Verdell Jones has blossomed into one of the better young point guards in the Big Ten. He's become a leader for an Indiana team that needs one, especially after losing Maurice Creek to a season-ending knee injury.
He dishes, drives, plays nonstop defense, doesn't complain, just does.
Two years ago, the Gophers had him. Well, they thought they did.
Various recruiting sites reported that Jones had chosen Minnesota. The reports were boosted by rumors of a last-second in-home visit by Tubby Smith and his father's cordial attitude with the Twin Cities press.
But Jones wound up with the Hoosiers. And now, the Gophers will have to stop the guy they almost had.
The Hoosiers gave the Gophers fits in Bloomington last season. While Jones only scored seven points in that game, he made the guys around him better.
Now, he's much more comfortable with his role.
Plus, he's caught the Gophers (12-5, 3-2 Big Ten) in the midst of a season filled with struggles outside of Minneapolis. The Gophers have been good at home, but away from Williams Arena, they're 2-5.
If they don't bounce back Sunday from a heartbreaking loss at Michigan State, they might be ripe for an upset.
MICHIGAN STATE 60, MINNESOTA 53: The Gophers started off strong against the Spartans and gave themselves a chance to pull off an upset. But No. 7 Michigan State was too strong in the end. Damian Johnson's dunk cut Michigan State's lead to 51-49 with 5:10 to play, but turnovers and missed shots doomed the Gophers. Michigan State finished the game on a crucial 9-4 run that secured the victory and another road loss at Michigan State for the Gophers, who haven't won there, officially, since 1990.
Michigan State reserves Draymond Green and Durrell Summers combined for 21 points. Minnesota's bench was outscored 27-3 in the game.
--The Gophers are once again one of the better defensive teams in the Big Ten. Minnesota led the league in defensive field goal percentage (.379), blocked shots (6.5 per game) and steals (11.2) as the week began.
--After scoring 15 points against Michigan State, G Lawrence Westbrook is 22 points shy of 1,000 for his career.
ON THE SPOT: Coach Tubby Smith was irate with the behavior of his team following the Gophers' win over Ohio State. Coaches had to separate players, who were jawing and shoving each other after the game ended. Smith was so upset, he flung his jacket. He's a strict disciplinarian and will make sure his players don't lose their cool again.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't know what the problem is; this should have been resolved a long time ago. It's disappointing that our justice system would take so long. It's not me; think about him. Here's a guy who is telling us, and we believe, that he didn't do a thing. Whether he did or not, it should have been resolved." -- Coach Tubby Smith, expressing frustration over the delay surrounding freshman Trevor Mbakwe's court case on felony battery charges.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: The Gophers' frenetic defense has allowed them to start 3-1 in the Big Ten and overcome a sprained ankle to center Ralph Sampson III, which cost him three games. The lone blemish was a 19-point blowout loss at Purdue, which was unbeaten and ranked fourth at the time.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- C Colton Iverson, F Damian Johnson, G Al Nolen, G Lawrence Westbrook, G Blake Hoffarber. Key Subs -- F Paul Carter, G Devoe Joseph, F Rodney Williams, C Ralph Sampson III.
Minnesota 86, Iowa 74
Purdue 79, Minnesota 60
Minnesota 73, Ohio State 62
Michigan State 60, Minnesota 53
at Indiana, Sunday, Jan. 17
vs. Michigan State, Saturday, Jan. 23
vs. Northwestern, Tuesday, Jan. 26
at Ohio State, Sunday, Jan. 31
IN FOCUS: Michigan State smashed the Gophers on the boards in three matchups last season, but the Gophers matched the Spartans' 37 boards in their most recent meeting. Michigan State has the league's No. 1 rebounding offense.
--C Colton Iverson picked up an offensive foul when he hit Michigan State's Derrick Nix in the face with an elbow in the first half Wednesday. Big Ten officials will likely review the play and could discipline Iverson.
--C Ralph Sampson III made his first start Wednesday after missing two games and coming off the bench in another because of an ankle sprain. He played a team-high 31 minutes against Michigan State and scored eight points.
--G Blake Hoffarber, who's had a hot hand at home but struggled on the road, went 0-for-3 from 3-point range after entering Wednesday's game as the team's leading scorer in conference play.
--Trevor Mbakwe faces a Feb. 8 trial date on felony battery charges in Miami. Coach Tubby Smith has expressed frustration over the length of time Mbakwe's case has consumed. Smith has allowed Mbakwe to practice, but he won't allow him to play until the case is resolved. Redshirting is now an option for Mbakwe, who will have missed half the season by the time the trial begins.
Who's Next - Breaking Down Minnesota
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