Big Ten Basketball Preview: Minnesota
The Minnesota Golden Gophers, led by coach Rich Pitino (son of Louisville coach Rick Pitino) look to improve on their 21-13 record from last year and return back to the NCAA tournament. The Gophers were ousted last year by a good Florida team in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Minnesota upset the six-seeded UCLA Bruins in the first round. The Gophers had a fairly successful year last year but will probably run into some roadblocks in this upcoming season.
Minnesota lost two very important contributors from last year in Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe. The latter is currently playing overseas while Williams is playing for the Philadelphia 76ers D league affiliate. Both players were a huge part of what Minnesota did last year.
Mbakwe was a hefty 6-8 forward that averaged 10 points and 8.7 rebounds a game. Williams was no slouch himself and averaged ten points with five boards a game. Both protected the rim and were huge reasons why the Gophers succeeded last year. Losing two rim protectors will be huge and how coach Pitino deals with this will be a big storyline for the year.
The two players that Pitino needs to step up for him are juniors Maurice Walker and Elliott Eliason. Both did not play much but need to contribute in a huge way for Minnesota to return to the NCAA tournament. Eliason is a big 6-11 center from Chadron, Nebraska and played 13 minutes to Walker’s six so expect him to get the call in the beginning of the season.
Eliason did show some promise last year, averaging 3.5 boards while adding a block per game in his limited minutes. Just doubling his minutes would get him more engaged in the game and his rebound and block numbers should shoot up.
Walker is also a big man that slimed down this season, hoping to be quicker on his feet with less weight. However, Walker needs to improve on the defensive end to get significant minutes this year for the Gophers.
Another player that should be a huge help to Minnesota will be freshman recruit Charles Buggs. An athletic 6-8 forward hailing from Arlington Texas, Buggs should step right into the Mbakwe role if Pitino wants to let the freshman learn on the fly. Buggs is a three star recruit with promise and has the ability to guard anyone on the floor.
The freshman is quick on his feet and has a good touch around the rim. If coach Pitino wants to improve on Minnesota’s 21-13 record from last year he will play Buggs significant minutes.
It is not all bad news for Minnesota as they return their two leading scorers from last year in Andre and Austin Hollins. Andre hails from Memphis, Tennessee while Austin is from Germantown, Tennessee. Andre Hollins is definitely the Gophers best scorer, averaging 14.6 points per game last year while also contributing three assists and rebounds. Andre shot 41% from three last year, a great number for any guard, but only shot 41% from the field. If Andre can become more efficient, his numbers will definitely rise and he would take even more pressure away from the rest of the team.
Austin is more of an attacker but only shot 40% from the field last year. For the Gophers to succeed this year, both players have to become more efficient at scoring. This comes with experience and the Big Ten will have to gear its defenses to stop both Andre and Austin Hollins when Minnesota comes to town.
Coach Pitino is a new coach for Minnesota and looks to have a team much like his father, Rick Pitino. The Gophers have added a full court press something both Pitino’s have used no matter where they are. Minnesota has also looked to pick up the pace of their offense, and if it scores quicker, the Gophers will have more opportunities to create turnovers with their press. Look for new head coach Rich Pitino and the Gophers to surprise some people in the Big Ten this year and return to the NCAA tournament.
Timothy Alvarez is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.