Last year, Colton Iverson teased Gophers fans as to what he could do. Prior to the start of the Big Ten season, Iverson had several games which whet the appetite of the Gopher faithful.
In the second game of his freshman season, Iverson made a serious bid for a triple-double against Bowling Green. Iverson was a dominant force against the Falcons as he grabbed eight rebounds, scored six points, and had nine blocked shots.
Iverson followed up his game with the Falcons with two solid pre-Big Ten performances against Eastern Washington and Virginia. Against the Eagles, Iverson scored 20 and grabbed five rebounds and four assists. Against the Cavaliers, Iverson scored 14 points and grabbed four offensive rebounds on his way to a total of seven boards.
Unfortunately, Iverson found life in the rugged Big Ten much more and could not sustain his level of play once the Big Ten season began.
All could be forgiven with Iverson as he was a freshman, and the speed and the power among the big men in the Big Ten season can’t be replicated during the non-conference schedule.
The conventional wisdom was that with a year of experience under his belt, Iverson would emerge during his sophomore year and develop into a more consistent player.
All appeared to be according to plan as Iverson showed flashes of brilliance in the November Anaheim Classic.
Against No. 10 Butler, Iverson came off the bench and was the difference as he scored 13 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and blocked two shots in just 18 minutes of play. Two nights later, Iverson would score 14 points and post 12 rebounds against Texas A & M.
No more cupcakes for Mr. Iverson like Bowling Green and Eastern Washington. Iverson had posted two double-double performances against two quality opponents and the season was only six games old.
Fans who appreciated hard-nosed defense were overjoyed with the toughness that Iverson brought to the team. Gopher fans were salivating about Iverson’s upside once the Big Ten season began.
Then, for Gopher fans to quote Yogi Berra, it felt like déjà vu all over again with Iverson.
Iverson would not score more than five points in a Big Ten game until he posted 10 in mostly mop-up duty in a meaningless blow-out against Michigan on Mar. 2. Iverson would also fail to record a blocked shot in 13 Big Ten contests.
Iverson, in some ways, was a microcosm of Minnesota’s team. Minnesota started the season strong, ranked among the top teams in the country. However, the Gophers became lost along the way and stumbled to a very pedestrian 9-9 record in the Big Ten.
Minnesota, coming into the Big Ten Tournament, clearly needed to do some work in order to position itself to receive a NCAA Tournament bid. The Gophers had only themselves to blame if they did not receive a bid, as they wasted several opportunities during the season to win games.
A good run during the Big Ten Tournament could potentially alter how a player and a team would view their season.
Iverson has been a dominant force in the tournament. Against Penn State, Iverson scored 12 points and grabbed four rebounds. Iverson had the same stat line against the Spartans and then added two blocked shots for good measure. Against Purdue, Iverson scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds.
Beyond Iverson’s statistics is the way in which he is playing alongside Ralph Sampson III.
Against Michigan State, the sophomore duo was too much for the Spartans front line, demanding double teams in the post which in turn allowed Devoe Joseph and Blake Hoffarber to have open looks from beyond the arc.
In the Purdue game, the sophomore duo gave the Boilermaker fans an early knockout by altering shots and limiting them to one shot at the basket. Purdue was held scoreless for over 11 minutes in the first half and needed a last second shot to tally 11 points in the half.
The Gophers have won three straight games against Big Ten opponents for the first time this season. They have beaten two teams ranked among the top 15 teams in the country on successive nights.
Next up is the Ohio State Buckeyes and Big Ten Player of the Year Evan Turner. Earlier in the season, this game would have given Gopher fans pause.
Iverson, however, has stepped up his game at the end of the season and is playing like a force to be reckoned with on the floor. Iverson is emerging and Minnesota now looks like a top-20 team.
Instead of Gophers fans only taking pause over the prospect of having to face Turner, Ohio State Coach Thad Matta now has to pause and reflect how he is going to handle Iverson.