2009-2010 Minnesota Golden Gophers Basketball Preview
It’s been just two seasons since head coach Tubby Smith came to the Minnesota Golden Gophers (22- 11 overall, 9- 9 Big Ten) and turned the program into a contender. Last year, after two NIT appearances and a post-season without a tournament, the Gophers went back to the Big Dance. Although they lost to Texas 76- 62 in the first round, Minnesota revealed that Smith and company were serious about bringing the basketball program to national prominence.
For the most part, the Gophers were an average club statistically last season. They were weakest when shooting threes, hitting 33% of their shots for an 11th place ranking. They were sixth in offensive scoring (66.3 PPG) and in defensive scoring (61.6 PPG). Their free throw percentage of 72% and rebounding margin of plus-2.0 placed them fourth in each area. The team’s 44% field goal rate ranked them eighth in the league.
The Gophers have a fine incoming class that includes forward Royce White and swingman Rodney Williams. White has talent to spare and also an attitude to create despair. He needs to tap into his positive side of he’s going to be a productive teammate. Williams must be a good student and dedicated athlete. He could be phenomenal. Forward/centers Ralph Sampson III (6.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 0.8 APG) and Colton Iverson (5.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 0.6 APG), who were both first year players last season, came through when forward Jon Williams went down with an injury. Senior Damian Johnson (9.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.6 APG) is a fine player at both ends of the court.
In the backcourt, Smith will go with Al Nolen (6.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 4.3 APG) as long as he can find consistency. If he can’t, then look for freshman Justin Cobbs, who has bulk and power and likes to drive to the rim, to get the nod. Senior shooting guard Lawrence Westbrook (12.6 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.4 APG) returns as the team’s top scorer. Sophomore Devoe Joseph (5.0 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.5 APG) will compete for minutes.
Smith looks to have another fine season. This Minnesota club is deeper than last years and welcomes a strong incoming class. If a few guys step up and post break through seasons, then the Gophers will be in the upper tier of the Big Ten. This is a fourth-to-fifth place team that can and should get to the NCAA Tournament. Can they win it all? Probably not, but they should be tough to beat.