Thursday, March 22, 2012

Golden Gopher Basketball – May I Have This Dance?

Smile if you're going to New York

Okay, so we all know this recent post-season run by the Gophers has been made at the kids table while the grown-ups just sit back and snicker while drinking brandy and smoking stogies.

Either way, I’m having a hell of a good time watching.

The rodents from the “U” have made an impressive run (@LeSalle, @Miami, @Middle Tennessee State) to earn their first trip to the NIT Final Four since 2003. Say what you want, but a trip to New York and Madison Square Garden, must be pretty damn exciting for these kids.

They also went down in the record books as only the second team in history to win all their NIT games on the road to advance to NYC.

The old argument (that even Ben and I don’t bother going back in forth with) however, has reared its ugly head. You know the one: about if making a run in the NIT is, in some ways, better than a first round knock out of the NCAA. I can see people making arguments for both sides right now.

To me, it really depends on the team.

This year, for a team like UNC, I would say no. No, because they are an experienced team that doesn’t really have much room for further growth with the players on the roster. They, like all established teams (yes I am saying the Gophers aren’t established) would most likely stick their nose in the air at the NIT.

A young Gophers team however; they accept the invite and put on their best dancing shoes.

The Gophers, unlike UNC, can grow, and have, from a run in the NIT. Now notice I said a run. If they would have been knocked out in the first game against LeSalle, this whole write up would be null and void.

I’ve said it from the minute the Gophers got the invite. “I’d be more impressed if they win the NIT, than I would have been if they lost in the first round of the NCAA.” Some called me stupid, but I beg to differ.

A team currently starting three freshman (Andre Hollins, Joe Coleman, Elliott Eliason) needed this. They needed this NIT berth to give them not only confidence, but also tournament experience.

If you have been watching the past three games, they are getting both by the handfuls.

Andre, in my honest opinion, might be the best point guard we have seen at the “U” since Bobby Jackson. Is that a stretch? Maybe, but I don’t think so. The kid is a stud. If not for the games missed earlier this season due to injury, this article might be about the Sweet 16 match up tonight.

Joe is on his way as well. The Hopkins standout showed flashes earlier this year (see PSU game) but seemed to hit a wall late. But, like all great fighters, he has caught his second wind and is running full speed.

Double E is a monster. I could end it there, but I feel this Nebraska big man deserves some love. Since Ralph has gone down, Eliason has been put into the starting five. And, for the most part, hasn’t looked back. Sure he might foul too much, but he is a redshirt freshman. Those things will happen. Other than that, he has been a hardworking, tough nosed kid that might just be the “best big man” Tubby has coached. His words, not mine.

With all that said about the freshman, there is still one man that has really turned it one. His name you ask? Rodney Williams.

RW33 came in his freshman season with a load of hype. He didn’t live up to it. Plan and simple, it seemed like that hype, was a load of manure. In fact, he hasn’t lived up to it until this year, his junior year. It all seemed to click when he was moved to the 4 spot after the season ending injury to Trevor.

Even then, he wasn’t the force he is now.

Rodney has scored over 20 points in the last 5 games and is a new player. A switch has been turned on and I never want to see it turned off. Send me the Xcel bill if need be. I’ll gladly pay it.

He is a leader now. Not just in the way he is playing, but in the way he is talking to his teammates. He is in their face, in a good way, letting them know it’s alright to make mistakes; it’s ok to get knocked down, just keep playing.

All I can say is, if this core is back and Trevor, which he should, gets that sixth year of eligibility; watch out.

The Gophers might just take a seat at the grown-ups table and drink everyone else under it.

-Ken





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