Feb. 6, 2013; East Lansing, MI, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers forward Rodney Williams (33) drives to the basket against Michigan State Spartans guard Keith Appling (11) and center Derrick Nix (25) during 2nd half at Jack Breslin Students Events Center. MSU won 61-50. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Despite recent struggles, Gophers need Rodney Williams back


Dec 31, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Joe Coleman (11) and forward Rodney Williams (33) against the Michigan State Spartans at Williams Arena. Minnesota defeated Michigan State 76-63. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

With a 6-7 Big Ten Conference record and a dwindling offensive scheme, many are beginning to question the future of Tubby Smith and Minnesota.

Perhaps the greater argument that has not circulated is whether or not the Gophers have a bigger problem on its hands with the possible loss of Rodney Williams.

The lack of depth along with the clear athleticism that Williams brings to the table should cause for concern in the Twin Cities.

The senior forward left with an aggravated shoulder injury during Sunday’s loss at Iowa.  He originally hurt the shoulder a few weeks ago in practice and missed a game versus Illinois.

During his weekly Big Ten teleconference on Monday, head coach Tubby Smith announced that Williams is currently day-to-day and has a chance of missing Wednesday’s clash at Ohio State.

There is no doubt that the senior has struggled during conference play this season.  His shooting percentages are down from the beginning of the season, and Williams’s numbers across the board have dropped as well.

Williams is the second leading scorer for Minnesota, but he has not shot more than eight times in a single contest all season.

Feb 3, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Gophers forward Rodney Williams Jr. (33) dunks for two points off a fast break in the second half against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Williams Arena. The Gophers defeated the Hawkeyes 62-59. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Yet, the roster behind the senior is shooting at dismal rates.  Whether it is Elliott Eliason, Oto Osenieks, or Andre Ingram, the frontcourt becomes less effective with Williams off of the court.

In Williams starting space, Eliason proved to be a solid commodity in the Gophers rotations. The sophomore has shown great defensive skills in the frontcourt, but the big man is unable to create his own shot.

Eliason has only attempted 42 shots in 25 games this season, and his top scoring performance was in December against North Florida.  The sophomore tallied six points against the team that does not have a player over 6-foot-8.  Eliason towers at 6-foot-11.

Contrast that with Williams.  In same number of games, Williams has posted over 200 shots.  In the first nine games this season, Williams posted double-digits point totals.  The senior showed effectiveness that he lacked during his first three seasons on campus.

The other factor that has to be taken into consideration is the athleticism that Williams boasts.

The attribute of athleticism is the sole reason why the senior in linked with June’s NBA draft.  He may not have post moves, a jumper, or a strong court awareness, but the athleticism of Williams will make scouts interested.

The athleticism of Minnesota is one of the key aspects that is appealing to the experts on the Gophers as a whole.  Smith’s squad is able to get out in transition much faster than most clubs, and the amount of different offensive sets with the starting lineup cause mismatches across the board to opposing defenses.

There was a reason why the team looked lackluster during the 72-51 loss at Iowa besides the obvious change to Fran McCaffery’s defense to a 2-3 zone.  The subtraction of Williams is an entirely new team.

Smith tried to replace the athleticism with a stretch forward in Osenieks for over 20 minutes on Sunday. The results were not good.

An airball three in the second half is the epitome of the Osenieks ability.  The former Latvian prep was a late addition to the Class of 2010 because of his raw ability and his knack to shoot three-pointers.

If this season has shown anything, it is that Osenieks cannot shoot.  He is now two of 23 from long distance.

Finally, the loss of Williams shows the future issue of the frontcourt after the season.  With Williams and Trevor Mbakwe graduating, there is a big hole in the starting lineup.  Eliason is likely to claim one of the starting spots, but Minnesota drops significantly if Osenieks or Maurice Walker become starters.

The coaching staff is hoping that forward Charles Buggs learns a lot during his redshirt freshman campaign.

In the short term, the Gophers coaching staff should hope for a quick recovery for Williams.

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Tags: Basketball Gophers Minnesota Minnesota Golden Gophers Tubby Smith