2007-08 Minnesota Basketball Preview
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Overall Rank: #98
Conference Rank: #8 Big Ten
2006-07: 9-22, 3-13, 9th
2006-07 postseason: none
How high can Coach Tubby Smith vault Minnesota in preseason rankings? Probably a little higher than the team deserves, but the Gophers return practically their entire team and should be the best of the worst in the Big Ten. The often underappreciated frontcourt has plenty of talent led by Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson. Coleman’s ability to play with his back to the basket or on the perimeter brings a much needed dynamic to the Gopher offense. Spencer Tollackson is a big bruiser under the basket and has developed into a quality scorer. Jonathan Williams, Damian Johnson and Bryce Webster all started a handful of games last year and will provide some quality depth up front.
Limar Wilson is the only significant departure to the Golden Gopher program. The guard was not a big scorer, but did a decent job on the defensive end and could find open looks for his teammates. Engen Nurumbi saw action in just eight games before heading out of Minneapolis.
Coach Smith will need a little more time to make big strides in the recruiting game. This small group of newcomers were all signed by the previous regime and will add some depth to the perimeter, but Travis Busch, Al Nolen and Blake Hoffarber have some potential to make an impact sooner or later. Busch, a transfer from Cal Poly, was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball in 2005. During the 2005-2006 season, the 6-4 wing only saw action in four games with the Mustangs before injuring his foot. Nolen is a decent point guard who will fight his way towards the basket and find his open teammates. He is the true point guard that Minnesota really needs. However, it is Hoffarber who is the highly touted recruit that is expected to make the bigger impact as a freshman. The 6-4 lefty is a great shooter and could become the long range shooting threat off the bench that the team lacked last season.
Who to Watch:
Lawrence McKenzie showed up on campus and became the team leader. Now a senior, the former Sooner averaged 14.9 points and 2.8 assists his first year in the Big Ten. He is a great shooter and effective at either guard spot. If Minnesota was a premier team in the conference, Jamal Abu-Shamala would be the sharpshooter off the bench. Instead, the former walk-on keeps cracking the starting lineup. While he has earned that job and has done a decent job on the glass and from behind the arc, he is not your typical athletic starting wing at this level. Brandon Smith, Kevin Payton and Lawrence Westbrook each earned starts last season and will battle for starting jobs this year. Payton and Westbrook are both sophomores and are expected to develop into more than just roleplayers.
The talent level is not there for an NCAA Tournament berth. With most of the players returning, Minnesota will definitely be better than 9-22 and ninth in the Big Ten, but not that good. The replacement of Coach Dan Monson with Coach Smith has the state of Minnesota excited for basketball again…or maybe it is reflected glory from getting rid of the Metro Dome that has Gopher athletics reaching new heights. In any event, the buzz is back up north. How long those good feelings last is another story. The Gopher faithful have to endure at least one more sub par season on the hardwood before the postseason dreams return.
Projected Post-season Tournament: none
Projected Starting Five:
Lawrence McKenzie, Senior, Guard, 14.9 points per game
Jamal Abu-Shamala, Junior, Guard, 6.5 points per game
Brandon Smith, Junior, Guard, 3.8 points per game
Dan Coleman, Senior, Forward, 14.2 points per game
Spencer Tollackson, Senior, Center, 12.0 points per game