Aug. 14, 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 big men.
Heading into the season, Trevor Mbakwe was billed as one of the top players in not only the Big Ten, but the country. He led the Gophers to a 6-0 start with four double-doubles before suffering an ACL tear during their Thanksgiving tournament.
Rodney Williams moved from small forward to power forward after Mbakwe’s season-ending injury. He performed well in that spot, leading all non-Mbakwe Gophers in scoring with 12.2 points per game. Williams put together a string of four 20-point games during the postseason.
Oto Osenieks provided some versatile minutes off the bench. He spent time both on the perimeter looking for outside shots and on the inside posting up.
Andre Ingram had a strong end to the season. He averaged more than 22 minutes during the last four NIT games, including a season high 29 in the title game. He contributed 26 points and 20 rebounds during those games.
*Integrating and reintegrating players will be a focus among the forwards. Mbakwe is coming off of ACL surgery, and Buggs is new to the team. The Gopher coaches want to make sure Mbakwe is truly ready to go before they put him on the court for a real game. Buggs played with and against many Division I prospects during his season of post-graduate prep basketball, but he will still need time to adjust.
*Williams, like Joe Coleman of the guard/small forward department, must continue to work on his shot. He started hitting a few more outside shots as last season went on, but the bulk of scoring came inside the paint. A more consistent shooting stroke would force defenders to worry about him on the perimeter as well as around the basket. The team as a whole would do well to improve its free throw percentage after ranking ninth in the Big Ten last season.
*Osenieks needs to build more confidence. He is a good shooter, but at times seemed tentative when he had open shots last season. Continuing to practice and play both on the inside and the perimeter will help him improve his overall game. Then when one aspect of the game is not going well, he will be able to have productive minutes by shifting inside or outside.
Tubby Smith could use a number of different combinations of forwards. Williams excelled at the small forward position last season, but that is also Mbakwe’s primary position. Smith could have Mbakwe play at center and Williams at power forward, or Mbakwe at power forward and Williams at small forward. He will also, of course, need to take into consideration big men Elliott Eliason and Maurice Walker.
Buggs could provide a boost to the team as a true freshman. Gophers associate head coach Ron Jirsa called the athletic forward the “heir apparent to the Rodney throne.” Like Williams, Buggs could shift around between positions. The freshman has more shooting ability than the Gophers have seen at the small forward spot in recent years.
With veteran seniors in Williams and Mbakwe, a potential early-impact freshman in Buggs, and the rest of the supporting cast returning, the Gophers have a promising corps of forwards entering the 2012-13 season.
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