Position Preview: Guards

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The Golden Gopher men's basketball team opens its regular season against Bucknell this Friday, Nov. 11. During the final days before the opener, Gophersports.com has been previewing what to look for at different positions. The first two installments focused on centers/power forwards and small forwards. The third looks at the Gopher guard corps.

Minnesota enters the regular season with uncertainty in the backcourt. Several players are competing to fill the spots left by last year's seniors, Al Nolen and Blake Hoffarber. Two exhibition games has not been enough to fully see what they are capable of doing, so the early non-conference schedule will be important in terms of establishing a guard rotation.
Go Gophers! Austin Hollins
Go Gophers!
Austin Hollins is one of three returning guards.
Go Gophers!

The Gophers returned three guards from last year: sophomores Austin Hollins, Chip Armelin, and Maverick Ahanmisi. Hollins is one of the Gophers' best defenders, leading the team with an average of 1.2 steals per game last season. The Gophers will also count on him to hit some outside shots. With three three-pointers in the exhibition season, he was the only Minnesota player to make more than one. Hollins could also play the small forward position.

Armelin has shown his scoring ability in spurts, as he did during the game against Augustana. He is an aggressive player who can hit outside shots as well as get to the basket. But head coach Tubby Smith would like to see more consistency from him--Armelin played well and took care of the ball in the second game, but turned it over four times the first game.

The final returning guard, Ahanmisi, is part of arguably the most interesting position battle on the team: the competition for minutes at point guard. The sophomore guard filled in at times last season after Nolen's injury, and on media day Smith said that "the returning players obviously have the upper hand." Ahanmisi is certainly not ruled out, but two newcomers--junior transfer Julian Welch and freshman Andre Hollins, Tennessee's 2011 Mr. Basketball--now appear to be the top candidates after playing more minutes during the exhibition season.

Welch missed the Bemidji State game with an ankle injury, but played 17 minutes and scored seven points--including a three--against Augustana. Hollins struggled shooting both nights (3-of-14 overall), but handed out seven assists with no turnovers in 27 minutes against BSU. He played 16 minutes on Monday. Welch's experience could give him the edge to start, but both could see significant minutes running the point.

No matter which of these guards ends up as the primary point guard--Welch, Andre Hollins, or Ahanmisi--any of them could also play shooting guard or "off guard." They can all hit outside shots, though Hollins has struggled during exhibition. Hollins (23.5 ppg as a high school senior) and Welch (19.0 ppg last year at Yuba CC) definitely have a scoring mentality, so they would be valuable whether or not they are bringing up the ball.

Another newcomer, Joe Coleman, is also a scorer. The freshman averaged 21.5 ppg, leading Hopkins to a state championship and earning the title of Mr. Basketball his senior year. His shot is not as smooth as some of the other guards, but he can get to the rim and score. The 6-4 Coleman could also play the small forward position because of his driving ability.

The Gophers also welcome walk-on Kendal Shell to the guard corps. As a senior, the Missouri native captained his team to its fourth conference title of his high school career.

The Gopher guards will need to both feed the ball to big men Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson, and make outside shots and drive to the hoop themselves to take pressure off the two seniors. All of them are in their first or second season at Minnesota, so it will be a learning process, but they have the tools to become a very talented backcourt.

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