The Minnesota Gophers are off to a 4-0 start as they leave this week to play in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando.
Minnesota’s competition has not been the stiffest faced by a Big Ten team, but some positive trends have already have begun to emerge.
Here are 10 thoughts on the Gophers before they take on DePaul on Thursday.
First, the Gophers have enough athletes to play pressure man-to-man defense the entire length of the floor. Ten Gophers are averaging more than 11 minutes of playing time. As a result, the Gophers can finally create some offensive fast-break opportunities from their defense.
Second, Coach Tubby Smith appears to enjoy being on the bench more than he did last year as he has exhibited more smiles this year. Maybe he is having more fun because he has enough athletes to run the floor.
Third, UC-Davis transfer Julian Welch has been steady at point guard even though his assist-to-turnover ratio is 1:1. Welch will likely not generate many points, but he should be a steady influence when matters occasionally become frenetic during the season.
Fourth, Rodney Williams is off to his best start because of the up-tempo style of play. In the Gophers' 85-56 win over St. Mary’s, Williams had five dunks in the first half on the way to scoring 12 points in the first half.
Fifth, Trevor Mbakwe has improved his offensive game from last year. Mbakwe, a third-team preseason All-American, is averaging 16 points a game, shooting 60 percent from the floor and knocking down 76 percent of his free throws.
Sixth, the Gophers may be relying on Mbakwe to carry too much of the rebounding load. Mbakwe has 39 of the Gophers 140 rebounds on the season, and as a team Minnesota is 210th in rebounding in the nation.
Seventh, the Hollins boys are a refreshing change of pace for Gopher fans over the Joseph boys. No drama, just solid play. Austin is becoming a legitimate scoring threat at the off-guard position in his second year, and Andre as a freshman may end up playing 20 minutes a game while averaging 10 points.
Eighth, Ralph Sampson III may be the key to the Gophers success in the Big Ten as the Gophers will need to have someone emerge that can keep the opposing front line from constantly double teaming Mbakwe. Sampson has played well, but Gopher fans would love to see him emerge at the Old Spice Classic.
Ninth, the loss of Colton Iverson’s energy and effort will be offset by the play of redshirt freshmen Elliott Eliason and Oto Osenieks. Both Eliason and Osenieks are works in progress, but clearly, both worked hard in the offseason and are poised to get the most out of their respective game this season.
Finally, the Gophers appear to have enough depth to make it back to the NCAA tournament after last year’s failure to even make it to the NIT. First step, win the Old Spice Tournament Championship Trophy.
Many basketball experts are predicting that the Gophers will win the Old Spice Tournament—music to the ears of Minnesota fans.
Yes, Tubby appears to have many reasons to be smiling again.
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