Why NBA Fans Should Watch the Minnesota Gophers This Year

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterNovember 24, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 08:  (L-R) Andre Hollins #1 and Trevor Mbakwe of the Minnesota Golden Gophers celebrate against the Northwestern Wildcats during their first round game of 2012 Big Ten Men's Basketball Conferene Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 8, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

If you're into picking sleepers for the NBA draft, you might want to check out a Minnesota Gophers game.

They just knocked off Memphis and Stanford on consecutive days and are a team with some interesting individual storylines: three NBA prospects at three different phases of development.

Against Memphis Friday afternoon in the Battle 4 Atlantis, a Minnesota sophomore stole the headlines. Saturday, Tubby Smith's crew defeated Stanford in a rematch of last year's NIT Championship game.

The big news of the weekend centered around Andre Hollins, a sophomore point guard who had shown promise as a freshman. The promise didn't result in any national attention, nor did it garner him any legitimate recognition from pro scouts.

That might have changed when Hollins scored 41 points against an athletic and talented Memphis team. Hollins was ridiculous. You couldn't watch it without wondering what's next.

Physically, he's got the build of an NBA point guard, so his performance didn't look fluky. It appeared as if we were watching a young prospect advancing to the next stage in his development.

Hollins struggled to back up his masterpiece against Stanford, but that doesn't nullify it. He's at least put himself in the conversation, the only thing you can ask for this early in the year.

Here is a video of his 41 points:


Senior Rodney Williams has seen his scoring average increase with every year. I'm actually going to call him the best pound-for-pound athlete in the country when you consider size, strength, hops, mobility and coordination.

However, his basketball skill set has always held him back.

Now that he's averaging 14 points a game, it makes you wonder if the gradual strides he's made will continue with time.

Rodney Williams won't ever be asked to create his own offense, but the most elite athletes in the world tend to overcome a lack of talent. Coaches looking to keep it simple and demanding nothing but effort might find that Williams' physical gifts alone might be of good use.

If it ever clicks for Williams offensively, some team could get away with robbery. He's one of the more interesting prospects in the country, and someone sure to benefit from individual pre-draft workouts.

Here's an always entertaining highlight reel of senior Rodney Williams:


The most mainstream story focuses on the roller-coaster career of Trevor Mbakwe, who's been playing college basketball since 2007.

With chronic knee problems, an ACL tear, a felony assault charge and a DUI all "Sharpied" on his resume, he's got a lot to prove in his final year in college.

Mbakwe made his first recent step in the right direction Saturday afternoon, scoring 19 points and grabbing 12 rebounds as the catalyst in Minnesota's win over Stanford.

While not the athlete he used to be, his offensive skill set is hard to ignore. He remains one of the few polished post players in the country, which could attract teams in need of that seemingly lost arm form.

His role in the Minnesota offense has changed and is unlikely to reflect the 14-point, 10-rebound numbers he was putting up when healthy over his first two years with the team. But he showed Saturday afternoon that his ability to score and draw contact in the post has not completely faded.

At full strength, Mbawke is a legitimate lottery prospect. But the variables surrounding his character and health could trigger hesitation from prospective employers.

Here is Trevor Mbawke at his best:

Minnesota is a team to watch whether you're a Minnesota fan or an NBA junkie, or you just love Tubby Smith's new funny little mustache.

With the stories of Andre Hollins, Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe about to play out in front of our eyes, the Gophers provide high entertainment value night in and night out.