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Minnesota Gophers Basketball

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Richmond Spiders 11/18/12

Richmond Spiders (3-0) at Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-0)
Sunday, November 18, 2012 | 6pm CT | TV/Online: BTN

Minnesota will have a significant size advantage inside when they host the Richmond Spiders at Williams Arena Sunday evening. However, Richmond’s backcourt is their strength and they have several quality guards capable of putting up points.

While the Gophers should be able to dominate the boards and inside scoring, the concern will be Richmond’s outside shooting. For an underdog like the Spiders, the 3-point shot can be an equalizer and this will be the first offense Minnesota has faced that favors outside shooting.

So far this season the Gophers’ defense has allowed an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of just 29.4% which has helped them win by an average of more than 30 points per game. While the competition hasn’t been good, Minnesota’s defense has been great.

Nonetheless, a defensive eFG% of 29.4% is not sustainable. To put the 29.4% average in perspective, consider that the worst performance in any single game of the 38 played during the 2011-12 season was 35.7% (by USC in a 55-40 Minnesota win).

Although they’ve coasted to victory in each game this season, the Gophers have committed a number of unforced turnovers and allowed their opponents to more offensive rebounds and free throw attempts than Tubby Smith would like to see. If Minnesota does not clean up these areas, they’ll find themselves in tight ball games against teams who aren’t miserable at making shots.

With a trip to the Bahamas and Thanksgiving date with Duke coming up this week, the Gophers need to stay focused on Richmond. Minnesota is clearly the better team and should win, but a lackluster effort on their part combined with strong 3-point shooting for Richmond could result in the Gophers being caught up in the Spiders’ web.

Below you’ll find a PLAYERS TO WATCH section highlighting specific Tigers and an OTHER NOTES section. For additional information on the Gophers and Big Ten basketball, go to LateNightHoops.com.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Leading scorer #3 Darien Brothers (14.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 37.6% 3FG in 2011-12) is back for his senior year and has started off hot. Through three games, the 6’3” guard is averaging 19.7 points and has shot an eFG% of 71.9%.

Brothers presents a challenge in that he’s a threat both from behind the arc and attacking the basket. He’s gone for 30+ points several times in his career and keeping him covered is a top priority for the Gopher defense.

Sophomore point guard #0 Kendall Anthony (13.0 ppg, 1.7 apg) stands just 5’8” and comes off the bench, but he’s extremely quick and hasn’t had a problem getting shots off. Approximately half of his shots come from 3-point range where he’s connected on an impressive 43.4% of his career attempts as a Spider.

#2 Cedrick Lindsay (11.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 3.7 apg, 34.1% 3FG) is another guard who can hit from deep, but the 6’1” junior scores most of his points closer to the basket and at the line. Keep an eye on him in transition.

Big #34 Derrick Williams (11.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg) is 270 pounds and big enough to battle in the post despite being only 6’6”. He’ll look to draw fouls and get to the line where he’s a career 77% shooter.

Sophomore reserve guard #4 Wayne Sparrow’s freshman year ended early after breaking his hand, but this year he’s averaged 8.7 ppg and has shot 5/12 from 3-point range.

OTHER NOTES 

  • Richmond’s margin of victory (31.7 per game) this year is higher than Minnesota’s (30.3).
  • On Sunday, these teams will be meeting for just the second time in history. Next season, the Gophers will head to Richmond for a third meeting.
  • Richmond won the first match up 67-66 in a 2002 NIT game at Williams Arena. Current Michigan head coach John Beilein was at the helm for that team and left for West Virginia just weeks after beating Minnesota.
  • The announced attendance of 10,107 for Thursday’s game against Tennessee State was the lowest regular season attendance of the Tubby Smith era.
  • Check in often at LateNightHoops.com as we’ll share some insights on team and player statistics after the first four games of the year as the Gophers prepare for Duke and the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
  • Oto Osenieks has struggled from 3-point range (0/8) and from the field in general (5/16 for 31.3%). However, in 43 minutes on the court he’s been credited with six assists and zero turnovers. We’ll take a missed shot over a turnover any day, especially when the Gophers are rebounding about half of their own misses. Don’t give up on him yet.
  • We’d like to see Trevor Mbakwe and Maurice Walker get more time on the court Sunday and believe they’re vital to competing against Duke and others next week.
  • Rodney Williams put together a nice line against Tennessee State with 15 points and 7 rebounds on 7/9 FG, but it was his defense that impressed us most. Tigers’ star forward Robert Covington was limited to 10 points on 4/11 shooting and no trips to the line.


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Game Preview: Gophers vs. Tennessee State 11/15/12

Tennessee State Tigers at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Thursday, November 15, 2012 | 7pm CT | TV/Online: ESPN3

Tennessee State comes to Minneapolis with a record of 0-2, having lost on the road to BYU and South Dakota State. The Tigers were picked to finish second in the East division of the Ohio Valley behind conference newcomer Belmont. Murray State and their returning star Isaiah Cannon were the top pick on the West side of the conference.

The Gophers will not have the only NBA prospects on the floor at Williams Arena Thursday night. Tennessee State’s versatile senior forward Robert Covington was superb last year and has continued to progress during his three seasons in Nashville.

Head coach Travis Williams took over for John Cooper who left for the top job at Miami (OH) in April. Williams worked as an assistant under Cooper for the past three seasons and takes over for a team that returns four starters and has a roster with a lot of Chicagoland talent.

Minnesota comes into the game 2-0 after winning their first two by a combined 62 points. It’s difficult to be critical of their play after two dominant performances, but there are areas that need improvement.

Minnesota turned the ball over 19 times against Toledo, including 12 turnovers from starting guards Andre Hollins (4) and Joe Coleman (8). Giving up the ball has been an issue for the Gophers in recent years, but they’ll try to buck that trend against a Tiger defense that is good at creating turnovers.

Another area Tubby Smith’s team will try to address is allowing their opponents to earn trips to the line. Both American and Toledo were given 23 free throw attempts.

If Covington gets loose for 30 points, which is possible, Tennessee State could make a game of this one. More likely, however, the Gophers cruise to 3-0.

Below you’ll find a PLAYERS TO WATCH section highlighting specific Tigers. For additional information on the Gophers and Big Ten basketball, go to LateNightHoops.com.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

#33 Robert Covington (17.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg in 2011-12) is a long and versatile 6’9” senior forward from the Chicago area and a threat from anywhere on the floor, with or without the ball. He’s a great shooter, defender and rebounder who is a cut above anyone Minnesota has seen so far this season.

Covington was very efficient with the ball a year ago and shot extremely well both inside the arc (57.0%) and behind it (65/145 for 44.8%). Defending Covington will be a nice test for Rodney Williams and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see these two going up against each other again next July in the NBA’s summer league.

Strong point guard #2 Patrick Miller (10.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.6 apg) stands 6’1”, 189 pounds and has been credited with a total of 19 assists in the Tigers’ first two games.   Prior to this year, Miller has shot infrequently and poorly from 3-point range (41/139 for 29.5%; 2.2 3FA/game), but has taken 9 attempts behind the arc already this year and made 3.

Miller is a better scorer when he gets close to the bucket and is a fairly strong guard who does draw contact. Minnesota would prefer the junior to continue shooting out on the perimeter as compared to him dishing to Covington or other open Tigers.

#1 Kellen Thornton (9.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg) played at Hillcrest (Ill.) and Brewster Academy (N.H.) in high school and began his college days at Illinois State. Now a senior and a big 6’8”, 243 pounds, Thornton is another good scoring option and a solid rebounder.

Others to mention:

  • Senior guard #45 Jordan Cyphers (8.0 ppg; 36.4% 3FG) started out at Utah before transferring two years ago.  He’ll likely come off the bench looking to fire away from long range.
  • #3 Kharon Butcher (1.9 ppg) is another reserve who is willing to try from 3-point range. He only went 8/28 3FG for 28.6% as a freshman, but he can hit from outside.
  • Redshirt sophomore #4 M.J. Rhett (3.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg) has added size to his 6’8” frame and helps inside with rebounding.


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B1G BRIEFS – 11/12/12

B1G BRIEFS
Monday, November 12, 2012

Through Sunday, all Big Ten teams except for Northwestern and Purdue have played one game. Northwestern’s first contest is Tuesday and the Boilermakers played two games over the weekend.

Below are notes on how each team started the year, as well a couple of 2013 Big Ten commitments (to Indiana and Wisconsin, respectively).

Illinois
John Groce won his first game as head coach at Illinois, beating Colgate 75-55 in Champaign. The Illini connected on 10/18 3-point attempts in the first half (13/30 for 43.3% for the game) and coasted in the second half.

  • Brandon Paul led the scoring for Illinois with 20 points. Paul also had 8 reb, 5 ast, 2 stl.
  • Six players made at least 1 3FG; three players made 3 3FG’s.
  • Six players had at least 6 rebounds. Illinois out-rebounded Colgate on the offensive boards 19-4.

Indiana
The Hoosiers strolled to a 97-54 win over Bryant.

  • Cody Zeller’s double-double (18 pts, 10 reb) was only the sixth of his career.
  • Freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell looked good: 10 pts, 7 ast, 5 reb in 24 min. He also nabbed Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.
  • A guy we especially like as a future star, Jeremy Hollowell, also made his debut: 12 pts, 2 reb, 3 TO in 17 mins
  • Noah Vonleh of New Hampton School (NH), a top-10 ranked recruit in the class of 2013, committed to the Hoosiers.
  • Indiana announced it had reached an agreement on a new deal with Tom Crean. The contract is not finalized, but Indiana says it runs through 2020 and the increases the average annual non-performance based compensation resulting from $2.52 million to $3.16 million and that the incremental income will be paid through deferred compensation.

Iowa
Fran McCaffery’s team made an easy night of it, winning their opener 86-55 at home against Texas-Pan American.

  • Freshmen Adam Woodbury (10 pts, 3 reb, 3 blk in 14 min) and Mike Gesell (7 pts, 4 ast, 3 reb, 1 TO in 24 min) started.
  • With Aaron White, Adam Woodbury, Melsahn Basabe and Gabe Olaseni, Iowa is going to block a lot of shots this year.

Michigan
The Wolverines demolished Slippery Rock 100-62 behind big games from Tim Hardaway Jr. (25 pts, 10 reb, 105% eFG, 5/5 3FG) and Trey Burke (21 pts, 8 ast). Hardaway was named the Big Ten’s Player of the Week.

  • Freshmen Glenn Robinson III (10 pts, 8 reb), Mitch McGary (9 pts, 9 reb), and Nik Stauskas (7 pts) all had nice showings.

Michigan State
The Spartans tipped off against Connecticut in Germany. Things started off slow for Michigan State, trailing by as much as 16 in the first half. Tom Izzo’s team made it a game in the second half, but came up short and lost 66-62.

  • Branden Dawson is coming off ACL surgery, but looked explosive. The sophomore scored 15 points, grabbed 10 rebounds (8 offensive) and earned 5 steals.
  • True freshman Gary Harris wasn’t shy: 11 points on 4/13 shooting (1/7 3FG).

Minnesota
The Gophers manhandled American University 72-36. American’s 26.3% eFG was the lowest against a Minnesota team this century.

  • Junior wing Austin Hollins led the scoring with 20 points, also adding 5 rebounds and 5 steals.
  • Minnesota held a 22-8 advantage in turnovers.

Nebraska
New head coach Tim Miles was victorious, beating Southern 66-55.

  • Senior forward Brandon Ubel led the way with 21 points and 12 rebounds.
  • Dylan Talley, also a senior, scored 17 and junior guard Ray Gallegos added 16.
  • Nebraska shot an eFG of 54.6%.

Northwestern
The Wildcats begin their season on Tuesday, November 13 at home against Texas Southern.

Ohio State
The Buckeyes’ aircraft carrier game against Marquette was canceled Friday night, but they hosted Albany on Sunday and won easily 82-60.

  • Strong contributions from several players, led by Aaron Craft (20 pts, 7 ast, 5/7 3FG), Deshaun Thomas (19 pts) and Lenzelle Smith Jr. (18 pts, 5 reb, 8/11 FG).
  • The Buckeyes shot a blistering 67.9% eFG.

Penn State
The Nittany Lions won their opener 65-58 at home against Saint Francis. The Nits were outshot 54.4% to 39.4% eFG, but got to the line 18 more times than Saint Francis and allowed their opponent just 2 offensive rebounds (7% OR%).

The three double-figure scorers for Penn State were the three players we highlighted in our preseason preview:

  • Tim Frazier: 39 min, 23 pts, 6 ast, 4 reb, 17/18 FT
  • Southern Miss transfer D.J. Newbill: 16 pts, 7 reb, 9/10 FT
  • Minnesota’s Ross Travis: 10 pts, 9 reb (5 off)

Purdue
Minnesotan Mike Muscala and the Bucknell Bison went on the road and defeated Purdue 70-65 by outscoring the Boilermakers by 13 at the foul line.

The Boilers bounced back Sunday against Hofstra, winning 83-54.

  • Who will score for Purdue? The question remains… they’ve had 5 double-digit scorers, but no one who scored double-digits in both games.

Wisconsin
The Badgers hosted Southeastern Louisiana and jumped out to a 19-0 lead in a game that ended 87-47.

  • Ben Brust had an impressive game with 14 points and 11 boards while Jarred Berggren added 19 and 8.
  • Mike Bruesewitz was cleared to play after a leg injury suffered in practice last month. He played only 13 minutes, but poured in 10 points and was a perfect 3/3 from the field (2/2 3FG).
  • Redshirt freshman George Marshall started at point guard and finished with 5 points, 2 assists and 2 turnovers in 28 minutes.
  • Senior Ryan Evans, a career 71.1% free throw shooter coming into the game, was 1/8 from the line.
  • 2013 F Nigel Hayes committed to the Badgers over the weekend.
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Game Preview: Gophers vs. Toledo 11/12/12

 

Toledo Rockets at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Monday, November 12, 2012 | 7pm CT | TV/Online: Gopher All Access (Online)

Toledo scored the final 10 points Friday night at Loyola Chicago, but the run only made the scoreboard look a little bit better in a 62-50 loss.

This season the Rockets are playing for pride and with only one senior, the future. Due to APR scores from academic years prior to current head coach Tod Kowalczyk’s arrival, the team is banned from NCAA postseason play.  Nonetheless, they are picked to win the MAC’s west division this year (it’s fair to note that half of the division’s teams are directional schools in Michigan).

Kowlacyzk, a Minnesota-Duluth alumnus (1989), is in his third year at Toledo after eight years as head coach at Wisconsin-Green Bay. Previous stops include an assistant coaching stint at Marquette while Dwyane Wade was at the school.

Despite being a small team that will play three guards most of the night, Toledo won’t be an especially heavy 3-point shooting team this year. However, just about everyone on the floor is willing to take advantage of an open look if it’s there.

Minnesota will look to come out and frustrate the Rockets early and often as they did to American Friday night. On paper, Toledo is not as good as American and this looks like the Gophers’ second easiest game on the schedule (Lafayette on December 22 takes the honors).

The Gophers were excellent in their season opening 72-36 victory over American. It’s difficult to critique such a dominating performance, but two areas Minnesota will want to improve on against Toledo are limiting the Rockets’ free throw attempts and second chances.

Below you’ll find a PLAYERS TO WATCH section highlighting specific Rockets and an OTHER NOTES section that touches on miscellaneous items of interest. For additional information on Gopher and Big Ten basketball, go to LateNightHoops.com.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Running the point is sophomore #20 Julius Brown (11.9 ppg, 4.9 apg) from the fine Chicagoland high school Hillcrest. “Juice” Brown was the MAC’s freshman of the year and posted an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.6 to 1, but he’s undersized and will likely face a lot of pressure from the Gophers.

#5 Rian Pearson (16.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg)  a 6’4” junior guard, followed Kowalczyk from UWGB and can rebound and score inside despite his size. Pearson isn’t much of a 3-point threat (8/31 for 25.8% in 2011-12), but he’ll try his best to take on Minnesota’s defenders in the paint. A test for the Gophers will be keeping him (and Brown) off the line.

Another guard expected to start is former Iowa State Cyclone (yes, they also have transfers out of that program) #1 Dominique Buckley (9.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg), a solid 6’2” senior. He’s a career 40.4% 3-point shooter and is the guy the Gophers should be most concerned about from deep.

Others to mention:

  • Freshman center #53 Nathan Boothe is a big kid at 6’9”, 250 pounds. Can hit an outside shot. As the only Rocket with much size, the hope for Toledo is that he’ll stay out of early foul trouble. We don’t think that will be easy for him to do, however.
  • #32 Reese Holliday (7.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg) will likely come off the bench, but get 20+ minutes. Just 6’4”, had to play inside a lot last year, but should play more on the wing with Boothe’s arrival. In addition to an impressive defensive rebounding percentage , Holliday shot well in 2011-12.
  • Sliding over to power forward from center is #43 Matt Smith (8.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg), another UWGB transfer. Smith shot the ball well last year, but at 6’7” and only 225 pounds, he’ll struggle defending inside.

OTHER NOTES

  • Gophers forward Oto Osenieks was recruited by coach Kowalczyk at both UWGB and Toledo.
  • American’s 26.3% effective field goal percentage Friday night was the lowest Minnesota has held an opponent in any game this century (beginning with the 2000-01 season), per Late Night Hoops research.
  • The announced attendance of 10,172 for Minnesota’s home opener was 1,804 or 15% less than last year’s. Also, the attendance for Friday’s opener was the smallest Williams Arena crowd for any regular season game in the Tubby Smith era.
  • Tremendous ticket deals are available at www.GopherSports.com including $10 tickets and $15 packages that include a ticket and $5 concession voucher.
  • J.D. Weatherspoon transferred to Toledo from Ohio State and expects to be eligible to play for two years beginning in 2013-14. Weatherspoon starred at Northland (OH) high school with fellow 2010 graduate Jared Sullinger and their younger point guard Trey Burke.
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Game Preview: Gophers vs. American 11/9/12

American University Eagles at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Friday, November 9, 2012 | 7pm CT | TV/Online: Gopher All Access (Online)

Head coach Jeff Jones begins his 13th year at American with his squad picked to finish third in the top-heavy Patriot League behind familiar names Bucknell and Lehigh.

American lost its top two scorers (Charles Hinkle 18.4 ppg & Troy Brewer 11.9 ppg) to graduation and returning guard Blake Jolivette (23.7 mpg, 7.3 ppg) is out after suffering an ACL injury this summer. Combined, these three players accounted for 56% of last year’s points.

Still, there are a few experienced players ready to lead the Eagles this season.

Below you’ll find a PLAYERS TO WATCH section highlighting specific Eagles and THE TEAM section that covers the four factors. For additional information on Gopher and Big Ten basketball, go to LateNightHoops.com.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Point guard #2 Danny Munoz (31.8 mpg, 8.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.2 apg) had a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and made 43.9% of his 3-point tries, although he doesn’t shoot much (36/82 3FG). As good as some of those statistics may sound, it’s important to consider that he’s a low usage point guard and struggled with his 2-point shooting (35.7%).

Overall, Munoz is not game changer but he’s very important to the team as a senior and far and away American’s best option at the point. In a game like this, the Gophers have to be mindful that Munoz may want to try and set the tone for the season by showing he’s going to step up offensively more often.

#34 Tony Wroblicky (18.4 mpg, 6.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg) is a 6’10” junior who was excellent rebounding and blocking shots last year. He should see many more minutes this season if he’s able to stay out of foul trouble, but that’s a big if. Minnesota will want to test Wroblicky’s defense early on, as a cutting Rodney Williams or slashing Joe Coleman would be hard for the big lefthander to resist slapping.

#32 Stephen Lumpkins, whose father Larry played 30+ years ago at Northwestern, returns to college basketball after spending a year playing rookie ball for the Kansas City Royals organization. Lumpkins is a 6’8” lefty who can pitch into the low-90s, but he’s had far more success on the basketball court than on the mound.

As a junior in 2010-11, Lumpkins averaged 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds in 30.0 minutes per game. We anticipate he’ll jump right back into old form despite the year on the diamond.

Neither of the big men shoots from distance, but they will look to get the high-low game working. While Wroblicky doesn’t always look confident when trying to score, Lumpkins is a legit scoring threat and who can take contact.

After the three players discussed above, things get a lot less impressive. However, a few others to mention:

  • Rutgers transfer #4 Austin Carroll is a 6’4” combo guard who will likely play significant minutes off the ball, but also spell Munoz at the point for several minutes as well. It will be a Brewster Academy reunion, something that happens quite often in college basketball, as Carroll and Minnesota’s Maurice Walker were teammates there. Like Walker, Carroll has played sparingly thus far in college because of injuries, but is now ready to go.
  • Freshman guard #14 Jesse Reed has good size at 6’5” and is a guy to watch on the perimeter.
  • Texas product #1 Kyle Kager looks like he will be a decent scorer for the Eagles at some point, but he’s probably a year away. Still, he’s a long, 6’8” kid who can score inside and out and could cause mismatches.

THE TEAM

In 2011-12 the Eagles took an average amount of 3-point attempts, but were extremely accurate. This season’s team should be a bit more focused on interior scoring with the loss of their top shooters and the available 1-2 punch of Lumpkins and Wroblicky.

Shooting
The Eagles will need to shoot the ball very well if they are to compete. Last year they were 17-0 when their offensive efficiency was 100 or better and 3-12 when it was under 100. They won’t be at 100 without a solid effective field goal percentage.

The trick for American this year will be shooting a much higher 2FG% than the 44.0% achieved a year ago, because they won’t shoot from long range as often and they will not be as accurate. The Eagles shot 39.4% behind the arc (and an amazing 45.2% in conference games) a year ago.

While improvement upon their poor 2FG% from a year ago appears an easily achievable goal for the season, scoring buckets inside will not be a breeze against the Minnesota defense. If the Lumpkins-Wroblicky combination doesn’t produce a high field goal percentage, the Eagles will stay grounded and unable to compete.

Defensively, American may give Gopher fans a look at what their team can do against a zone defense. If Minnesota struggles getting the ball inside early, they may need to call upon the Juice Man Julian Welch to come off the bench and give them a third player who can squeeze the trigger from deep.

Turnovers
It’s often discussed as a point of emphasis, but the Gophers haven’t been able to show much improvement in taking care of the ball. With so many returning players we’d have to believe there will be improvement this season, but how much?

American generally takes things slow and neither coughs up the ball a lot nor generates many turnovers. Minnesota often commits unforced turnovers and we could see the Eagles winning the turnover battle, albeit by a small margin.

Rebounding
This could get interesting. Tubby Smith plans to start Elliot Eliason and Rodney Williams with three guards. Eliason against Wroblicky should be a good battle, but add in Lumpkins against Williams and the advantage may go to American. That said, Minnesota has Trevor Mbakwe and Maurice Walker on the bench.

The battle of the boards should be entertaining and could go either way. The Gophers would love to make a statement that they are not going to be out-muscled on the boards by anyone this year, but this is an interesting challenge to start off the schedule and it will be tough for them to dominate the Eagles from start to finish.

Free Throw Rate
People love to talk about free throw percentages, but what really matters is getting to the line. If Minnesota does so early and often Friday night, it’s probably in large part due to Tony Wroblicky getting into foul trouble, which would .

The Gophers put opponents on the charity stripe too often in 2011-12 and Eliason was often a culprit. With Mbakwe and Walker on the bench, foul trouble for Eliason individually isn’t a big concern, but giving the other team free throw attempts is.

Summary
The Gophers should win comfortably, but American could keep it close early on.

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2012-13 Player Previews: Minnesota Golden Gophers

This article is available in PDF format. Bookmarks are included to facilitate navigation: CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD: 2012-13 Player Previews: Minnesota Gophers

High-level player previews and season expectation for each scholarship student-athlete on Minnesota’s 2012-13 roster are included below. Players are listed in one of three sections: Point Guards, Bigs or Wings.

This year’s team has enough experience and skill to produce Tubby Smith’s best year since he’s been in the Twin Cities. However, whereas most have described the team as having great depth, we believe there are currently 8 players that belong in the regular rotation.

At the end of this article, we offer our preferred lineups (although we fully expect the Minnesota coaching staff to use the bench far more).

POINT GUARDS

Andre Hollins

6’1”, 200 | Sophomore
21.1 mpg, 8.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.8 apg

Dre is the team’s best go-to scorer as he’s able to score in various ways. He gets nice elevation on his jump shot and is accurate out to well past the 3-point arc. In addition, Hollins can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. We expect he’ll finish stronger and more consistently as a sophomore.

Last year, Dre made just 40.5% of his 2-point attempts (team average was 50.6%) and that must improve. Another area for improvement is reducing turnovers (26% turnover rate). Hollins had just 0.85 assists for each turnover.

As he’s entering his second year at Minnesota, Dre’s profile including last season’s numbers point to an impressive sophomore year. The obvious growth in confidence that Hollins exhibited late last season will carry over well.

Expectations: 11-14 ppg; improved A/T ratio; eFG% increase of 2.5%+; under-90% FT%.

Julian Welch
6’3”, 195 | Senior
24.7 mpg, 9.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.9 apg

Welch is an excellent spot up shooter and can hit from mid-range off the dribble. He fought through injuries last year and was still one of the biggest contributors to the team. The Gophers can’t afford to have him sitting on the bench too often. We believe he should play the role of backup point guard, but also get time alongside Dre Hollins as shooting guard. Very important player and  underrated by most.

Expectations: 8-12 ppg; lower 3FG% due to high comparison (43.8%); lower TO Rate by 3-5%.

Maverick Ahanmisi
6’2”, 192 | Junior
13.3 mpg, 2.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 1.6 apg

Despite some limitations, Ahanmisi does play with a lot of heart. We’d have him as a fill in option should Andre Hollins or Julian Welch go down, but suspect that Tubby Smith will play him for 10 minutes or so in most games.

In seven career starts against Big Ten teams, Ahanmisi doesn’t have a win and has gone just 9/40 (22.5%) from the field. His turnover rate improved as a sophomore, but it’s still far too high and although he can knock down an open triple, he finished the year below 30% in each of his first two seasons.

He does provide Minnesota with an experienced point guard option should they run into injury problems.

Expectations: 2-4 ppg

BIGS

Trevor Mbakwe
6’8″, 245 | Senior
28.7 mpg, 14.0 ppg, 9.1 rpg

Mbakwe is coming off an ACL injury and it could be awhile before he’s feeling completely comfortable on the floor, but even at 80% he’s be better than most guys at 100%. Absolutely ferocious on the boards, we expect he’ll again be one of the best rebounders in the conference.

Thanks to his long wingspan and athleticism, Trevor can handle playing center for Minnesota, but with Elliot Eliason and Mo Walker also available he may find most of his time at power forward. We’d like to see what Mbakwe and Rodney Williams can do along with three guards on floor, but a question coming into the season is how often Tubby Smith will utilize such a lineup.

Regardless of where he plays, Mbakwe should be on the court as much as he’s able to be. He’s a game changer and leader on the floor.

Expectations:  11-14 ppg, 9-11 rpg

Elliot Eliason
6’11”, 260 | Sophomore
15.1 mpg, 2.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg

He’ll never be known for being graceful, but Eliason’s size is enough to get him minutes. He put together superb rebounding numbers last year and this fall looks much stronger and even a bit taller. When Eliason and Mbakwe are in the lineup together, the Gophers should be able to keep the number of second chances for the opposition lower than last season.

Two areas where Elliot must improve are turnovers and fouling. We believe these will still be issues for him in 2012-13, but less so than last year.

Expectations: 4-5 ppg, 5-7 rpg

Maurice Walker
6’10”, 289 | Sophomore
Redshirted in 2011-12

Big Mo’s freshman year ended in December 2010 due to a PCL injury. He’s ready for action this year and provides a different look at center than Eliason. Walker is an immense presence who can bang down low and secure rebounds despite a lack of lift.

His touch is very good for someone his size and he could turn into a nice scoring option for Minnesota. If Mo can stay healthy and get his conditioning up, he’s a difference maker. Really nice potential and could be excellent on the offensive glass, but probably a year away.

Expectations: Anywhere from 4-8 ppg and he should produce a couple of standout games.

Andre Ingram
6’7″, 213 | Senior
8.8 mpg, 1.9 ppg, 1.6 rpg

Ingram transferred in from Butler Community College (Kan.) before last season and provided some solid minutes off the bench late in the year. He’s got a history of injuries that may continue to nag, but is a strong and tough interior player with good athletic ability.

He’ll be called upon to help off the bench and provides another option should one of the other bigs go down. His job will be to defend, rebound and take care of the ball when it’s in his hands.

Expectations: 2 ppg

WINGS

Oto Osenieks
6’8”, 205 | Sophomore
11.1 mpg, 3.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg

Oto was needed inside last year and will probably be called upon to play a couple of different roles this season. He was brought into the program as a perimeter threat, but was stuck inside much of last year. He gave a good effort on defense, but ideally we’d have him playing out on the wing on both sides of the court.

Osenieks turned the ball over a lot last year and shot just 11/41 (26.8%) from 3-point range and 16/34 (47.1%) from the line. We attribute these poor numbers largely to inexperience and nerves. While he’s still not looking consistently comfortable on the floor this fall, he’s a very good shooter.

With the lack of proven 3-point shooters this Gopher team has, getting Osenieks some experience and opportunities to build his confidence before the Big Ten season begins could help down the stretch. Oto needs to be confident in his shot and good things will happen.

While we see him as a reserve player at this point in time, he’ll probably get a fair amount of floor time to prove himself from Tubby Smith. Osenieks is capable of having a game where he knocks down 4 or 5 3-point shots and keys a victory for Minnesota.

Expectations: Anywhere from 3 to 7 ppg; dramatic increases to his 3FG and FT percentages.

Rodney Williams
6’7”, 200 | Senior
31.9 mpg, 12.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.4 bpg

Williams took a big leap forward as a junior, but he can’t let up. He needs to consistently produce and fully embrace a simple fact: he’s an incredible basketball player.

When he’s in a groove and playing with confidence, Rodney is a special player. Sure, he has his faults: his perimeter shooting is not strong and free throws are a source of frustration. However, his size and athleticism is such that he can be a star without taking 3-point shots and making only 60% of his free throws.

Potentially playing with both Mbakwe and one of the two big centers in the lineup also on the court, the coaching staff needs to find ways to keep Rodney involved in the offense.

As a junior, Williams played more minutes than he did during his freshman and sophomore years combined. While his handles aren’t great, we believe as a senior he’ll be able to create off the dribble a bit more and is capable of putting together an all-conference season if he can keep the fire going strong all year.

Expectations: 11 to 15 ppg and more recognition of his defensive play. The national folks know Rodney can dunk with the best of them, but this year he should further prove his value on defense. We project his offensive efficiency to go slightly down, but his overall Value Add to increase.

Austin Hollins
6’4”, 185 | Junior
28.4 mpg, 9.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg

Austin was terrific overall last year, but must be consistent. On defense he uses his length well and on offense he shot the ball with high accuracy, including 51/138 (37.0%) on 3-point attempts. Hollins and Julian Welch were easily the most valuable players on last year’s team after Rodney Williams.

Austin’s usage rate was under 18% and in another year as a senior he’ll need to increase that figure based on how the roster currently projects. This year as a junior, usage of 17-19% is fine as long as he is knocking down the deep ball at a percentage as good as, or better than, last year’s.

We’d like to see better consistency and a little more aggressiveness from Austin this year. He’s not the flashiest player, but he can make teams pay if they don’t respect his athleticism.

Expectations: 10 to 12 ppg; team leader in 3-pointers made

Joe Coleman
6’4”, 200 | Sophomore
18.8 mpg, 5.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg

Joe is an aggressive attacker that can find his way to the rim and draws a lot of contact. Coleman was a strong kid coming into the program a year ago, but is even bigger this year. He’s fearless when taking the ball inside and that’s exactly what the Gophers need him to do.

His perimeter shooting is not good and this season it’s not needed. He’ll want to continue developing his outside shot, but in games this season Minnesota needs Coleman to concentrate where he excels – attacking the basket.

If he capitalizes on offensive opportunities when they’re there, but doesn’t push things when they’re not, this can be a very nice year for the sophomore.

Expectations: 7 to 9 ppg; Top 15 in conference free throw rate

Charles Buggs
6’8”, 198 | Freshman

Buggs may find himself playing inside more often than out, but offensively he’s a face up guy with good range. He’s ridiculously long and quite athletic; an intriguing prospect.

We think it will take some time for Charles to catch up defensively at this level, but if the Gophers need him to play, his length may help mitigate him being out of position.

Buggs looks like a versatile 3/4 that can run well, score and defend multiple positions. Give him a little time, though.

Expectations: 3 to 5 ppg

Wally Ellenson
6’4”, 200 | Freshman

Ellenson possesses amazing leaping abilities and a strong work ethic. While he can impress with his dunks, Ellenson can also heat up from the outside with a nice shooting stroke.

Wally suffered a broken hand in practice and is likely out until sometime in December. It’s possible the Gophers would look to keep him out of action for the entire season in order to preserve a year of eligibility, but if they need minutes off the bench from a tough energy guy who can shoot, he’ll be ready to go.

Expectations: Dependent on recovery and rehabilitation from injury.

Late Night Hoops’ Preferred Lineups:

LINEUP 1 LINEUP 2
Andre Hollins Andre Hollins
Julian Welch or Joe Coleman Austin Hollins
Austin Hollins Rodney Williams
Rodney Williams Trevor Mbakwe
Trevor Mbakwe Elliot Eliason or Mo Walker
SUBS: Julian Welch or Joe Coleman, Elliot Eliason and Mo Walker SUBS: Julian Welch, Joe Coleman and Elliot Eliason or Mo Walker

In lineup 1, Welch provides a third 3-point threat and another ball handler, whereas Joe Coleman provides an attacking guard.

In lineup 2, the benefits of Eliason vs. Walker need to be compared relative to the opposition.

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Gophers, Huskers Target Tory Miller Reclassifying to 2014

Tory Miller, a 6’8” power forward originally from the Kansas City area, is reclassifying to the 2014 class according to his head coach at New Hampton School (NH), Pete Hutchins. Miller has been recruited as a 2013 player by a number of programs, including Minnesota and Nebraska.

Having previously attended high school in the Kansas City area and spending summers with the KC Run GMC AAU program (formerly known as KC Pump n Run), Miller transferred to New Hampton for the current school year.

He’s a big bodied post, but raw in most areas. An ACL injury as a freshman cost him some development time and we believe the reclassification makes sense. First, it allows him more time to develop which should be very beneficial based on his potential and where his game is currently at.

Also, with good upside and an opportunity to play in a great New Hampton program, we believe the interest in Miller from high majors will increase quite a bit from where it currently is. From a Minnesota and Nebraska perspective, this likely means the competition to attract Miller to their programs just got a lot tougher.

New Hampton School plays a challenging schedule and will allow Miller to practice with other future high major players including Noah Vonleh, a 2013 (recently reclassified from 2014 down to 2013) star who is considering Big Ten schools Ohio State and Indiana. Vonleh is also a 6’8” forward, but has a far more versatile game for his size than Miller does.

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2012-13 Preview: #6 Minnesota Golden Gophers

Tubby Smith enters his sixth year as Minnesota’s head coach looking for a third appearance and first victory in the NCAA tournament. In each of the past two seasons, the Gophers have gone 6-12 in the Big Ten, but believe they have the experience and personnel to earn an invite this season.

Minnesota returns most of the team, including Trevor Mbakwe who is back after an ACL injury last November. The pieces to win are there, but it will be up to Coach Smith and his staff to optimally assemble them for the desired result.

Glass Half Full

Top players can compete with anyone

Trevor Mbakwe (14.0 ppg, 9.1 rpg in 7 games) is coming back after ACL surgery, but is now ready to get back on the court. His aggressiveness and athleticism are keys to his game, but a player like Mbakwe will likely toss off the rust quickly and be close to top form early on in the season.  The 6’8”, 245 pound sixth year senior is an elite rebounder who blocks shots, draws fouls and finishes close to the basket.

Without Mbakwe a year ago, the Gophers used a team effort to do quite well on the offensive boards, but he’ll be a big help in keeping the opposition from getting second chances.

Rodney Williams (12.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg) is an electrifying performer who came on last year as a junior. Williams shot an impressive 59.0% effective field goal percentage (eFG%) and maintained a strong offensive rating while posting a career high usage of more than 19%.

Defensively Williams uses his length and athleticism to block shots and create steals. His confidence appears to be at an all-time high and that does not bode well for Minnesota’s opponents.

Junior wing Austin Hollins (9.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg) uses his long arms to get into passing lanes and defend. On offense, he’s not a high usage guy (just under 18% last season), but when involved he’s very efficient. Austin converted 53.4% of his 2-point attempts and 37.0% of his 3-pointers last year.

A little more consistency would go a long way for Hollins and he is a guy that’s capable of reaching 40% from behind the arc. He’ll be asked to do more as a senior in 2013-14, but this season if he contributes great defense and a consistent 3-point shot, he’ll be giving Minnesota just what they need.

Julian Welch (9.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.9 apg, 43.8% 3FG) is often overlooked, but the junior college transfer came in last year and performed very well despite some injuries. Now a senior, Welch might find it difficult to match his accurate shooting from last year, but if he can slightly improve his production from a year ago or even match it, he’ll be an important part of this team.

Sophomore Andre Hollins (8.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.8 apg) projects to have a very good career. He struggled at times last year with turnovers and 2-point shooting, but proved he can make things happen with the ball in his hand. The Gophers are a team that will have different players leading the scoring from game to game, but Dre may be the most likely to post several 20-plus point games.

Other contributors 

Minnesota has two big redshirt sophomore centers in Elliot Eliason (6’11”, 260) and Maurice Walker (6’10”, 290) ready to get physical when needed.

Eliason (2.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg) only averaged 15.1 mpg, but he blocked shots and rebounded at very good rates while on the floor. Of returning Big Ten players who were on the floor for at least a third of their team’s minutes, Elliot Eliason was quietly the best defensive rebounder of them all in 2011-12. He’s not very graceful and needs to cut down on turnovers and silly fouls, but he’s a large young man who makes a difference inside.

Big Mo Walker hasn’t played since a December 2010 PCL injury and subsequent surgery, but is ready to go. With his size and history of injuries, you worry about his conditioning and ability to stay healthy, but if he’s able to consistently give minutes he adds not only a space eater on the blocks, but with his surprisingly soft hands his ability to pass and score are good.

Sophomore guard Joe Coleman isn’t much of a shooter, but he is aggressive going to the rim and is excellent at drawing contact in the paint.

Another option for Tubby Smith is Oto Osenieks, a 6’8” forward who was brought in as a shooter but was forced to play inside last year due to team injuries. The redshirt sophomore went just 11/41 (26.8%) from 3-point range last year, but with a little room he’s an excellent shooter.

Freshmen Wally Ellenson (6’4”, 200) and Charles Buggs (6’8”, 200) both should get some chances to audition their skills during parts of the nonconference schedule. Ellenson has jump-out-of-the-gym athletic abilities, can get hot from long range and won’t be outworked, but did break his hand in late October and could be unavailable well into December. Buggs is a face up four man at this point and needs to gain strength, but he’s very long which will should help him defend. Both young men are athletic and able to score, but they’ll need to prove themselves defensively in order to earn any meaningful minutes. 

Turnovers on offense

The Gophers should be able to reduce their turnovers in 2012-13. Last season’s turnover rate was nearly 23% and in conference they gave up the rock more often than any other team.  Both Dre Hollins and Julian Welch were new to the program and had often played at shooting guard before arriving in the Twin Cities, but in addition to the point guards, the turnover bug bit most of the team. With a veteran squad, Minnesota must be better. 

Defense

Minnesota should be able to improve in three defensive areas (although perhaps not the most important area – field goal defense).

Having a number of long, athletic defenders, being mediocre at turning the opponent over isn’t good enough.  Look for the Gophers to create more defensively in 2012-13.

With Trevor Mbakwe back, this team should not repeat last year’s defensive rebounding performance that put them all the way down in tenth place in the conference. 

Finally, the Gophers put the other team on the line far too often a year ago. Minnesota shot almost four fewer free throws per conference game than their opponent. Another year of experience for many of their players and Mbakwe drawing all sorts of attention inside should result in net improvement here. 

Glass Half Empty

Fallacy of depth

Having healthy bodies available is not the same thing as having great depth. We believe there are two optimal lineups (depending on the opponent) for Minnesota this year and also believe that Minnesota’s best players can add significantly more value than the rest of the roster.

However, Tubby Smith has used a relatively large bench in the past and frequently has subbed in three to five players at the same time within the first 10 minutes of games. The difference between winning and losing a game in the Big Ten and against competitive nonconference opponents is not large and lineup choices can greatly influence outcomes.

There are a lot of kids who can play and help the Gophers this year, but there is a core of seven or eight players that should get the great majority of minutes. Based on history, Tubby’s game plan may not agree.

Health of interior options

Things get physical in the Big Ten, but as long as the Gophers have a healthy Trevor Mbakwe, Mo Walker and Elliot Eliason, they are in great shape. That said, Mbakwe and Walker will be back on the court this fall for the first time since having major knee surgery. In addition, Walker has dealt with other injuries and his conditioning remains a concern due to his size.

If any one of these three is unable to play, it takes away a lot from this team. Andre Ingram is a tough inside guy, but doesn’t have the size or skill of the others. Other options to help defend against post players include Oto Osenieks and freshman Charles Buggs, but they both lack the strength and size to defend some of the bigs that Minnesota will face. 

NBA Dreams vs. Season Goals

Both Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams have aspirations to play in the NBA. The seniors also have things they’d like to prove in order to better their chances of getting a shot at that level. It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff balances out what might be better for the pro prospects of its star seniors and what might benefit this year’s Gopher basketball team.

Most important for Mbakwe is to simply show that he’s still a monster inside that can score, rebound and defend. He may want to show off a mid-range jump shot, but that may not be a bad thing to occasionally display. If he’s playing with aggressiveness and explosiveness, it’s going to help both the team and his draft stock.

Rodney Williams is more the concern here. Last year Rodney excelled when working with a lot of space inside. Williams took more than half of his shots at the rim and was incredibly efficient in doing so. The majority of these shots were created with the help of assists and many were made possible because he was playing with three guards and a center.

If Minnesota has Walker or Eliason out on the court with Mbakwe and Williams, it’ll require more creativity on the coaching staff’s part to get Williams the ball where and when he needs it.

Meanwhile, Rodney has just one more year to prove that he can improve his ball handling and perimeter shooting. While we believe he can show improvement, having Williams trying to create his own shot or knock down 3-pointers is not the most efficient route for him or Minnesota’s offense.

Above all, Rodney needs to show what a great defender he can be as that’s what most likely to get him a chance at the next level. In addition, the confidence, aggressiveness and leadership he showed late last season must carry over and be consistent throughout the year. These things will not only benefit Minnesota this season, but also Rodney’s future. 

Field goal defense in Big Ten

In recent years Minnesota has been one of the better shot blocking teams in America and they should be good again this year. However, they will miss Ralph Sampson. With Mbakwe and Sampson unable to play much of last year, the team’s block % fell and one result was a rise in their opponents’ 2-point field goal percentage. We don’t see a big issue here in 2012-13, but a nice improvement doesn’t look likely either.

Last season other teams liked the idea of attacking the paint more than in the past because of the personnel out on the floor. As a result, there was a drop in the frequency of 3-point attempts taken by opponents. In addition, the Gophers benefited from a relatively weak long distance shooting performance by Big Ten foes.

For several reasons, we believe the lower 3FG% by conference opponents last year was partly due to chance and in 2012-13 we project it to rise. Combined with the possibility of more attempts coming from behind the arc, the Gophers have a big challenge if they are to reduce their overall field goal percentage defense in the Big Ten.

Other Comments

  • 2013 Recruiting: The Gophers have added two Chicagoland kids that have played together on both high school and AAU teams. Alex Foster, a 6’8” forward, and 6’4” wing Alvin Ellis are quality recruits and good fits for the Minnesota program. 

A Look Back at 2011-12 Preseason Preview Quote(s)
Obviously the Gophers would like to be a team that competes for a top four or better finish in the Big Ten each year, but this looks like a program that will be sitting in the middle of the pack over the next few years. A goal should be to make the NCAA tournament each March, but it won’t be an easy task any time soon, especially with the likely emergence of Iowa and Indiana back to respectability in the near future.”

“10th place seems lot more likely to me than 5th place does for this team. Minnesota looks like a team on the outside looking in with regards to the NCAA tournament, but if a few things go right they could sneak up in the Big Ten standings.”

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