Let the great Paul Rome be the first to say it....I like where Gopher Men's Basketball is headed. Before I tell you why, I just want to send a big thank you to Tubby Smith. You've done an awesome job leading our team to two NCAA tourney berths in your five years and had it not been for injuries and bad luck the past two years, it would be four out of five. Keep up the good work Coach. I don't care what anyone says, you are the man.
Yes, I did not stutter in that first sentence. This team is a guaranteed NCAA tourney team next season barring some major scandal (I really hope I didn't jinx this team with that statement). I can already hear the naysayers questioning that thought. Are you on drugs Paul Rome? What team were you watching this year? What makes you believe this team is big dance bound?
For starters. Paul Rome saw enough from the young guys to be extremely excited for the next 2-3 years. Let's begin with the Hollins brothers (no relation). Austin Hollins turned into a silky smooth three point threat and he has a nice quick first step to get to the rim. His free throw shooting on a team that traditionally struggles from the charity stripe was also encouraging. He had big games at Indiana and at home against Tom Izzo and I like the fact in big games, he has elevated his game.
Kid brother Andre (no relation) started out slow due to a sprained ankle and really didn't make much noise until the Illinois game at the Barn. He and brother Austin (no relation) carried the U to that OT victory and in both games versus Bucky, Andre put on a show. He shutdown Jordan Taylor to bring us back from a big deficit against Sconnie to force OT at the Barn and was lights out in the Big Ten tourney. He's not afraid to shoot the ball and he really became a three point assassin towards the end of the year. His free throw percentage was best in Gopher history and the kid is only going to be a sophomore this fall. He showed why he was Tennessee's Mr. Basketball and why he was a four start recruit. Dre is the main reason I really like where next season is headed.
How bout the big men? Double E played well as a redshirt freshman. Rome saw a lot of physical play, grit, and toughness out of this Nebraskan. No diss on Ralph the III here (well, kinda), but I'm not surprised that the Gophers played so much better in the Big Ten tourney with EE in the line-up. My one criticism of Tubby this year is EE should've been starting over Ralph. EE owned the glass against Michigan in yesterday's Big 10 quarterfinal. Emperor Rome loves his effort and loves how he's always giving the referees are hard time about every call they make against him. The kid has passion and a competitive fire like no other. With another off-season to polish up his game, Double E has the potential to be a double-double guy (this will only be possible if he really improve his FT %). That part of his game was ugly.
OK, so Eliason gets into foul trouble or needs a breather...who's going to bring it? Andre Ingram? Yes.....I mean no. Give me Mo Walker. The guy is huge and showed flashes of brilliance his true freshman year before his knee gave out. He really would've been a key cog had he'd been able to play this year with Trevor getting hurt. I'm eager to see what he can do for this team next year. He will add some much needed size to the bench and hell, he might be starting in 2012-13.
On to the upperclassmen...Rodney Williams shined the most in Mbakwe's absence. He is the most electric dunker of all time and the move to power forward got RW33 closer to the rim, where he makes his home. I'd still like to see a better jumper out of him and I think he needs to be a little bit more selfish with the ball. His athleticism is unconscious and I'm expecting even bigger things for RW33. He could be even more of a monster if he could learn how to shoot free throws.
California kid Julian Welch had his ups and downs in his first year with Goldy. He was the star of the Old Spice classic for the U and averaged right around ten points a game all season. He has a nice jumper and can hit it from downtown. My concern with Julian is his passing. He led the team in make a bad pass that leaves to a breakaway dunk for the other team by a wide margin. His turnover-to-assist ratio leaves something to be desired. Overall, I think he was a good find by Tubby and is a nice reserve or third guard to start with the Hollins brothers.
On to the bench where guys like Joe Coleman and Chip Armelin are waiting to add some offensive punch. Joey C was a stud against Iowa and Purdue early on in the Big Ten schedule and he lit up Penn State from the charity stripe. I like the kid's fearlessness and wish he was a little bit more aggressive with the ball towards the latter part of the season. An improved jumper would do Joey C wonders and I'd like to see a little bit cleaner ball-handling skills. Some costly passing mistakes were also a concern, but I really like the fact this kid has no ceiling as far as potential.
Chip "Armed and Ready" Armelin is not afraid to attack the rim and that makes him stand out on this team. He's also not scared to shoot the basketball as you can see with the nickname I gave him. His three point shot became a nice surprise and he made some sick passes this year. One thing that drives me nuts about Chip is he always shoots the ball. There is a time and place to shoot. When you have a good look take it, but Chip has a tendency to fire anytime he's well-guarded. I like his instant O off the bench (much like Quincy Lewis when he was the sixth man for the U) and Armelin owned Herbie Husker both times he faced them. He will only get better and like RW33 and EE, his free throw shooting needs work, a lot of work.
For intangibles, bad news doesn't come in threes does it? Gophers top 15 team and San Juan, Puerto Rico Champs in 2010 when Al Nolen breaks foot. Possible top four finish in Big Ten season lost. Trevor Mbakwe tears ACL in Orlando in Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving break 2011. Gophers lose heartbreakers /nailbiters to Illinois, Michigan twice, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Iowa twice. The great Rome would like to think T Mbakwe in the lineup would've led to wins in at least three of those games, getting Gophers in the Big Dance.
With Tubby at the helm again in 2012-13 (the new AD better give him that extension) and all his young guys getting valuable experience and taking their lumps this season, the Gophers should be able to close out those tight games. With a bigger lineup with Mo Walker coming back and if our prayers are answered with Mbakwe coming back for a sixth year, competing for a Big 10 title is not out of the question (only Michigan and Indiana would have the upperhand on the U if Mbakwe comes back as far as pre-season expectations).
Plus, lots of Big 10 teams lose their big dogs like Ohio State (Buford and probably Sullinger), Michigan State (Draymond Green, Dawson just tore his ACL), Northwestern (Shurna), Iowa (Gatens), Purdue (Hummel), and Wisconsin (Taylor). Minnesota gets everyone back besides Ralph Sampson and I don't think too many people are fretting about that. Illinois is on the backburner as they start off with a new coach and Nebraska just sucks, plain and simple. Penn State is garbage too.
So call Rome crazy, call him a homer, or call him a flat out idiot. Rome doesn't care because he is wise, smarter than everyone, and I am AWESOMMMMMMMEEEEEEE!!!!!!!! With that being said even though y'all already knew all those things about me, I'm Paul Rome and I am out!