Basketball Preview: We've previously looked at the newcomers to the team and returning sophomores, juniors and seniors. We also pointed out that the newcomers will have ups and downs. Today, we look at various rotations Tubby Smith might well employ this season. Expect the basketball preview to continue throughout the week in anticipation of Friday night's season opener.
During his career, Tubby Smith has displayed a tendency to tip his cap to upperclassmen when it comes to picking a starting five. We saw that last year for a time as Jamal Abu-Shamala started a majority of games during the first half of the year. Eventually, JAS fit into a bench role.
I lead with that because I expect Tubby to make his youngsters earn playing time. A couple of them might be forced into action early on. Maybe they will be ready, maybe they won't. With that in mind, here's my guess at your starting five and subsequent rotation.
Starting Five: PG: Al Nolen, SG: Lawrence Westbrook, SF: Blake Hoffarber (Damian Johnson when healthy), F: Colt Iverson, F: RSIII.
I could see Tubby starting Jonathan Williams over either of the two freshman big men and wouldn't be surprised if that's the case. But I'd be shocked if Paul Carter, Devron Bostick or Devoe Joseph began the season in starting roles. Iverson and Sampson get the nod simply because of necessity. Hoffarber gets the nod over JAS for myriad reasons. Ideally, Hoffarber is a sixth man, and he'll be that once Johnson returns.
What I'd like to do now is throw out various lineups I'd like to see for different situations.
Three-guard lineup: Against smaller or slower teams, Tubby Smith can play three guards at one time. If RSIII and Iverson can join Williams and Johnson in holding down the boards, expect to see quite a bit of Westbrook, Nolen and Joseph on the court at the same time.
Run, run, run: The incoming class will do wonders for Tubby Smith's desire to push tempo and create turnovers. Once the newcomers have their feet wet, I would love to see some Don Nelson style small ball, ultra athletic lineups. Example: Nolen, Westbrook, Carter, Johnson and Sampson.
Defense: It's clear JAS and Blake Hoffarber aren't defensive stoppers. So, when Tubby wants high pressure defense who will he turn to? My guess is Nolen, Westbrook, Travis Busch, Johnson and either Sampson or Iverson. (Note: I haven't seen enough of Iverson and Sampson to know which will be best in what role).
Let's calm down: WIth so many newcomers, and especially on the road come Big Ten season, things are bound to get ugly from time to time. When that happens and the Gophers simply need to calm down, here's my guess: Westbrook, Hoffarber, Johnson, Williams, Sampson/Iverson.
Going big: Assuming the two JUCO transfers pan out, they give Minnesota a chance to go big against opponents, something we couldn't last year. What we could see: Nolen, Westbrook or Joseph, Bostick, Carter, Johnson, Sampson/Iverson. That would bring four players onto the court that could potentially battle underneath.
End of season crunch time: Since I expect the starting lineup to fluctuate, I prefer to look at who is closing games. By the end of the season, individual players will have established roles. Those ending games will be those that have won Tubby's heart. My best guess: Nolen, Westbrook, Johnson, Sampson, Iverson.
Clearly, there is no science to this speculation. Educated guesses perhaps. What do you expect to see, or what would you like to see?