In Tubby Smith’s first season coaching the Golden Gophers, they won 20 games. With his first recruiting class, they almost cracked the top 20 (25 on ESPN.com). Can anyone say Immediate Impact? In his first full year at the University of Minnesota, Smith changed the culture of college basketball and the players bought in from the beginning. Winning 20 games was even more proof that hiring Smith was the greatest coaching hire in U of MN history.
Moving into the 2008-09 season, the natural step in this Smith revolution is higher expectations. Minnesota is the new “it pick” in the Big Ten with many experts picking them in the top third of the league. With a good core of returning players with; sophomore guards Al Nolen and Blake Hoffarber, juniors forward Damian Johnson, and guard Lawrence Westbrook, the Gophers had added a talented recruiting class that adds quality depth, something lacking in previous seasons.
Record: 20-14 (8-10 in Big Ten)
2007-08 Statistical Leaders
Points per game: G – Lawrence McKenzie – 11.8
Rebounds per game: F/C –Dan Coleman – 5.8
Assists per game: G – Al Nolen
Key Players Out:
Lawrence McKenzie, Guard (11.8 ppg and 2.6 apg)
Dan Coleman, Forward/Center (11.3 ppg and 5.8 rpg)
Spencer Tollackson, Forward/Center (9.3 ppg and 3.7 rpg)
Key Returning Players:
Al Nolen, Guard Soph. (4.3 ppg, 1.9 steals pg, and 3.5 assist pg)
Blake Hoffarber, Guard Soph. (8.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg, and 42% 3 point shooting)
Damian Johnson, Forward Jr. (7.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, and 1.4 blocks pg)
Lawrence Westbrook, Guard Jr. (8.5 ppg, 1.9 steals pg, and 3.5 assist pg)
Key Players In:
Devron Bostick, Guard Fr.
6-5 210 Racine, Wis./Southwestern Illinois CC
Devoe Joseph, Guard Fr.
6-3 170 Ajax, Ontario, Canada/Pickering
Colton Iverson, Forward Fr.
6-10 235 Yankton, S.D./Yankton
Ralph Sampson III, Forward Fr.
6-11 220 Duluth, Ga./Northview
Paul Carter, Forward So.
6’8” 195 Little Rock, Ar./Missouri State-West Plains JC
Smiths first recruiting class addresses the lack of talent and depth in the front court. Losing Tollackson and Coleman is a huge lose, but the addition of Sampson and Iverson should turn out to be an up-grade. Sampson was a late bloomer in high school, but he has shown a nice jump shot out to about 17 feet. While not as physically gifted as his father, Virginia All-American and NBA player Ralph Sampson Jr., he is strong and athletic enough to be a defensive force and seems to have a solid grasp of the game. Iverson comes to campus with a offense game stronger than Sampson. He has good post moves and is an aggressive all-around rebounder, but he needs to improve on defense.
The only player returning from last season that is over 6’7″ is the 6’9” center Jonathan Williams. While he is a senior, he has not been off the bench to often, averaging only 13.1 minutes and 3.0 points per game. Johnson is the most experienced and athletic forward on the squad. While only standing 6’7”, Johnson averaged 1.4 blocks and 1.7 steals per game, saw most of his minutes last season at power forward. Incoming sophomore Carter, who is an athletic slasher with a decent perimeter game, will have a hard time finding time and but if he is one the court, it will be at PF.
Sampson, Iverson, Williams, and Johnson will be competing for the PF and C starting spots.
The backcourt will be the strength of the Golden Gophers. The Gophers will look to Westbrook to pick his scoring to fill the void left by McKenzie. Westbrook has the range to do it and has a greater ability than McKenzie to get to the basket. Smith will look to Nolen to not only increase his numbers on offense, but also put constant pressure on the opposing ball handler. Both of these players are expected to see the majority of minutes at PG.
If Hoffarber never makes another basket in his life, he would still be a Minnesota basketball legend. As a sophomore in high school, Hoffarber hit a last second shot while sitting on the three-point line, not only did it send the championship game into a second overtime – which his team went onto win – he also won an ESPY. In his first season in college, he again hit an important last second shot in the Big-Ten tourney that won the game for the Gophers – click here to see both highlighted on ESPN.
Last season saw Hoffarber receive more playing time than many expected, as he was used mostly as a 3-point specialist. But he needs to expand his game of the dribble if he wants to see more playing time. Bostick will come in a provide help in scoring and could potentially make the starting line-up at SF.
Joseph will add even more outside shooting plus the ability to get to the rim but majority of his minutes – at least early in the year – will be off the bench. Junior Jamal Abu–Shamla contributed 13.1 minutes and 3.4 point a game last year, but might be hard-pressed get off the bench unless he improved his game while playing the Jordon National team, if he did, he will add depth at SF.
The early portion of Minnesota’s schedule is filled with cupcakes. Match-ups in December with Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and Louisville in the Stadium Shootout, will be the toughest games until they run into the big boys of the Big Ten to start conference play – Michigan Sate Dec. 31st and Ohio State Jan. 2nd, which are both at home. Other than Purdue, the rest of the Big Ten is pretty mediocre and the Gophers should be able to add a couple wins to the 20 season of last season and improve on their 8-10 record in conference.
For the first time in a while, the Golden Gophers have quality depth and could go 11 eleven deep. And depending on the situation, you might see Smith go to a four guard line-up or go “small” with Johnson as the big.
G Nolen, SG Westbrook SF Bostick PF Johnson C Sampson III
FIRST OFF THE BENCH
F/C Iverson, F Abu–Shamla, C Williams, F Carter, G Hoffarber,G Joseph