OSU's Sullinger Will Challange UM Front Line

The statistics often favor Minnesota's big guys. The 18th-ranked Gophers have one of the biggest front lines in the country with 6-foot-11 Ralph Sampson III, 6-11 Colton Iverson and 6-8 Trevor Mbakwe all in the starting lineup. Anchored by those post players, the Gophers have the 11th-ranked 2-point field goal percentage defense in the nation, according to KenPom.com.

But with starting point guard Al Nolen out due to a broken foot, the trio's roles have changed. They're expected to play a bigger part in the offense. Their limited versatility, however, has prevented them from playing offensive roles outside of the lane.

On defense, the Gophers have employed a zone that forces the team's big men to get out to the perimeter and stop 3-point shooters. But the bigs are not always quick enough to make that adjustment.

If the Gophers are going to beat top-rated Ohio State on Feb. 6, they'll need their big men to be at their best. Ohio State freshman power forward Jared Sullinger is a candidate for national player of the year. If the Gophers fail to limit him, they'll be in trouble early.

BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Rodney Williams is on the NBA radar. Scouts talk about the 6-foot-7 forward's ceiling, but it's all hype right now. He's capable of high-flying acrobatics that rival what viewers will see during the NBA dunk contest later this month, but he has yet to develop a consistent scoring mechanism. Williams also hasn't found his shooting touch. He started the season 2-for-23 from the 3-point arc.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Indiana outscored the Gophers 33-21 in the first half and went on to beat the Gophers 70-67 in Bloomington, Ind., on Feb. 2. The Gophers surged in the second half, but it wasn't enough to overcome their slow start. The Gophers lost for the fifth time in six Big Ten road games this season. The Hoosiers scored 18 points off 10 Minnesota turnovers.

--Coach Tubby Smith was criticized for the lack of star power in his 2010 recruiting class, but his freshmen have contributed in a tumultuous season. Austin Hollins, Chip Armelin and Maverick Ahanmisi have all played key roles in the rotation, especially with injuries that have left eight available scholarship players on his roster. Freshman Mo Walker was a top big man for the Gophers until he went down with a season-ending knee injury in December.

--Al Nolen underwent successful surgery to insert a pin in his broken right foot. The senior point guard said he hopes to return this season, although team trainers and doctors have told coaches that there's no guarantee of that. Nolen said even if he returns to finish out his senior season, there will be a high risk of re-injury.

--Tubby Smith reiterated his desire for a practice facility during a recent radio program. On KFAN, Smith said the Gophers "desperately" need a practice facility to stay competitive in the recruiting world. The price tag is currently close to $20 million, and the university intends to build it with private funds it hasn't raised yet.

BY THE NUMBERS: 12 -- Consecutive road losses to nationally ranked teams during the Tubby Smith tenure, through Jan. 30. The Gophers, however, have defeated nationally ranked squads at home and on neutral courts.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Rodney (Williams), tough day today. I think he was still back in Minnesota." -- Gophers coach Tubby Smith, after the Jan. 29 loss at Purdue. Williams finished with two points, two assists and no rebounds.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

GAME PREVIEW:

--vs. Ohio State, Feb. 6

KEY MATCHUPS: Ohio State has been the unchallenged No. 1 team in the country for weeks. The Gophers nearly knocked off the Buckeyes in the teams' first meeting Jan. 9. The Gophers are using three post players in their starting rotation. The alignment could help them limit national player of the year candidate Jared Sullinger.

FUTURES MARKET: Joe Coleman, a senior at Hopkins High School (Minnetonka, Minn.), is averaging 23.5 points per game this season. The future Gophers wing had led Hopkins, the 4A state champs the last two seasons, to a 15-0 record and a No. 15 standing in USA Today's prep rankings.

PLAYER NOTES

--Senior G Blake Hoffarber recorded four turnovers against Indiana, his third game playing point guard. However, Gophers coach Tubby Smith said he would continue to use Hoffarber at that position. It's not as if he has many choices. Freshman Maverick Ahanmisi is the only true point guard on the roster right now.

--Junior F Trevor Mbakwe was averaging a double-double this season, but he was having problems holding onto the ball. He'd recorded 12 turnovers in the team's past four games through Feb. 2.

--Freshman G Austin Hollins scored 13 points against the Hoosiers. He's struggled from the field in recent games, but he's become a more trustworthy defender. He had three steals against the Hoosiers.


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