The 2010-2011 Minnesota Gopher team has had more than its shares of highs and lows for a college basketball team.
And the road ahead looks just as tumultuous.
As we head toward the final stretch of the season it is good to look back to see what we have learned as prepare for the final seven games of the season.
10. Al Nolen’s absence at the point guard position illustrates how important it is to have a confident ball handler who can distribute and play solid perimeter defense. Against Purdue and Ohio State, the Gophers struggled in their half-court offense without Nolen running the point. How good would this team be with a healthy Nolen?
9. Blake Hoffarber has shot the ball exceedingly well in Nolen’s absence over the past four games, but it is clear that calling upon Hoffarber to play 37 minutes a game is wearing him down. Hoffarber received treatment on his bursa sac behind his left knee after playing a noticeable limp during the second half of the Ohio State game.
8. In the last two games, Minnesota has had more turnovers than assists as a team. The Gophers can expect to see more three quarter court ball pressure the rest of the season, or at least until they can show their opponents that they can take better care of the ball. Illinois is going to come with pressure from the opening tip to try and disrupt Minnesota’s offensive game.
7. Colton Iverson’s numbers are slightly better than last year, but it is painfully evident that he has hit a plateau as a player. Iverson needs to develop a 15 foot jumper; in the Gophers high court offensive set, teams are daring Colton to shoot from the free throw line by sagging into the middle of the lane.
6. Ralph Sampson III is the most inconsistent player on the Gophers squad, and the Ohio State game was a great illustration of how he can show flashes of brilliance and a complete lack of focus in the same game. Sampson used a nice repertoire of shots on his way to 14 first half points, and got his hands on several passes when Minnesota went to 1-2-2 press. However, in the second half Ralph went to sleep on a couple of out of bounds plays under the Gopher basket which lead to a couple of Dallas Lauderdale dunks.
5. Minnesota is ninth in the Big Ten defense allowing opponents to score on average 67.9 points a game. Minnesota is last in rebounding defense in the conference. Minnesota is dead last in the Big Ten in free throwing shooting connecting on an anemic 65 percent of their shots. Yes, numbers can be deceiving, but how is this team only 5-6 in the conference?
4. Trevor Mbakwe is a good player with his ferocious dunks and relentless pursuit of rebounds, but he will be a great player next year. Unlike Iverson, Mbakwe has accepted the challenge of shooting from the top of the key. Trevor’s shooting stroke is still a work in progress, but he is developing enough of a mid-range game that he could wind up in the NBA.
3. Rodney Williams is the most exciting dunker on the team, but at the close of his sophomore year one has to wonder if he will ever be more than a role player. Williams is shooting only 47 percent from the free throw line and just 15 percent from beyond the arc. Rodney is a solid player on defense but he is far from being an elite shut down defender. One has to wonder if the hype of him being a possible one and done player stunted his growth and development as a player.
2. Does Coach Tubby Smith go with freshman Chip Armelin or freshman Austin Hollins to play point guard down the stretch? Trick question as neither player really plays the point guard position. Armelin is a drive first pass later player in the mold of Lawrence Westbrook and Hollins doesn’t look comfortable enough handling the ball. The Gophers will continue to play point guard by committee.
1. Will Minnesota fail to make the NCAA tournament if they lose to Illinois? No, the Gophers still have enough time to make the tournament but a loss will drop them to 16-8 with only six games to play and given the competitive nature of the Big Ten no NCAA tournament bid is assured. If Minnesota doesn’t win they immediately become a bubble team for the NCAA tournament.