Minnesota Golden Gophers
Good Wins: Louisville (neutral site), Ohio State, @ Wisconsin, Illinois, Wisconsin
Bad Losses: None.
1. Interior Defense: There isn’t a whole lot to love about Tubby Smith’s team this season, but if forced to pick one thing, interior defense jumps to the forefront. Minnesota gets a block on nearly 1/5 of opponent possessions (19.2 percent), which is tops in the country. Think of that stat for a second. If opponents generally turn the ball over 1/5 of the time on average, that means a Minnesota opponent not only turns the ball over one out of every five trips, another one of those five trips ends with a blocked shot. Tubby’s “Twin Towers”–6-foot-11 Ralph Sampson III and 6-10 Colton Iverson–roam the paint with plenty of fortitude. The problem is both are freshmen and growing pains are just part of the job. Still, in the internship of the duo’s college career, the early returns are quite complementary.
2. Depth: The Golden Gophers rank 11th in the country in bench minutes (41.1 percent of Minnesota’s minutes come from the bench). Going 10 and even 11 deep at times, Minnesota can wear down opponents and has plenty of reserves if it gets into foul trouble. It doesn’t hurt that some of the team’s more experienced players are coming off the bench.
1. Turnovers: The Golden Gophers are in the lower third of the country in turnover percentage, giving the ball away nearly 22 percent of the time. Because Minnesota plays a slower tempo game, ball control is critical and Minnesota just doesn’t seem to value the ball.
2. Experience: Yes, Tubby has plenty of playoff experience, but his team doesn’t. In his second year in Minneapolis, Tubby has loaded the Gophers with young talent. But even the biggest Minnesota fans would admit the Gophers seem to be at least one year ahead of schedule. Outside of Lawrence Westbrook, the most talented holdover from the Dan Monson era, Sampson, and sophomores Al Nolen and Blake Hoffarber are the heart and soul of this team and their youth, coupled with the immaturity of the rest of the team, could hurt in crunch time.
Road Woes: A key part of a NCAA Tournament resume, Minnesota’s road wins this year are as follows: Colorado State, Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana. The Gophers played just two away/neutral games outside of conference play (at Colorado State and the neutral-site game vs. Louisville). If the Gophers get into the Field of 65, the players will undoubtedly have a deer-in-the-headlights look because there won’t be any games at Williams Arena.
One-and-done. If Minnesota gets in–and that’s still a decent “if”(Saturday’s game vs. Michigan could be construed as a play-in game for both teams)–it doesn’t have the guns to make a deep run. The win over Louisville looks better and better, but I would guess two more wins at minimum (Michigan plus one in the Big Ten Tournament or just two in the Big Ten Tournament) will be necessary.