Minnesota Proved Its Worth at Atlantis, But Must Make Improvements to Reach Elite StatusPosted by KTrahan on November 27th, 2012
Minnesota has yet to prove that it can be an elite team, but after a strong three-game stretch in the Battle 4 Atlantis over the weekend, the Gophers proved they can be an awfully good one that can contend for the Big Ten title. After losing to Duke in the opening game, Minnesota came back to defeat Memphis and Stanford to close out the tournament. Of course, preseason tournament wins aren’t all that meaningful, but if anything, the Battle of Atlantis showed us one very good thing for the Gophers: They can score from anywhere.
This isn’t a guard-dominated team or a forward-dominated team; players at both positions stepped up in each of the games. The guards — particularly point guard Andre Hollins — are good. Hollins scored a career-high 41 points against Memphis and was a pivotal player in the Stanford game. He had been considered a possible breakout player in the preseason, and so far, he has shown that he is certainly worth the hype. The Gophers’ two other stars — forwards Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe — have also been impressive, as has the frontcourt that out-rebounded every opponent at Atlantis. Minnesota’s ability to be successful at all five positions makes the Gophers very difficult to defend, given how many scoring options are on the floor.
However, while Minnesota has shown that it will clearly be an NCAA Tournament player and could finish in the top third of the Big Ten, it has yet to prove that it can be an elite team. The biggest thing holding the Gophers back is their defense in the frontcourt, as they allowed Duke center Mason Plumlee to score 20 points and grab 17 rebounds. While the Gophers out-rebounded Duke as a whole, they struggled to contain Plumlee with the trio of Trevor Mbakwe, Mo Walker and Elliott Eliason. That doesn’t bode well for when Minnesota plays other top big men such as Cody Zeller and Derrick Nix in Big Ten play. Another issue is depth. While Hollins, Mbakwe and Williams are the real deal, and Joe Coleman and Austin Hollins are fine as well, there isn’t a lot of depth on this team. That lack of depth caused Minnesota’s top players to log a lot of minutes, which could wear them down later in the year. Eliason and Julian Welch, in particular, must step up in order to provide a breather for the rest of the lineup.
This is a very good Minnesota team, and it proved that by knocking off good teams in Memphis and Stanford on consecutive days. However, the Battle 4 Atlantis also pointed out the flaws that are holding the Gophers back from becoming elite. If the forwards and centers improve their defense down low against the league’s top big men, and the bench players learn to become better contributors, Minnesota could be a scary team in the Big Ten this season.