In a year that sees a lot of transition on rosters in the Big Ten, perhaps no other team exemplifies that more than Tubby Smith's Minnesota Golden Gophers. They lost Davoe Joseph last year to transfer mid-season and are losing three major pieces to the puzzle off of last years team that totally underachieved. It will be interesting to see how Smith pieces together this roster and who takes the ball as PG.
Conference Record/Finish: 6-12 (9th)
Head Coach: Tubby Smith - 80-53 in 4 seasons at Minnesota (476-198 in 19 seasons)
Returning Starters: 3
- Trevor Mbakwe (Sr., Forward) - 13.9ppg, 10.5rpg, 1.3apg
- Ralph Sampson III (Sr., F/C) - 10.2ppg, 5.4rpg, 1.6apg
- Rodney Williams (Jr., G/F) - 6.8ppg, 3.5rpg, 1.9apg
Newcomers: Joe Coleman - 6'4" 200lbs. (Fr., Guard); Andre Hollins - 6'1" 190lbs. (Fr., Guard); Andre Ingram - 6'7" 235lbs. (Jr., Forward); Julian Welch - 6'3" 195lbs. (Jr., Guard)
This team has some great pieces to be an upper half Big Ten team, with preseason all-conference Trevor Mbakwe and an ever improving Ralph Sampson at the Center spot. The question around this part of the country is can Rodney Williams finally live up to expectations? He's been god awful shooting the ball, making only 46% of his FG's and an unacceptable, Shaq-like, 49%, on Free Throws last season and needs to prove he can be a scorer on a team that has no experience in the backcourt outside of him.
Hoping to step into the major hole at the guard spots left by the graduations of Blake Hoffarber (13.6ppg) and Al Nolen (8.4ppg, 3.7apg) will be a mix of the Hollins', Sophomore Austin and Freshman Andre. Andre is a 3 star recruit, ranked 31st at his position, and 110th nationally. Interestingly the Gophers chose to start both in the preseason with Austin scoring 7 and 8 points, while Andre had 6 and 3 points in the exhibition games.
One thing is clear that the newest Gophers will play a major role on this team. Besides Hollins, Joe Coleman and Julian Welch also played double digit minutes in one or both of the exhibition games and will be counted on off the bench starting with the Bucknell game tonight. But with all the newcomers on the team and playing major roles it will need a challenge going into the Big Ten season right? Well, not exactly, at least in the schedule that's in front of the Gophers.
Non-conference schedule highlights: Old Spice Classic (11/24 vs. DePaul, 11/25 Texas Tech/Indiana State, 11/26 TBD), 11/30 vs. Virginia Tech (B1G/ACC Challenge), 12/3 vs. USC
One of the most interesting schedules in the Big Ten, IMO, not because it's challenging, which it's not, but because outside of the Old Spice Classic games on a neutral court, Minnesota won't play a game outside of Williams Arena in the non-conference slate. I don't know if we'll really know much about this team from the schedule they have put together and I wouldn't be surprised to see them with only 1 or 2 losses coming into conference play because of how soft it is.
Conference Schedule: As much as we won't know about this team in the non-conference slate, we'll quickly find out what this team is made of come Big Ten play. The first seven games, @ Illinois, @ Michigan, vs. Iowa, vs. Purdue, @ Indiana, and @ Penn State will tell us a whole lot.
By the time the Gophers get out of that slate they will either be right in the mix of the conference race or have no shot at all, just that quickly. It will be important for them to find a way to win 2 or 3 of the road games in that stretch if they want to be contenders in the conference race. You'll find out where I see them shortly, so stay tuned!