#44 Minnesota: 2010-11 Basketball Preview
Overall Rank: #44
Conference Rank: #6 Big Ten Conference
2009-10: 21-14, 9-9
2009-10 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Tubby Smith (63-39 at Minnesota, 450-184 overall)
Coach Tubby Smith had a little rebuilding to do at Minnesota, but after a trip to the NIT during his first year with the team, he has led the Golden Gophers to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. The team has yet to win a game in the postseason, but that could change this year with another talented group of newcomers headed to the program and more than enough experience returning.
Key Losses: G Devron Bostick, F Paul Carter, G Justin Cobbs, F Damian Johnson, G Lawrence Westbrook
Coach Smith has a boatload of new faces headed to Minneapolis this season. The most notable are mostly big men who will be asked to add a few quality minutes here and there. Trevor Mbakwe, who spent a year at Marquette before heading to the junior college ranks, is ready to contribute. However, incoming freshmen Elliott Eliason, Oto Osenieks and Maurice Walker all are quality big men who will not give up on playing time right away. Chris Halvorsen, a transfer from Valparaiso, will add even more depth to the frontcourt. The big name recruit on the perimeter is Austin Hollins. The 6-4 guard can do a little bit of everything and could emerge as a great sixth man by the end of the year. Fellow guards Maverick Ahanmisi, Chip Armelin and Eric Stark will also join the Gophers this season.
Blake Hoffarber, Al Nolen and Devoe Joseph form the starting trio on the perimeter. Hoffarber will be asked to shoulder the scoring load left behind by Lawrence Westbrook. After averaging 10.0 points per game last year, the shooting specialist should easily surpass that number as long as he can keep connecting on the long ball. Joseph is not a bad shooter either. While he will not likely shoot 46.7 percent from beyond the arc like Hoffarber, Joseph is a more than capable outside shooter and can also attack the basket. If Hoffarber develops that part of his game and becomes more than a one-dimensional scorer, those two will be extremely difficult to stop and will put up some huge numbers. Joseph is also the point guard, although that is a position that Al Nolen can handle as well. Nolen missed the second half of the 2009-2010 season due to academic issues, but he is a good ballhandler and a could emerge as a better scorer now that he will be asked to shoot a little more often. Former wide receiver Bryant Allen did not play much last season, but he will battle it out with the newcomers for minutes off of the bench.
The backcourt has some nice weapons, but it is really the presence of Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson that win games for Minnesota. The absence of Damian Johnson leaves the Gophers one shot blocker short of where they were last season, but the returning players are all ready for a bigger season. Sampson III finally came into his own last season and averaged a healthy 8.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. Now an upperclassman, the 6-11 junior is ready to become a leader. Iverson has quietly been a leader for a while. He is not a great scorer by any means, but he is a tough rebounder and defender and could even earn a starting job if Coach Williams wants to play big. Dominique Dawson and the newcomers will do a fine job as backups at the four and five spots.
Who to Watch:
Rodney Williams will likely start at the power forward position. Williams had a relatively successful freshman campaign, averaging 4.2 points in just under a dozen minutes per game. Minnesota expects the 6-7 local product to step up his game and help replace Johnson and certainly has the skills to do so…and then some.
There are some big losses, but there are also some fine newcomers and, potentially, a lot of depth on this team. Coach Smith will go 11 or 12 deep if he can, but it will likely take a little while before the regular rotation is solidified since there are so many fresh faces looking for playing time. Yet, it does not really matter who steps up and plays a big role off the bench, because somebody will and this team will look for their first win in the NCAA Tournament victory under Coach Smith.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Al Nolen, Senior, Guard, 6.7 ppg
Devoe Joseph, Junior, Guard, 9.4 ppg
Blake Hoffarber, Senior, Guard, 10.0 ppg
Rodney Williams, Sophomore, Forward, 4.2 ppg
Ralph Sampson III, Junior, Center, 8.2 ppg
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