The realm of being a basketball team with a record of 12-1 entering Big Ten play is not a distant memory for the Gophers.
After thumping through a weak non-conference schedule last season, Minnesota was able to rise all the way to a shiny 12-1 record when the team went to Illinois to play the Fighting Illini.
This year, the Gopher squad has the ability to do the same thing once again this season. With big wins over Memphis, Stanford, and Florida State in the books, the remaining five games in non-conference are more than winnable.
Most people know the fairytale after that start a season ago. The Gophers were battered in its first four conference games, falling to 0-4 quickly in the Big Ten conference. Tubby Smith and his team blew probable wins at Illinois in double overtime and at home against Iowa.
Even after being Indiana on the road, Minnesota just did not have the momentum it needed to continue to contend within the conference.
Many people are starting to believe that this year is completely different with the Gophers. And, after the victory at Florida State on Tuesday, that might just be true.
For the first time in a long time, the offense showed legit life. Many times over Smith’s tenure as head coach, the offense system has been stale and lacks any sort of scoring ability to make a nice 10-0 run in the middle of a contest. This season, it’s completely different. Between the guard play of sophomores Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman, scoring is just not an issue like it has been. The ball comes out quickly out of Coleman’s hands. Hollins possesses the ability to be a pass-first or a shoot-first point guard, depending on the game situation.
The rebounding game for Minnesota is not a hole either. Elliot Eliason was able to capture 10 rebounds against the Seminoles, including five offensive boards. Trevor Mbakwe has averaged 6.4 rebounds a game during his limited minutes. Even Austin Hollins gets into the rebounding game along with being the best overall defender, slashing 2.3 steals per game.
With Mbakwe still playing off the bench, it has allowed the team to show another strength this season with bench productivity. Julian Welch has settled as a shooting guard this season for Minnesota and shows comfort when shooting the rock when he is left wide open. Junior Maverick Ahanmisi suddenly has confidence in his ball-handling ability, which has allowed his to drive to the lane to create opportunity to his teammates.
Finally, Minnesota has a legit star. After three seasons full of up and downs, Rodney Williams has settled into his own during his senior campaign. If he is left open, he is able to drain a jumper. If you give him separation in the paint, the forward turns its up a notch and posterizes defenders. In all, Williams has finally showed consistency in his offense along with the proven defensive stud in Smith’s system.
The Gophers only have two issues going forward. Turnovers and free throw shooting. Both issues have decreased over the course of the season thus far. Yet, Minnesota still averages 16 turnovers a game and shoots less than 73 percent from the charity stripe.
Yet, if the Gophers continue to play like how the team played on Tuesday, Minnesota has true promise.