Minnesota Gophers Basketball Offseason Preview

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By Mike Gallagher

It’s funny how getting a big name coach to come to your program generates interest and attention for your school.

When Dan Monson was the coach of the Gophers basketball team before Tubby took over, no one said a word about the team between April and November.

But since Tubby Smith has graced Williams Arena with his presence, the amount of offseason publicity the Gophers get has gone through the roof.

Granted, most of it is about Smith, but any pub is good pub, especially for a program that has struggled to make noise since the late 90’s, which by the way, never happened.

I’ll go ahead and give thanks to Tubby, because without him, this article wouldn’t be worth writing.  With him, these topics make for interesting speculation, as they are the three things we should watch for this offseason.

1.    RETAIN TUBBY SMITH.  Obviously, this one goes without saying, as the intro kind of gave it away.  This has gotten more attention than anything in college basketball minus Butler’s run to the NCAA title game over the last couple weeks.  But is anyone surprised?  I’ve outlined this in previous columns, and the fact that Tubby’s name is being thrown around shouldn’t come as a shock unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few offseasons.  Other not-so-shocking news is the fact that none of the speculation has led to anything.  Every year Tubby’s name comes up in the coaching carousel, and every year nothing comes of it.  Already this year we’ve had Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com fame claim that Auburn had all-but-signed Smith, a report that proved to be completely erroneous and unsubstantiated.  Next in the line was the Oregon job, which even made PTI with Smith being one of the names Kornheiser and Wilbon brought up.  As the story has played out, it’s looking pretty clear that those reports were also false, as a number of different sources are saying Smith is staying:
Star Tribune:  Tubby Smith hasn’t spoken with Oregon, plans to stay at U
San Francisco Chronicle:  Oregon not on Smith’s job radar
Smith:  There’s “nothing to talk about” in regards to Oregon and he’s so happy at Minnesota that he’s working on a contract extension.
Let me also say about these reports, that they’re backed up by legitimate sources and facts, unlike Dennis Dodd’s fantasy world of reporting where you can put two coincidental things together and call them reasons Smith is leaving.  From the sounds of it, the Gophers are on their way to meeting their first goal, but with jobs still opening up across the college basketball landscape, Gopher fans would appreciate Joel Maturi speeding up the negotiation process in the contract extension talks.

2.    USE THEIR LAST TWO SCHOLARSHIPS WISELY.  It’s a great time of year for basketball programs everywhere, because in less than two weeks the signing period starts for college basketball superstars-in-the-making everywhere.  The Gophers have already used two of their four scholarships on 6’4” shooting guard Austin Hollins and 6’11”, 235 pound center Elliot Eliason, both three-star prospects on every recruiting service out there, and who both are likely to redshirt.  With that being the case, the Gophers have to find two guys that can contribute next year with these last two scholarships.  Still number one on the Gophers radar is Cory Joseph, brother of Devoe, and seventh ranked prospect in the nation according to rivals.com.  Cory is keeping his thoughts on the U close to the vest, while also considering UCONN, Texas, Villanova, and UNLV.  He has taken official visits to UCONN, Minnesota, and Villanova, but will not speak about which way he’s leaning.  He certainly has lived up to the hype during the season, leading Findley Prep to a National High School Invitational Championship while also becoming an All-American and winning the three-point contest at the Mcdonalds High School All-America weekend.  Needless to say, he would be one of the Gophers best recruits ever, even if he only stuck around a year and then bolted to the NBA.  He’s definitely the only man on the Gophers landscape that could replace the scoring of the graduated Lawrence Westbrook.  The Gophers are also after one of the top centers in the country, Maurice Walker.  He has offers from Virginia, Marquette, Seton Hall, Kansas, and the Gophers according to Myron Medcalf of the Star Tribune.  With a name like Kansas you’d think Minnesota would be out of the running, but Walker will tell you otherwise.
“I’m more leaning toward Minnesota right now,” he said during a recent interview with scout.com. “I like Tubby Smith as a coach. I like that I have family out there. It’s an up and coming program. It’s possible I could commit during the visit.  The other schools have a chance. But if I go to Minnesota and like what they offer, then I’ll commit.”
Walker is ranked as the 12th best center in the country according to rivals.com and the 118th best prospect in the country overall.  With things looking good on that front, only one scholarship would be left and the Gophers have scheduled a visit for Dwight McCombs out of Morraine Valley Community College.  McCombs wouldn’t make the type of impact that Walker would coming in, but is a solid rebounder and shot blocker that could come off the bench to enforce at the PF position.  In a perfect world, however, the Gophers won’t even get a chance to use a scholarship on McCombs, because they’ll both be taken by Walker and Joseph.

3.    GET TREVOR MBAKWE BACK TO BASKETBALL.  With his assault case in Florida still not settled, Mbakwe is still away from the team.  Having missed all of this year due to the suspension imposed by Joel Maturi, Mbakwe seems to keep finding ways to stay in school and around basketball.  Mbakwe will be key heading into next year, as his talent would dictate he step in and start at the 4 for the Gophers.  Mbakwe’s strength and rebounding prowess would be a great asset to this squad, and especially on the defensive end of the court he could make people forget about the graduated Dan Coleman.  It’s hard to believe that Mbakwe won’t be able to shake off the rust before next season and be a solid contributor for the Gophers, as the charges in the assault case are expected to be dropped over the next few weeks so Mbakwe can return to focusing on the Gophers.  If for some odd reason he can’t get back to his old self, it looks as if Minnesota would have to start Paul Carter at the 4.  That’s not necessarily a terrible thing, but with his skill set, he is much better suited to come off the bench as a sixth man.  He was seventh on the team in scoring, which doesn’t inspire much confidence considering he’s more of an offensive player.

The Gophers offseason has potential to be a very lucrative one, and I’ll be checking in throughout to keep you updated on all the latest happenings within the program.

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  1. from your mouth to tubby’s ears…

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