Gophers coach Tubby Smith has been searching for the right lineup ever since team leader and top player Trevor Mbawe was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Since then, the Gophers have been playing with three guards, but have rotated players in and out.
Let’s look at how each position has evolved over the year.
1. Andre Hollins won the point guard spot out of preseason, but when the Gophers went to a three-guard lineup, he initially shared the job with Julian Welch and then lost it altogether to Maverick Ahanmisi. The Gophers are still using a three-guard lineup but this version has a clear point guard – now it’s Welch, with Ahanmisi and Hollins both coming off the bench.
2. It was Austin Hollins at the beginning of the season, and it’s Austin Hollins now. But in between, as the Gophers adjusted to a three-guard set, Hollins was kind of playing a small forward role with Welch as the kind-of shooting guard.
3. The plan for the Gophers was to have Rodney Williams at small forward all season, but the loss of Mbakwe changed that. Williams moved to the 4, and Hollins took on most of the duties. Since entering the starting lineup, Joe Coleman is kind of acting like the 3, but this role has become a bit of a hybrid now – simply one of two wing positions supporting the point guard from the outside but still expected to do work offensively and defensively inside.
4. Of course, Trevor Mbakwe was the power forward the Gophers dreamed of when the season started. But when he tore his ACL, Williams had to step in and has done an apt job at the transition, where he remains. The position is clearly his, and not up for grabs.
5. Ralph Sampson III has held the job all year except for a handful of games when he was out with a turned ankle and Elliott Eliason started in his spot. It always seems like there are questions about whether Eliason should take the starting role, but Sampson has always done just enough to keep the job.
In the last two games, Smith has rolled out a starting lineup (Welch, Austin Hollins, Coleman, Williams and Sampson) that seems like the most efficient thus far – after all, their only two conference wins have come with that lineup. There’s seems to be better energy and chemistry among this group, as well.
“Right now I definitely think this is the right lineup for us to start the game with,” Williams said. “The bench has been coming out, playing hard, giving us our breaks when we need them. This lineup has been doing a really good job of getting off to better starts – not necessarily the starts we need, but better starts in the last two games.”