Gophers basketball: Plenty to look forward to

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 31, 2012 - 8:24 AM

The Gophers' postseason run did not end with an NIT title, but the way they got to the championship game leaves promise for next season.

hide

The Gophers spent most of this season with Trevor Mbakwe in street clothes; if he returns next season in uniform, he would both be expected to make a big difference but also potentially complicate the roster situation.

Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press - Ap

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

NEW YORK - By the time flames are dancing, everyone has taken notice. A fire is hard to miss.

But it takes real focus to see the spark before the blaze, the quiet kindling that starts the glow. There are no leaping flames yet for the Gophers men's basketball team. After falling 75-51 to Stanford in the NIT championship game Thursday, the most recent segment of this year's journey ended in disappointment.

The spark, though, is there. Following their often- disappointing regular season, the Gophers regrouped and won six of seven games leading into the NIT final, in that frame exorcising several demons that had plagued them all season. Reaching the final highlighted how far the Gophers have come, but the loss underscored that there is work to be done if the Gophers are going to turn the spark into a fire that sends them dancing in the 2013 NCAA tournament.

"A lot of guys stepped up, and we have them all coming back," coach Tubby Smith said. "That's the best thing about it."

Here is a look back at this season and what lies ahead:

THREE THINGS THAT DEFINED THIS SEASON

1 Trevor Mbakwe going down

Coming into the season, Trevor Mbakwe was the Gophers' focal point. When the forward tore his anterior cruciate ligament in November, only seven games into the season, it altered expectations -- many assumed the Gophers would crumble -- and transformed the way the team played. But it also gave young players forced on-the-job development that made them better in the long run.

2 Close games, blown leads and mental lapses

The Gophers had a penchant for playing close games, win or lose. Often, that seemed due to lapses in decision-making and execution -- padding a lead only to wash it away with a poorly played stretch. They typically escaped with victories in nonconference play, but in the Big Ten the Gophers often played well enough to win but hurt themselves just enough to lose.

3 Scrappiness and heart

The Gophers did not immediately collapse after Mbakwe went down, and at least stayed competitive during much of the Big Ten season. But the biggest step was the Gophers' catalyzing run in March, which included a Big Ten tournament victory over Northwestern, three road victories in the NIT and a berth in the title game at Madison Square Garden. During that closing stretch, the Gophers often showed the poise many had been waiting to see.

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1 A talented young point guard and a late-season lineup with no seniors

Perhaps the most exciting thing about the Gophers' end-of-season run -- done entirely without senior center Ralph Sampson III, who missed the last seven games because of a sprained knee -- was that fans got a taste of what next year's core will look like. Point guard Andre Hollins broke out in the postseason, proving capable of leading the team. And he was only a freshman.

2 Rodney Williams made major strides

He averaged 18 points in his final eight games this season -- which is what fans have been waiting to see. Williams has always shown raw talent and promise, but he was previously never able to put it all together on a regular basis. When the junior forward started playing well, the entire team followed him. That could carry over to his senior year.

3 An efficient, up-tempo brand of basketball

At times this season, the Gophers looked stagnant, uninspired and unable to play the style Smith advertised. But in the postseason, things turned around. The Gophers started playing the way they were built -- fast-paced, transition-oriented and athletic. Players proved they were conditioned enough to sustain the intensity, and the Gophers started playing better all-around.

THREE LINGERING QUESTIONS

1 Will Mbakwe come back?

Mbakwe recently learned he was granted a sixth year by the NCAA. He still needs to decide whether he will take it, and if he does, it could mean a complicated situation for Minnesota, which is at the D-I maximum 13 scholarships. Smith is hoping the NCAA will "work with them," but if not, someone would have to transfer. It's even more complicated because ex-Hopkins standout Trent Lockett, who is mulling a transfer from Arizona State and would be eligible immediately if he graduates early as expected, also could be in the mix depending on scholarship availability.

2 Can the Gophers have sustained success in the Big Ten?

The postseason run gave a promise of hope. But if Mbakwe returns along with marked improvement from the rest of the squad, fans will expect nothing short of a respectable showing in the conference standings -- where the Gophers have never finished better than sixth under Smith -- and an NCAA bid.

3 The status of the coaching staff

Questions about Smith's job status came up during the year, and his name again has been mentioned in connection to other vacancies. But the NIT run has brightened the outlook, and Smith is anticipating contract extension talk to restart. He might be without associate head coach Ron Jirsa, who will interview next week for the head job at Division III Northland College in Ashland, Wis.

  • 2011-12 GOPHERS SEASON WRAPUP

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Kansas City - WP: J. Guthrie 3 FINAL
San Francisco - LP: T. Hudson 2
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
New Orleans 10/30/14 7:25 PM
Carolina
Dallas 117 FINAL
Orlando 92
New York 80 FINAL
Toronto 83
San Antonio 87 FINAL
Houston 96
Miami 104 FINAL
Memphis 98
Minnesota 113 FINAL
Chicago 112
Phoenix 105 FINAL
Utah 100
Sacramento 93 FINAL
LA Lakers 92
Denver 112 FINAL
Golden State 119
Portland 99 FINAL
LA Clippers 89
Dallas 3 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 2
Tampa Bay 4 FINAL
Winnipeg 2
Vancouver 3 FINAL
Colorado 7
Carolina 3 FINAL
Edmonton 6
Columbus 1 FINAL
Anaheim 4
Connecticut 21 FINAL
(18) East Carolina 31
Miami-Florida 30 FINAL
Virginia Tech 6
So Florida 17 FINAL
Cincinnati 34
Troy 13 FINAL
South Alabama 27
BYU 30 FINAL
Boise State 55
(6) Oregon 59 4th Qtr 4:44
California 35
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
(2) Florida State 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Louisville
Troy 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Cincinnati 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Tulane
Tulsa 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Memphis
Purdue 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
(17) Oklahoma 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa State
Oklahoma State 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
(10) TCU 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(22) West Virginia
Texas 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Texas Tech
Northwestern 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa
Maryland 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Penn State
Houston 1 FINAL
Chicago 2
Montreal 23 FINAL
Ottawa 17
Saskatchewan 27 FINAL
Calgary 40
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Hamilton 10/31/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Toronto 11/2/14 11:00 AM
Montreal
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who wins and loses in football this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close