the most topsy-turvy seasons any program could imagine, with players missing time for every reason under the sun.  With their full compliment of players last year, they had a chance to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament, but because of those off-court distractions and players missing so much time, the Gophers narrowly edged in to the field of 65.  This team enters the season with a great deal of potential as well, not as much as the 2009 season, but still with a great chance to succeed.  If everyone can stay out of off-court trouble, this could be a surprisingly successful season for the maroon and gold.

OUTLOOK: With a strong conference including perennial conference title contenders Michigan State, Ohio State, and Purdue among others, it’s hard to imagine the Gophers jumping up into the top four of this conference.  Still, the Gophers have a lot of optimism surrounding the program despite the troubles of last year and the large amount of newcomers to Tubby Smith’s team.  No one could’ve foreseen so many transfers coming, and with the turnover rate in this program, it’s easy to say that they will win no more than 17 games and miss the NCAA tournament.

But over the last 17 seasons Tubby Smith has won at least 20 games every season and all but one of those has made the NCAA tournament.  He has a reputation as one of the best coaches in the business for a reason and with him at the helm, as was evidenced last year, this team is capable of many things we may not see coming.

The top out, should everyone stay healthy and no one miss significant time for any reason, seems to be about 22 wins with another appearance in the NCAA tournament.  But with that as the best case scenario, there is very little room for error with this team.  Should Sampson, Nolen, or Joseph miss a great deal of time, it will kill team depth and they could not even come close to that win total.

Not being able to land Cory Joseph or being able to keep Royce White definitely hurt, and without that top shelf talent there are many different scenarios for this team.

The one for sure is that Tubby will be there, and you have to believe he’ll get the most he can possibly get from the team he has.

-Mike Gallagher


  1. very comprehensive & even handed analysis, mike… looking forward to a team we can cheer for this season… thanks!

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