Minnesota junior guard Devoe Joseph, arguably the Gophers' best player, has been suspended indefinitely from the team.
The start of the season is one of the most wonderful moments of the year as it brings the promise of what might be possible and allows the troubles of the past to be forgotten.
Minnesota unfortunately is learning that for every rule there is an exception and the Gophers appear to be the exception to the rule.
Last year, three Gopher players missed playing time due to violation of team rules or off-court incidents—Lawrence Westbrook, Al Nolen and Devron Bostick. Nolen missed half the season for failure to make adequate academic progress last year.
Two Gopher players, Trevor Mbakwe and Royce White, were indefinitely suspended and never saw the floor. White subsequently transferred to Iowa State.
Coach Tubby Smith has never before experienced the loss of so many players due to suspensions in one season in his entire coaching career.
Mbakwe fortunately resolved his off-court issues this summer and has rejoined the team. Mbakwe’s play over the summer has impressed many observers and the expectations are high that he will have a breakout year.
Nolen is back for his senior year and he appears to be a much more mature individual ready to lead the Gophers once again.
Coach Smith had to feel that the 2010 season would be different from last year with Mbakwe and Nolen back in the fold.
Yesterday, Coach Smith announced that his program had indefinitely suspended Joseph.
Joseph did not play in Minnesota’s 78-72 exhibition victory over Winona State on Monday night.
“There some things he has to address,” Smith said Thursday night. “He’s committed to doing it. We’re certainly going to miss him, especially for the foreseeable future. Hopefully he gets what he has to get done, so he can get back on board at some point in time during the season.”
When asked about the length of the suspension, Smith called Joseph’s suspension “a long term thing [that was related to] off-the-court issues [and] some other things.” According to Smith, Joseph will be allowed to practice with the team but won’t be able to travel.
Coach Smith would not give a definitive date for Joseph’s return to the team. The St. Paul Pioneer Press has cited an unknown source saying that Joseph could return to the team for the December 4 game against Cornell.
The loss of Joseph could be significant as Minnesota opens the season against two teams, Wofford and Sienna, which made the NCAA tournament last year and would love to post an early win over a Big Ten opponent.
Joseph was a key player in Minnesota’s rotation last year and was named to the Big Ten tourney all-tournament team last year. Joseph averaged 9.4 points and three assists a game while shooting 39 percent from three-point land last season.
Joseph’s value to Minnesota the team is that he can play the point guard position and reduce an opponent’s defensive pressure as well as create his own shot from the 2 position in the half-court offense.
“One guy isn’t going to be able to fill his shoes,” Nolen said. “Everybody is going to have to step up and play well. We’re going to need Rodney [Williams] and Blake [Hoffarber] to really be on their P’s and Q’s scoring the ball.”
If there is any silver lining to Joseph’s suspension, Minnesota could get a chance to give Williams and Mbakwe more opportunities earlier in the season to work themselves into the Gophers offense.
Minnesota last year struggled at times to get good shots in their half-court offense due to the lack of one-on-one scorers.
Williams and Mbakwe could help solve the Gophers' problem of scoring in their half-court set this year as both have the ability to create their own shot outside of the low-post area.
In Nolen’s absence last year, Joseph’s game developed and blossomed. This year with Joseph’s absence, Williams and Mbakwe will get more opportunities to showcase their talent and ability.
Don’t be surprised if incoming freshman Austin Hollins is also given a couple of opportunities to play significant minutes in Joseph’s absence.
Tonight Minnesota faces Wofford who has two tough experienced senior guards in Cameron Rundles and Jamar Diggs who are solid defenders. Wofford will undoubtedly attempt to upset the Gophers by applying constant ball pressure.
The first test of the season will give Minnesota a good indication of how much Joseph is going to be missed in the backcourt.