GN Note: I bumped this to the front page and to the top. Good season review from amiller.
Having given my thoughts on our young Gophers early in the season, I thought I'd look back at those projections to see how I did. And while I'm at it, give some thoughts about the off season and hopes for next year.
But first a summary. This was a strange year. It was hard not to have high expectations with a guy like Trevor Mbakwe coming into his own as a star, but the early games didn't show a lot of confidence from a very young and inexperienced back court. I was deeply pessimistic once Trevor went down, consoling myself with the idea of watching the rest of the young guys improve over the next few years before we could really compete.
Then Joe Coleman entered the lineup and suddenly we had some swagger, energy and confidence, bring back modest post-season hopes, which, of course, were promptly dashed on the shoals of inconsistency and inability to finish.
But in keeping with that theme, our young Gophers seemed re-born in post season play, largely thanks to Andre Hollins and a new, freer style of play. With the way our guys played in the B1G tournament and then in the NIT, it's hard not to be excited about next year. And if Trevor comes back, really excited. With off season hard work and dedication, this is a squad that could make a deep run in the NCAA tournament next year.
Player-by-player analysis after the jump (bear with me, it's kind of long).
Trevor Mbakwe: We might as well start out with first things first. The poor kid only managed to play in 7 games, after only playing in 11 his first year at Marquette. But his career 49 games apparently was enough to convince the NCAA to give him an extra year to try to play a second full season in his college career. I don't know anything that you guys don't know about whether he will take it. As a Gophers fan, I hope he does, but I can certainly understand if he needs to go earn some money to take care of his family. For a guy who has clearly had some issues of his own creation, I have really good feelings about Trevor. The way he stuck by his teammates and was their biggest cheerleader (on one knee) really impressed almost as much as the way he taught himself how to make free throws in the last off season.
What I thought then: I thought he was the best player on this team and one of the best in the B1G.
What I think now: We only got to see a little bit of him, but he gave us no reason to doubt him.
My off-season suggestions: Get healthy. Nothing else really matters. But if he's got time for something else, I'd love to see him develop some baseline post moves, specifically a simple drop step, power dribble, and kiss off the glass (you'll hear more about that). But the thing that would help his prospects at the next level would be to match his free throw shooting improvement with his mid-range jumper.
Rodney Williams: I probably disrespected the young man by not mentioning him up top as a key to our post-season success. His emergence as an aggressive, go-to guy was at least as important as Dre's take over at point. The young man has an uncanny ability to get the ball to go into the hoop no matter what the defender does to him while he hangs in the air. Shifting to the 4 seemed to do wonders for his confidence, and he handles the ball better when he doesn't have to worry about being mainly a perimeter player. If Trevor comes back, that creates a small dilemma for next year, but having too much talent around is a good problem to have.
What I thought then: I was pretty hard on Rodney. I got frustrated with his lack of confidence and didn't think he was ever going to live up to everyone's high expectations. I decided he was going to be a good player capable of highlight plays but I lost faith that he could take the next step.
What I think now: I still think the only limitations on Rodney's potential are in his head. When he's confident, engaged and not frustrated, he can do just about anything on the basketball court. When he's not, he struggles. It seems like the end of every year I think, "hopefully his late-season success will carry over to confidence for next year." So, let's hope.
My off-season suggestions: Rodney needs to convince himself he can shoot. His NIT performance (along with flashes at times last year) have already convinced me, but I really don't matter. Rodney needs to believe in himself. The good news is, practice can help. I don't know if it's true, but I had heard the Blake Hoffarber used to shoot 1000 jumpers a day. That's exactly what Rodney needs. After that, he needs to shoot a couple hundred free throws. Just imagine how dangerous he could be with even small improvements in those two areas.
Andre Hollins: It's hard to overstate how important young Dre was in post-season play. His energy and enthusiasm defined the team's identity during that NIT run, and they made the games a lot of fun to watch. My only disappointment is that we didn't get to that place earlier in the season, but he was hampered by injuries. I'd guess he might also have been hampered by coaching uncertainty as to whether to go with his youthful exuberance or more experienced guys. Clearly, youth was the right choice.
What I thought then: I didn't see a lot of Dre against Bucknell and Augustana. At the time, he looked like a project who might need some time before being a really capable player. He didn't do anything particularly bad, but he also didn't do anything particularly good.
What I think now: I think I was mostly right, except that one full regular season seemed to be all the time he needed. Actually, I think he probably would have needed less than that and could have be a star earlier had he been healthy. Even if Trevor's back, I think this is his team next year. And that's the most exciting thing about the Gophers' future. Quality guard play is still absolutely key, and right now it looks like we've got some guards.
My off-season suggestions: This is actually a tough one for me, as I don't really know enough basketball to have a plan for a kid who can shoot, handle, pass and defend already. Obviously, improvement on all those things is welcome, but none were a particular weakness. I guess I think his off season focus should be on increasing his already high basketball IQ. Studying tape and understanding the game can make a huge difference for a point, especially one who hasn't always played there.
Austin Hollins: I have to give Dre and Rodney most of the credit for the post-season turn around, but that's partly because Austin didn't really need to step it up because he was already playing at a high level. He plays smart, takes only good shots, and makes them at a pretty good clip. On top of that, I think he's our best on the ball defender and those long arms of his seem to get in the way of at least a pass or two a game for a steal that leads to an easy bucket. He was a nice contributor as a freshman in a limited role, and really stepped up to be a solid starter as a sophomore.
What I thought then: I thought his off season improvement had earned him a spot as the starting shooting guard.
What I think now: I still think he's got great upside. He reminds me a little of a smaller Quincy Lewis, and I think he could have a similar career path. Both are guys whose body needs to catch up with their skills, but Austin could be deadly as a senior. And will be dangerous as a junior too.
My off-season suggestions: Two words: weight room.
Joe Coleman: I think Joe is the mascot for this season. He didn't contribute much at all. Then he earned a starting spot and was hot for a few games at a key time when the team needed a spark and some confidence. Then he sort of disappeared for awhile. His strength, aggressiveness and confidence made a big difference even when his stats didn't, but he still had an up and down year. His rebounding kept him on the floor even when the rest of his game was down, but he needs to develop more consistency.
What I thought then: I didn't see much from Joe in those early games. He was largely a non-factor, and, honestly, I doubted if he had the body to play in the B1G. He didn't seem big enough to be a 3, and I didn't see the quickness or offensive orientation needed for a 2.
What I think now: I definitely misjudged Joe. I underestimated his strength and his quickness. But most importantly I underestimated his confidence. That said, he has some real weaknesses that need to be addressed, but I now think with hard work he can be a very solid B1G player.
My off-season suggestions: Joe needs to work on everything except confidence and free throws. He's going to need a jumper of some sort to continue to see major minutes, and he needs to work on his ball handling and decision making. He's still a bit of a player without a position (although I now think he can play 3 at his size thanks to his strength) because he can't/won't shoot the ball and he can't yet be trusted to handle it regularly. His biggest successes came from putting it on the floor and trying to get to the rim going to his right, but his biggest struggles came from the rest of the league figuring out that he couldn't do a lot more than that.
Julian Welch: Julian may be the other mascot of the season. At times, he was really very good. At other times (especially at the ends of games), he really struggled. The hip pointer certainly seems to have contributed to what seemed like a major drop off in his game, and to be fair part of that coincided with Dre really stepping up, but Julian should be a man on a mission this off season to get back to form.
What I thought then: I liked his strength and actually compared his potential to Mateen Cleaves. I also liked his quick hands and the steals he generated on defense. I thought he would finish games at the point.
What I think now: I'm not sure we saw those quick hands again after the Bucknell game. I think Tubby was right to move him back to shooting guard, where he doesn't have to worry as much about handling the ball and can focus on what he does best: catching and shooting. I think he's got an effective outside jumper, but also struggles with decision making at times, resulting in too many turnovers.
My off-season suggestions: No matter which position he plays next year, he needs to work on his ball handling. He also needs to work on his quickness to improve his on-the-ball defense. He should also spend time with Dre and tape too. Each of those are must-improve areas. After that, my personal project for Julian is to develop a post-up game. I still think he can use his strength advantage to score inside against smaller guards.
Elliott Eliason: I'm not sure the casual fan gives Elliot enough credit. He doesn't score much, and he doesn't get the same number of impressive-looking blocked shots as his fellow big men. But the young man plays a solid game. His help defense is outstanding, in part because he understands that he should stay on the floor until the ball is released, and thus rarely gets beaten with a ball fake. But his season can probably be summed up by the fact that the team played significantly better after he replaced the injured Ralph Sampson III as the starting center.
What I thought then: I was pretty down on Elliott after having high expectations based on his pre-season play the prior year. I thought his footwork was not good and that he was trying to play defense with his hands. I didn't see interior scoring skills I had hoped for.
What I think now: I was too hard on Elliott. I think I expected more improvement during his redshirt season. As it stands, things are going to work out pretty well for him. He's not going to need to be a major scoring threat next year as long as he keeps hustling, playing defense and grabbing rebounds, which will give him another year to work on his offensive game.
My off-season suggestions: Elliott's still a big kid who still has some growing into his body to do. He needs to add muscle, and like every kid his size, can never spend too much time on agility. The next phase of his offensive development is likely learning to get to the line, so he needs to join Rodney in shooting a few hundred free throws a day. But the biggest factors for Elliott for next year will be being another year older and more mature.
Andre Ingram: Andre was mostly a non-factor during the season. The few minutes he saw during the regular season were a bit painful. He seemed to have trouble catching and holding onto the ball, and looked a little lost at times. Then came the post season, where he was a very pleasant surprise. He brought needed athleticism and strength inside, and more minutes seemed to translate to more confidence. If only he didn't miss about a dunk a game.
What I thought then: I liked his body and thought he had the look of a B1G athlete, but maybe not the skills. I thought he'd get limited minutes just to give Trevor some rest.
What I think now: I guess I was mostly right about him, but I don't really know what I think about him going forward. The player we saw in the NIT could be a nice backup next year, his senior season. The player we saw in the regular season could be asked to move on to free up a scholarship for Trevor. His post-season performance made me respect him a lot, though, so on that level I'd be sad to see him go.
My off-season suggestions: Ingram is (obviously) never going to see a lot of B1G minutes. He's just not that caliber of player. But the one area that could make the biggest difference to his playing time is improving his hands. If he could be counted on to catch the entry pass, pull down the contested rebound and not lose the ball while going up for a dunk, he could be a nice combination of athletic and physical as a guy off the bench.
Maverick Ahanmisi: My mother has told me many times that if you can't same something nice, don't say anything at all. I'm going to try to keep that in mind. The good news is that I can say something nice. Mav did his best as a freshman to step into minutes that no one thought he would get after Nolan went down and Devoe Joseph transferred. He seemed to maintain a good attitude this year as other guys passed him in the rotation, and he seems like a good kid.
What I thought then: I thought he didn't look like a guy who was good enough to end his career in the B1G.
What I think now: About the same. He actually had a few games there in the middle of the season where he was our best option at point (as in the team played best when he was on the floor), but that's clearly not going to be the case going forward.
My off-season suggestions: Find a place where he can play. I think Mav could be a nice mid-major player, but I don't think he's ever really going to be capable of performing at this level.
Chip Armelin: I compared Austin to Quincy Lewis above, but the young Quincy Lewis was an "instant offense" guy off the bench, which might be an apt comparison for Chip. The difference is I don't think Chip has quite the upside that Austin has and that Quincy achieved. He's an amazing athlete, and he's turned himself into a pretty good three point shooter, but we still don't know if he can be a good all around player.
What I thought then: I thought he was a good offensive spark but a liability on defense and at times a questionable decision maker.
What I think now: Pretty much the same. Chip could have been the guy to play Joe Coleman's role by being able to put the ball on the floor and get to rim, and he did have a game or two like that, but he needs to get the rest of his game up a notch. I didn't go back to look to see which game it was, but I was intrigued late in the season when Tubby left Chip on the floor as the hot hand and switched to the 2-3 to compensate on defense. Chip's going to need to be great on offense to get that kind of consideration from the coach in the future. Of course, he's also on the short list of guys who might leave to free up a scholarship for Trevor. Personally, I hope not because I find his upside exciting.
My off-season suggestions: Chip's improvement in perimeter shooting over the last off season is one reason his potential is exciting. But he needs work on just about every area of his game. Ball handing. Free throws. Passing/decisions making. And most notably defense. Please work on them all.
Oto Osenieks: Oto had an interesting year. He has the size to play power forward, but didn't look that comfortable mixing it up. He also has many of the skills to play small forward, but didn't look that comfortable handling the ball or necessarily quick enough to play the position. He looks like a shooter, and talked up his shooting skills, but the ball doesn't seem to go in. I'd say he didn't have a great year, but he'll be interesting to watch going forward. And I really like the toughness he showed in controlling the rebound and making the outlet pass before succumbing to that vicious head butt against Miami.
What I thought then: I liked his hustle and I alertness. I hoped he could help inside. But I didn't like his shot as much as I had hoped.
What I think now: Pretty much the same.
My off-season suggestions: It's time to turn that pretty form into pretty results. The key to Oto's future is going to be in converting catch-and-shoot opportunities on the perimeter. Next year, we aren't going to need him inside as much, but every team needs guys who can convert threes.
Maurice Walker: After Trevor went down, part of me really hoped that Big Mo could come back and provide the interior toughness we needed to replace. The smarter part of me thought he should use the whole year to rehabilitate his knee. Apparently the Gopher decisions makers are more in touch with the smarter part of me.
What I thought then: I thought I was excited to see what he could do when he came back. He showed soft hands and great passing instincts as a freshman, which should only have improved with practice.
What I think now: I'm excited to see what he can do. I think he and Trevor could be a very nice combination next year, with Mo as one of the main guys getting assists on Trevor dunks. He looks to me like he's slimmed down some, which would be great for his conditioning.
My off-season suggestions: This is my most specific suggestion: find and study tape of former Gopher Randy Carter. He was honorable mention all Big Ten, and a reliable inside scorer. To my recollection, he had exactly one post move. He'd use is size and strength to get solid position on the block, drop step, power dribble, kiss and two. It's perhaps the most basic of post moves, and it's something everyone can do. And yet we never see it from the Gopher big men. But it's perfect for a guy like Mo who can use it to make use of his natural size.