Thursday, January 10, 2013

This is Not Your Typical Gopher Basketball Team

With the recent Vikings and Irish losses, I was starting to get the feeling that my being a fan of a specific team was the kiss of death.  Thus, when the #8 Gopher men went into face the #12 Illini in Champaign, I was worried.  And immediately after tip off those worries were warranted.  The Illini were the biggest, quickest, and most athletic team the Gophers had played since the Duke game, and the game started in shaky fashion.

But no worries - this Gopher team plays fantastic defense, and between the contested shots and cold shooting by Illinois, the Gophers pulled away in the second half for an easy win against a top 15 team.  

Beyond their defense, which is really outstanding, this really is an impressive team on multiple fronts.  They run 10 deep - literally, as the first substitution that was made by Coach Tubby Smith last night had all five starters replaced.  And these 10 players are not just bodies either.  All can play and have specific  sets of strengths that compliment the rest of the team.  As evidence, all one needs to do is to look back at the box scores of recent games to see that on any given night one or two different guys are going to step up and carry the team.

Last night it was Trevor Mbakwe's double-double, and Hopkins native Joe Coleman going off for 29 points.  Against Northwestern last weekend, it was Austin Hollins' 5 three-pointers and Rodney Williams 27 points.  Against Michigan State, it was Andre Hollins' 7 free throws and 31 points that were among the leaders.

I've been a Gopher basketball fan since my folks had season tickets back in the 1980's.  I have seen some amazing players and amazing programs.  But in all that time, I have never seen a Gopher team this deep and multi-dimensional.  This is just the kind of team that can make a big run in the NCAAs, and it will be fun to see what they can do.

However, they're going to need to get through the Big Ten first, and that is only going to be made more difficult with their next game on the road against #5 Indiana this Saturday.  That will be a great indicator of exactly what this team is capable of producing.

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