Minnesota Gophers Basketball: Convincing Victory to Open Big Ten Season

Dan AdamsCorrespondent IDecember 30, 2009

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 19:  Blake Hoffarber #24 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers recovers a loose ball against A.J. Abrams #3 of the Texas Longhorns during the first round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum on March 19, 2009 in Greensboro, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Tubby Smith and his Minnesota Golden Gophers opened the Big Ten Conference season with a victory over the visiting Nittany Lions of Penn State, 75-70.

They started out the game by opening up to an 11-point lead midway through the first half and inched away late in the game.

The Gophers were led by senior guard, Lawrence Westbrook, who scored 29 points and made an impressive four shots from beyond the arc. His ability to breakdown defenses, and open up the lane for sophomores Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III, will be key for Minnesota to be near the top of the Big Ten.

Many college basketball analysts consider the best NBA-ready player of the Big Ten to be Penn State guard, Talor Battle. He scored 23 points to lead Penn State.  His amazing ability to shoot the three-pointer from any distance and location on the floor will keep Penn State in all of their games this season.

The problem that the Nittany Lions have is their lack of depth and inability to rebound when not they are not shooting well.

Blake Hoffarber continued his hot shooting from three-point range with another three shots made from downtown. His shooting percentage from three-point range has increased to 49 percent through 14 games; in contrast to the 2008-09 season in which he only shot a retched 34 percent on 145 attempts.

When the NCAA decided to move the line back an additional foot prior to his sophomore season, Hoffarber made the comment that he didn't expect it to change anything. Obviously he was wrong as his percentage dropped eight points from freshmen year to sophomore year, and he made 25 less three-pointers.

This off-season he worked with the Gophers' trainer and added a lot of muscle mass to his upper-body which has translated into his highest shooting percentage of his career. He is making just about every open three-pointer and is also making a majority of the contested shots.

It is going to be a crucial part of the Gophers success that he continues to make those shots.

The coaching staff seems to have things heading in the right direction after a three-game skid earlier in the season. Their three loses came to teams that could all make the NCAA tournament.

The Gophers have the ability in the front and back courts to contend for a Big Ten title. The majority of that success is going to depend upon the play of Westbrook and senior forward, Damian Johnson.

If the two seniors can spark the offense, than the Gophers will have a chance, whomever they play.