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Gopher Basketball Tips off the 2011-12 Season

I love this time of year for college hoops. For several years I was fortunate enough to be an assistant coach at a small college in town and the middle of October was always so exciting. Each team is always so unique, even if you are returning a large majority of your roster. There is always a sense of optimism and the game is fresh & fun. Eventually you get into February and the weeks and practices become monotonous, your body aches and the last few miles of the marathon can be grueling. But not in October.

I can only assume that Tubby Smith and all returning players are anxious to start a new season and purge the memories of last year's late season debacle. Based on this it looks as though Tubby is ready to come out fighting this year with renewed enthusiasm. Along with their enthusiasm to get back in the NCAA Tournament they are bolstered by a couple of top 100 freshmen and a JUCO transfer who are all anxious to make their mark. This time of year is exciting for everyone.

The lovely Natalie Kane stole some of Tubby's time at the All-Star Night event last Friday and talked a lot about the upcoming season, his new players, last season and leadership.

Gopher basketball 2011-12 has what appears to be a very solid and reliable frontcourt paired with a backcourt that is a complete unknown. This dichotomy makes for a very interesting season outlook for the Gophers. I will dig into each group with more specific posts but there are a number of critical questions surrounding Gopher basketball 2011-12.

  1. Who will play point guard AND can they do it effectively? We have a few options but who is going to step up and grab the role and will that person be good enough to lead the offense.
  2. Are we going to get more from Rodney Williams and Ralph Sampson III? If these two both step up their game a notch or two, that will take a lot of pressure off the backcourt. Both were rather disappointing throughout the season last year, but both have ambitions of playing at the next level and both need to do more this year.
  3. How deep will our bench be? We have a lot of guys who are unproven or complete unknowns who will have to play significant minutes of the bench. Oto Osenieks, Austin Hollins, Maurice Walker, Chip Armelin, Joe Coleman, Elliot Eliason and Andre Ingram are seven guys who we know very little about. Hollins and Armelin played quite a bit last year but they need to be much better. The rest of the guys we haven't really seen and several of them are going to have to play and contribute.
  4. Are we going to be able to apply full-court pressure again? Tubby's teams seem to be at their best when they are applying full-court pressure. I think this roster is athletic and deep enough, but will Tubby utilize this tactic or are going to be so inexperienced in the backcourt that we need to worry about handling half-court responsibilities properly.
  5. How good is Trevor Mbakwe going to be? How much help will he get so defenses can't suffocate him? But we all know that he is a beast and he has already become one of my favorite all-time Gophers. "In-n-Out" is good for a double-double nearly every night but will it be 12 points and 10 rebounds or will it be 18 and 14.

A lot of questions but I'm really excited for Gopher Hoops to get back on the court. November 1st is the first exhibition game with the first real game against Bucknell on 11/11/11.