#7 Minnesota – Team & Player Previews

#7 Minnesota
2013-14 Big Ten Preseason

We see teams 7 through 10 as being very close to one another. One win could mean the difference between the 10th and 7th place.

The Gophers are slotted at the top of the group thanks in large part to them returning 2 of the Big Ten’s top 3 returning offensive players. Junior Andre Hollins and criminally underrated senior Austin Hollins are difference makers that can win games for this team.

Relative to last season, we see a modest decline in the team’s offensive and defensive performance. That said, we believe there is added volatility to the current team because of style of play (especially 3FGA/FGA and to a lesser extent pressure defense and speedier pace of play).

Field goal shooting
There will be a lot of talk about turnovers and rebounds this season, but as always field goal shooting is what matters most.

On offense the Gophers will attempt 3-point field goals far more often. They’ll need good shooting nights to pull out big victories.

Minnesota’s 2FG% a year ago was 48.8%, but excluding Rodney Williams, Trevor Mbakwe and Joe Coleman – none of whom remain in the program – the remaining Gophers combined for 44.4% 2FG%. Add in FIU transfer Malik Smith (36.8% 2FG) and there are concerns.

An even larger concern may be the team’s 2FG% defense. There are a couple of things going against Minnesota here. First, athletic senior shot blockers Williams and Mbakwe are gone. Second, head coach Richard Pitino will have this team pressing after made baskets. His FIU team last year generated a ton of steals, but when teams broke FIU’s press they were too often rewarded with easy buckets.

Minnesota’s 42.8% defensive 2FG% will rise significantly this season. Big, big concern and a key indicator for this team.

Always a topic during the Tubby Smith era, Minnesota’s turnovers aren’t a huge concern for us when comparing this year to last. They were bad a year ago and a lot of it was on the bigs, including Mbakwe. They’ll continue to turn the ball over this season, but the Gophers can’t be much worse than they have been in the recent past.

Defensively the team figures to see a large spike in the turnover percentage in Big Ten play (16.9% in 2012-13…Is something like 19.2% reachable? Sure). Minnesota racked up a ton of steals in nonconference games a year ago so don’t get overexcited if you’re not seeing huge gains early on. Austin Hollins should earn plenty of steals, but watch Dre Mathieu’s numbers.

Minnesota’s drop in offensive rebounding between last season and this year could be one of the largest seen in college basketball over the past decade. It’ll be dramatic.

Elliott Eliason can get o-boards with his size. Mo Walker has good offensive rebounding ability. After that you get to Wally Ellenson who is scary aggressive when crashing the glass. I’m not sure it’s often a plan you want to initiate, but in certain situations Pitino may want to send the leaper onto the floor with directions to attack the offensive boards at will.

The Gophers haven’t had good defensive rebounding teams, but they’ll really miss Mbakwe. Eliason must focus on getting rebounds (20%+ DR% would be helpful and 21-22% seems doable). Mo Walker with his size will help. After that, it’s Oto Osenieks, Joey King and others who must get busy on the boards.

Free Throws
We don’t care about free throw percentage, but will note that the free throw rates of Rodney and Trevor will be missed. If Dre Mathieu plays a lot, he may help the team’s free throw rate, but it’ll drop in 2013-14.

We’ll put each player into one of three categories: point guard, wing or big. Some could be put into more than one category, so don’t read much into where they are classified below.

Point guards
Dre Hollins
is legit. Pitino must lean on him. Dre’s usage was under 25% last season – we’d like to see it around 28%, but at least 26%. Duplicating his 41.8% 3FG% would be difficult, but he can/should/must improve on his 41.5% 2FG%. He’ll be a better defender and may be able to add to his free throw trips this year.

Dre Mathieu was previewed earlier by Late Night Hoops in this article. His focus should be on being an absolute pain for the opposition’s ball handlers and limiting his own turnovers. Mathieu is not a good shooter, but he can absolutely burn a defender and get to the rack when the opportunity presents itself. He may wind up posting some high point totals in nonconference play, but in the Big Ten he needs to get Dre Hollins and Austin Hollins heavily, heavily involved.

Maverick Ahanmisi provides a senior backup guard option who has played on and off the ball in his years with the Gophers. He did make 38.8% of his 3FGA last year, but only attempted 49. We’d warn against counting on a similar percentage this year.

Ahanmisi has struggled with turnovers. His 28% turnover rate as a junior was a career best. Still, we think Pitino is going to give him a chance to play as a senior. We shall see…

Senior Austin Hollins is a great basketball player, period. Inconsistency pushed his 3FG% down to 33.8%, but he’s better than that. 38% is not an out of line desire. His %Shots was 21.7% as a junior, a nice slow progression from 17.2 as a freshman and 19.8 as a sophomore. We think he’d be able to push things to around 24% and still keep his ORtg in tact.

In case you missed it, LNH published this Malik Smith sneak peek in September. Streaky gunner, but he may have some games where he nails several big 3-pointers. He’s a5th year senior with a lot of confidence and experience. Malik must not get too crazy with his shot selection and has to consistently bring focus and effort on defense, but he can help this team.

Wally Ellenson‘s freshman year was affected by injury. He’s a hard worker and incredibly athletic. No fear in his game. Plenty of basketball skills (including offensive rebounding), but it’s how he goes about his business that will earn him opportunities to play.

True freshman Daquein McNeil is a sturdy, 6’3″ combo guard. He probably won’t be called on to do a lot this year, but isn’t a name to disregard.

Billed as a 3-point specialist coming into the program by some, Oto Osenieks was just 2/26 from deep last year. He’s a good shooter, but hasn’t looked comfortable shooting in games.. H’es an older player (prep year) and a redshirt junior so the experience is adding up.

To his credit, while his shot hasn’t been falling Oto has fought hard defensively and has a build that should enable him to help on the boards this season. We’d like to see his turnover rate drop to 17-18% and a DR% of around the same, but we project he’ll come up a little shy on both.

Sophomore Joey King, an immediately-eligible transfer from Drake, is a similar size as Oto and is also known for 3-point shooting. King fared better last year, hitting 34.7% of his 3FGA. It might be fair to look at Oto and King as a defensive/offensive complement platoon, but King has to work hard on defense if he wants big minutes. His DR% as a freshman was only 13.5%, but he was playing next to some great rebounders and we see that number being higher for the Gophers.

Charles Buggs is a redshirt freshman with length and versatility. His skill set and size are intriguing, but the basketball IQ probably isn’t where it needs to be. A name to remember for the future, though. It’ll be interesting to see what Pitino and staff can do for Buggs in his development.

Like Osenieks and King, redshirt junior centers Elliott Eliason and Mo Walker could be considered somewhat of a defensive/offensive platoon.

Eliason has played enough to where we know what to expect. He’s big and will block shots. Needs to cut down on turnovers. Won’t be a big part of the set offense, but can make a shot. Fouls have been an issue for Elliott and he usually lets the ref knows how shocked he is that a whistle was blown. That appears to be something that Pitino has addressed (i.e., body language) and Eliason is a guy that could put together a nice season this year. Nothing flashy, but he’s a big kid that works hard on the court.

Between injuries and coaching decisions, Mo Walker hasn’t played a lot. His weight loss this summer has been well documented and he looks like a happier guy on the floor. If he stays healthy, it’s a significant benefit to Minnesota. Despite a turnover rate of 25%+ and a FG% of only 41.8% (all 2FGA) last season, he can be a good offensive player in 2013-14.

We’d like to see Minnesota work on feeding their centers during the nonconference, especially Walker. Mo is also a guy that can help lessen the pain of losing the great offensive rebounders Williams and Mbakwe.

See the preseason team previews for the rest of the Big Ten HERE.

Sharing Options: