When I talked to Elliott Eliason for the first time, on media day, he seemed somewhat unsure of his role this year.
To be honest, so was I, and a lot of Gophers fans probably felt the same way.
But eight games and one major injury in, his place on the Gophers squad is crystal clear, and more important than anyone could have predicted. As the backup center and bigman, Eliason has suddenly become a critical element in the glue that is holding the Gophers together.
Wednesday against Virginia Tech, in the Gophers first real experiment without Trevor Mbakwe, who is out for the season with a torn right ACL, and Ralph Sampson III, who is nursing a turned ankle, Eliason started and proved he belonged there.
The redshirt freshman impressed all night:
- He scored well, finishing with eight points in 32 minutes and netting a few key rebounds
- He was aggressive under the basket and seemingly always there
- He rebounded well, finishing with seven
- He played good defense
- He passed well and had a nice high-low option going with Rodney Williams
- He had zero turnovers
“He was solid,” coach Tubby Smith said. “He bangs, he hustles, he’s flailing around out there, he’s just always around the basket. He keeps it up high, he doesn’t bring it down. He’s a good player, a good decision maker. He had a solid game.”
Smith said Eliason has gotten a lot stronger since last season, and it’s clear he’s gotten more comfortable on the court as well – in his first few outings this season he looked awkward and out of place at times.
“Obviously redshirting meant a lot for him and it’s paying dividends for us right now,” Smith said.
More from Star Tribune
More From Gold in the Barn
Gophers junior center Reggie Lynch is recovering from knee surgery, but he could return to full contact in a week.
Failing to recognize top returning players from an 8-23 Minnesota team might not be all that surprising -- until you take a closer look.
Arkansas, a Gophers opponent this year at Williams Arena, has the SEC preseason player of the year with senior center Moses Kingsley
Junior center Reggie Lynch is progressing after knee surgery last month, but the Gophers basketball team is not going to rush him into a major role.
Indiana coach Tom Crean and Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said at Big Ten Media Day that the Gophers will be much improved this year