Next up in the ‘Around the Big Ten’ series is Minnesota thanks to Jonathan of From The Barn. From the Barn is another hoops blog and is definitely worth bookmarking or adding to your RSS reader.
They may not be the â€œFab Five,â€ but Tubby Smith’s widely heralded recruiting class has brought much better players, if not a much better team, to historic Williams Arena. The influx of talent will undoubtedly lead to a more exciting team, but it is anyone’s guess if this will translate into more wins.
Before Tubby Smith arrived, the Gophers were reeling. During the 2007-2007 they Gophers lost 22 to teams such as Montana, Arkansas-Little Rock, and Northwestern. Last year they beat everyone they were supposed to and lost to everyone they were supposed to, except Indiana and possibly Ohio State. This year, they are all but guaranteed to surprise someone. With so many new faces, how could they not?
Gone are Dan Coleman, the chronic underachiever, Spencer Tollackson, the chronically unathletic, and Lawrence McKenzie, the chronically self-confident. Incoming is a recruiting class that was ranked in the top 25 in the country. Devoe Joseph, a 6’3” guard has been heralded as the best Canadian basketball player since Steve Nash. He was selected the top player in the country in each of the past three years. Devron Bostick, who will have two years of eligibility, was the National Junior College Athletic Association Player of the Year. He is a high flier that can also shoot the lights out. Paul Carter, who will have three years of eligibility, was hampered by injuries most of last year, but is the most NBA ready player on the team according to the coaching staff. He is 6’9” but can handle and shoot. Ralph Sampson III has the size and the genes to be a special player. He averaged nearly a triple double during his senior year in high school, and should see plenty of minutes right away. Colton Iverson should also see plenty of playing time. The power forward out of Yankton, South Dakota has been compared to Brian Butch. One can only help that he is not as annoying.
The Gophers return guards Al Nolen and Lawrence Westbrook, who were among the better defenders in the conference. Nolen will need to improve his shot, to keep his starting job. Westbrook, who had an injured thumb on his shooting hand, should be a much better scorer Blake Hoffarber and his deadly outside shooting are also back. Though he may be out of miracles, he may be able to create his own shot, which would only give him more room to shoot. Damian Johnson, who as of today is out with a hand injury, will most likely start at the power forward position, and contribute even more than last year when he played serviceable offense and excelled on the defensive end.
On paper, and in terms of raw talent, the Gophers appear to be much improved. However, no one knows how all the pieces will fit together. Chemistry could be an issue, especially early in the season when more than half the players who expect significant playing time will have never played together.
Luckily, they will have plenty of time to learn without much risk of losing non-conference games. Minnesota’s first real test won’t come until the ACC-Big Ten challenge when they face Virginia. Depending on how well the Cavaliers play, that might not even be much a challenge. However, the Gopher’s neutral court game against Louisville on December 20th in Glendale, Arizona certainly will be. Until then, the Gophers will largely be a mystery.
The Gophers overall record should be about what it was last season. I am predicting 21-9 season, compared to 20-14 last season, but with some unexpected wins. The talent is there to be this year’s Baby Boilers, and surprise just about everyone. After December 20th, we will all know what to expect.