Sleeper Watch: Minnesota Golden Gophers
Forget about their bad losses—Northwestern, Purdue and Nebraska. Each of these is a conference game, and they were all road contests for the Gophers. This year has proven no team is safe when it comes to conference matchups, especially in the Big Ten, and Minnesota was simply a victim of weird losses because of it.
These defeats do not tell the whole story of the Big Ten regular season that the Gophers went through, either. If you look at its losses, which came in groups for whatever reason, each was followed by great wins. After losing two games at the end of February, in which they were throttled at Iowa by 21 and at Ohio State by 26, the Gophers were able to dismantle an Indiana squad that was ranked number one in the nation, a game that was not as close as the four point difference indicates. Other wins over Wisconsin, Michigan State, Illinois and Memphis prove this team is capable of beating big name teams, and when they come to play they are really tough to beat.
It is clear when this team is put up against big names something sparks inside that makes it really good. Multiple players on this team can step-up when needed, and the Gophers can come at you in several different ways. Andre and Austin Hollins have both showed glimpses of possible stardom this season, and are two streaky shooters capable of getting hot at any time. Rodney Williams is one of the most athletic players in the country, and if he can get to the rim he is a constant threat to score. If Trevor Mbakwe plays like he did against Indiana on Feb. 26, then Joe Coleman can roam the outside where he can knock down shots and be versatile. All of these pieces make them a very dangerous offensive team, and when mixed with their ability to grab offensive rebounds (third best in the country in this department) they become even more of a threat.
The Golden Gophers have definitely taken its ups and downs this season, and is going into the Big Ten tournament off of two road losses. However, with their potential on the offensive end and a solid defensive mindset, do not count them out. The senior leadership of Mbakwe and Williams, and hot shooting from Coleman and the Hollins duo, always puts them in position to win. If they are able to win a few games in the conference tournament (they will play Indiana in the second round if they are able to beat Illinois) watch out for the Gophers when it comes time to dance.