Insight News

Dec 22nd

Gophers earning their stripes

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tubbysmithThough head coach Tubby Smith’s championship collegiate basketball development program takes greater foothold on success by the day, the Gopher men’s basketball team is still taking their lumps through the first half of the season’s schedule. A recent loss to #2 nationally ranked conference opponent Ohio State showed the Gopher’s ability to hang with the best that the country has to offer. The team has done this increasingly well over the last four years. Many may remember the Gophers big regular season victory over #9 ranked Louisville in 2008. The Gophers were well led that day in 2008 by then sophomore point guard Al Nolen Jr. That well developed leadership almost led to an even more shocking 18point comeback victory over Ohio State just recently. Nolen’s path over the last few years is indicative of the Gophers overall fortunes for the last couple years with both academic and injury related challenges. If breakthrough comes from the endurance of challenges, then it seems the Gopher’s should have a day in the sun sometime very soon…perhaps just in time for March Madness.

This year’s addition of forward Trevor Mbakwe seemed to be just what the team needed, as a symbol of putting a few indiscretions by recruits in the rear view mirror. Unfortunately young men occasionally have a tough time working through the entirety of life’s troubles, particularly the troubles that extend from success. Mbakwe re-stirred the small pot of drama that the program is working through, when in a moment of apparent comfort he chose to reach out to someone for closure, but miscalculated the timing of a restraining order. I think many can empathize with the efforts to try and end a bad personal relationship on a positive note. Mbakwe’s response following the matter seemed very genuine, but the matter will be in a judge’s hands to decide. Thus far Mbakwe has lost his starting position, but it will be interesting to see his effort and mind set as the matter draws to a close somehow.

Adding to the Mbakwe troubles have been injuries and the abrupt departure of developing young guard Davoe Joseph. Al Nolen Jr. was temporarily sidelined during the middle part of the season with an ankle injury, but his play overall for the year seems to have that senior year type of intensity. This consistency of intensity seems to be running through the entire team, and thus through the many troubles the Gophers have had, even national pundits seem to be unphased in their positive thoughts about the team.

Coming into the season, the comeback of Mbakwe meant that the Gophers have the most formidable group of frontline players (forwards and centers) in the Big Ten Conference. Coach Smith seems to relish in the depth of talent that his recruiting over the past 4years is currently demonstrating. The majority of the time coaches don’t make substitutions of all five players on the court at one time. This is a major sign of growth for the Gophers that Smith is able to make those types of wholesale changes on the court, and as they enter the second half of the season that added energy from depth could become useful as other teams wear down. Hopefully the Gophers are as worn down as they are going to get for the year, with the recent defections and social mishaps. The schedule lays out well for the team to rack up solid victories moving forward to the February and March tournaments. Watching this team’s progress has quietly been one of the most interesting stories in Minnesota sports for 4years running.


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