Joe Coleman led the team through two exhibitions.

Austin Hollins was the key force on Friday.

You can look at those statements one of two ways as the Gophers head into tonight’s matchup against Toledo:

1) Ahem … where are the stars we’ve waited for and why isn’t Trevor Mbakwe, Rodney Williams (ok, he’s been pretty good too) or Andre Hollins taking over games that way?

Or …

2) Well, heck, this team is better than I thought, the real power players haven’t even gotten warmed up yet!

Alright, so there’s probably something in between those two. But the reality is, at the start of the season, the Gophers have shown themselves to be the deep team they’ve been called.

In the exhibitions, it was Coleman who took over the offense and powered the Gophers to two wins. Friday, Hollins grabbed the reigns on defense and kept the momentum going with his equally sharp offensive play.

Combined, Hollins and Coleman were probably the two least hyped members of the eventual lineup of Andre Hollins, Coleman, Austin Hollins, Williams and Mbakwe.

But with Mbakwe shaking off the rust of not playing and Andre Hollins settling in to his second season at the point, the pair has aptly picked up the slack. Williams, in all three games, has actually been very good, but he hasn’t been doted on because, well, there’s been these other leaders popping up.

And to be frank, if the Gophers get where they want to go this season, they will need all of them.

So who will it be tonight? I’m calling Williams, whose numbers have steadily improved in each game so far.

Thoughts on tonight’s game against 0-1 Toledo:

  • The Gophers showed great improvement in several categories on Friday. They rebounded well. They had just eight turnovers. They showed a new defensive intensity we haven’t seen for extended periods of time. But the biggest lack was still with shooting, with the Gophers making just 4 of 22 shots from behind the arc. The Gophers say their shooting has improved. Will we finally see it tonight?
  • Austin Hollins has averaged the most minutes per game out of any player with 25.6 in the first two exhibitions and the opener.
  • Toledo – which is the most talented team the Gophers have played up to this point -- is not eligible for the postseason because it didn’t meet NCAA requirements for Academic Progress Rating.
  • The Rockets play a small lineup, but make their name with up-tempo, athletic ball. That mirrors what the Gophers have been trying to do lately, so it will be interesting to see who does it better. As far as sheer talent, the Gophers should easily take the edge there.
  • Keep an eye on #5 Rian Peterson, who scored eight points with eight rebounds in the opener, and scoring point guard #20 Julius Brown, who had 15 points.
  • Wonder if Trevor Mbakwe, who looked substantially better in Friday’s second half will get more minutes tonight. Seems like it’s time for the next step.
  • I haven’t written much about Elliott Eliason to this point, but his efforts, while not flashy, have been terrific early on. After grabbing five rebounds in each of the two exhibitions, the center scooped up 9 in the opener. Meanwhile, he had three points and three blocked shots with no turnovers. It’s that scrappy effort that made him such a fan favorite when he stepped in for Ralph Sampson III at the end of the season last year.

Extra points:

*Tonight’s game is STILL not on TV (but the next one will be). You can watch here for a fee.
*You can listen to tonight’s game live here.
*My story in the Star Tribune: The Gophers’ newfound energy makes them look like a different team.
*Check out the preview box here.
*Read these blogs from over the weekend. Mbakwe looked like the Mbakwe of old. Shooting remains a concern for these Gophers.
*Other games to watch in the next two days if you’re a Gophers fan.

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Postgame: Minnesota hands in a mixed bag, but good result