Hartman: Gophers have enough talent to make tournament run

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 17, 2013 - 11:33 PM

Now that the Gophers are fortunate enough to have been selected to play in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, there is no reason they can’t advance if they play like they did in beating Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State. The 11th-seeded Gophers face UCLA, the sixth seed in the South Region, in Austin, Texas, on Friday.

The top six Gophers players are probably as good as or better than any of the middle seeds who made the NCAA tournament.

Trevor Mbakwe has the ability to help win every game if he plays up to his ability. If Rodney Williams would return to the form he showed late last season, and if Andre and Austin Hollins would regain their ability to hit long-range shots along with Julian Welch, who was fifth in the Big Ten in three-point shooting percentage last year (43.8 percent), there is no reason the Gophers can’t surprise some teams and advance.

This is one of the most talented teams the Gophers have put on the Williams Arena floor. This was the year for the Gophers to make hay. It will be a lot tougher to win with four seniors leaving.

This team has to quit turning the ball over and making stupid mistakes and return to the form it had when it was 15-1 and playing the second-toughest schedule in the country.

A couple of years ago, a group of Gophers hockey boosters tried to get hockey coach Don Lucia fired, but then-athletic director Joel Maturi stood behind Lucia. Now look how well the hockey team has done. It’s no secret there now is a group who would like to see the University of Minnesota buy out Tubby Smith’s contract for $2.5 million and replace him.

Basketball titles have been few and far between. In the 1971-72 season, the Gophers won a Big Ten title, but coach Bill Musselman was later fired for recruiting violations. Jim Dutcher coached the Gophers to a Big Ten title in the 1981-82 season. And then Clem Haskins won one in 1998-99, but the NCAA voided that title following the academic fraud scandal.

This Gophers team has a chance to make amends after losing eight consecutive conference road games. It has the ability to go a long way in the NCAA if the players just use their brains and play like have in their 20 victories.

Memo to Tubby Smith: Here is a friendly suggestion for change. It might help the Gophers advance if you dropped the philosophy of removing star players such as Mbakwe, Williams and Andre Hollins when they get two fouls in the first half and keeping them on the bench until the second half. The Gophers probably would have won against Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten tournament if Mbakwe and Andre Hollins had not warmed the bench for much of the first half.

Dozier impresses

Going into spring training, the only Twins infielder who had a starting job locked up was first baseman Justin Morneau.

The other three positions were wide open.

Now, according to Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, Brian Dozier has pretty much won the second base job.

“Dozier looks good,” Ryan said. “He’s made some unbelievable plays at second base here in the last week.

“He’s probably got about eight of those [great plays] that he’s made, which is very good for all of us to see. His at-bats have gotten better each week. So I don’t have anything that I could tell you that’s concerning right now about Dozier. He’s played good baseball. His hitting has been fine. He’s putting good at-bats together. As we get deeper into March, he’s going to get better.”

Ryan said the team has some depth at shortstop with Pedro Florimon and Eduardo Escobar.

“Both those guys have done fine,” Ryan said. “We’ve got a couple of nonroster guys. Ray Olmedo is a pretty good defensive player in his own right. So we certainly could move around with Jamey Carroll and Dozier if you want. So we’ve got enough people right now that would allow us to pick and choose, but right now Florimon and Escobar are playing pretty good baseball at shortstop.”

Then there is third base, where Trevor Plouffe had a productive early part of last season and then went into a hitting slump in the second half. He has been limited recently after aggravating a right calf injury, but the Twins will start with Plouffe at third and hope he retained the power he showed by hitting a career-high 24 homers last season.

Still, it is going to be an unproven infield except for Morneau, not like the past when they went into spring training with all the infield positions settled.

Jottings

• The negotiations between the Vikings and former Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings lasted some eight hours over two days before Jennings signed Friday. One of the things Jennings insisted on doing before he would sign was to study film of the performance last season of quarterback Christian Ponder. “I had to watch Christian,” Jennings said. “I had to see what I was getting myself into. Very athletic quarterback, obviously his upside, his future is bright. I saw a young guy who was maturing.”

• The Vikings had 10 free agents when the season ended. Only two of the 10 — wide receiver Devin Aromashodu and linebacker Marvin Mitchell — are not signed by anybody. The Vikings lost linebacker Jasper Brinkley to the Cardinals and guard Geoff Schwartz to the Chiefs and signed the others.

• The Packers have now lost three of their starters, with Jennings signing with the Vikings and the club not resigning center Jeff Saturday and defensive back Charles Woodson.

• With Seattle’s first-round pick (25th overall) going to the Vikings in the trade for wide receiver Percy Harvin, USA Today’s recent mock draft had them taking Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree. The same mock draft had the Vikings taking California wide receiver Keenan Allen with their 23rd pick. The Harvin trade certainly will change things.

 

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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