Throughout the preseason, the Big Ten microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Where We Left Off: Minnesota’s 2011-12 season can best be described as streaky. The Gophers started the year 12-1, but lost their first four conference games before a three-game winning streak that included a good win at Indiana. Minnesota then traded wins and losses before ending the regular season on a 1-6 slide. However, the Gophers got hot in the Big Ten Tournament, knocking off Northwestern and nearly doing the same to Michigan. They then made a great run in the NIT, including a win against Washington before losing in the championship game to Stanford. It certainly was an up-and-down year, but it ended with plenty of promise.
Positives: This could be one of the most talented teams that Tubby Smith has had in Minnesota, and some — including yours truly — see the Gophers as a sleeper in the Big Ten title race. Sixth-year senior Trevor Mbakwe will be the face of the team, and the Gophers got a huge break when he avoided jail time after a parole violation for a summer DUI. This is a versatile team, which will allow the Gophers to play several big or small lineups. Talented young players such as Andre Hollins, Joe Coleman and Elliott Eliason will be complemented by more experienced players, such as Julian Welch, Rodney Williams, and Mbakwe.
Negatives: Can this team be consistent? Of course, a lot of last year’s on-court issues can be blamed on Mbakwe’s injury before conference play. The Gophers were forced to throw a number of talented freshmen into action, and while there were bright spots early — particularly the win against Indiana — it took awhile for things to come together. Can Minnesota take advantage of the experience gained by its younger players last year, or will inconsistency continue to be the story of a team that can’t get over the hump?