July 24, 2012
By Justine Buerkle
A new NCAA rule allows college basketball coaches to spend up to two hours per week working with their teams. As Tubby Smith and the Golden Gophers take advantage of this added practice time, GopherSports.com takes a position-by-position look at where Minnesota stands during the offseason. Today's installment features the Gopher guards.
After the departure of seniors Blake Hoffarber and Al Nolen, Minnesota faced uncertainty in the backcourt heading into last season. In general, the returning guards had seen limited playing time. Smith also had new faces--incoming freshmen Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman, and junior transfer Julian Welch--to work into the lineup.
The young backcourt played a pivotal role in the Gophers' postseason run to the NIT championship game. Andre Hollins, in particular, emerged as a standout performer. The freshman displayed a smooth shooting stroke, leading the Big Ten in free throw percentage (.904 overall, .923 in conference play). He showed poise and stepped into a major scoring role as the season went on. Hollins was the only member of Big Ten All-Tournament Team whose team did not play in the title game.
Welch already had a few seasons of collegiate experience before arriving at Minnesota, but last year was his first at the Big Ten level. He led the Gophers in three-point field goal accuracy at 43.8 percent.
Coleman, the third newcomer, worked his way into the starting lineup early in the Big Ten schedule. He showed his ability to drive to the basket, and put up some big scoring games during the Big Ten season.
Sophomore Austin Hollins was the only returning guard to hold a steady place in the starting lineup. He led the Gophers in three-pointers made and often guarded the other team's best player. Maverick Ahanmisi, another sophomore, started a handful of games, but mostly came in to spell Hollins or Welch.
*The Gophers ranked last in the Big Ten in turnover margin and ninth in assist-to-turnover ratio. Misfired passes and lapses in ballhandling certainly played a role, but decision-making is perhaps the most important area to work on for the young players.
*Coleman could put up bigger scoring numbers this winter if he refines his shooting form--becoming a threat from mid-range would open up more opportunities for him. Both the Hollins and Welch are good outside shooters, so their shots should not need much retooling over the summer.
*On-court chemistry is something that changes and needs building every year. Tubby Smith played many different combinations of guards and forwards last season, and the addition of freshman Wally Ellenson gives the Gophers even more possibilities. Continuing to practice will make everyone more comfortable together as the season gets closer.
The young guards (minus Ellenson) are now armed with an added year of college experience. So the Gopher backcourt will have less of a "learning on the job" feel this season, although there may be some experimentation with different lineups, especially mixing and matching with the shooting guard and small forward positions.
If Welch and Andre Hollins can stay healthy, there should be more stability at the point guard position this year. Injuries bothered both during the 2011-12 season. According to Gophers assistant coach Saul Smith, Hollins just this summer reached 100-percent recovery from a hip injury that bothered him throughout the season.
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