The Gophers ended up outrebounding UNC by a margin of 44-39, an impressive feat considering the Tar Heels led the nation in rebounds per game with 42.5. This game demonstrated what Minnesota was capable of when they had a true point guard running the offense. Al Nolen filled the stat sheet with seven points, four assists, four rebounds and three steals. This type of game opened up the floor for Blake Hoffarber to drop 20 points on the Tar Heels. The impressive game against UNC was just a taste for Gopher fans of what their team might have been with a near-full roster.
Player of the Year: The most consistent contributor to the Gophers this season was junior power forward Trevor Mbakwe. Mbakwe was a dominant force on both ends of the floor and a beast on the boards. He ended the season averaging almost 14 points per game while adding a league-leading 10.5 rebounds per contest. A prolific shot-blocker, he also averaged 1.5 blocks per game. Mbakwe consistency is best shown in his 19 double-doubles on the year.
His best performance as a scorer came against Iowa where he scored 24 points on seven for 11 shooting from the floor and 10 of 11 from the line. Mbakwe also recorded 10 or more rebounds an incredible 20 times this past season. This production earned Mbakwe second team All Big Ten honors. The St. Paul native not only brought production, but an intensity that was contagious for his teammates as well as Gopher fans. Look for big things Mbakwe next season as he leads the Golden Gophers.
Freshman of the Year: The top freshman from this past season was small forward Austin Hollins. Hollins did not put up amazing numbers, only 4.5 points per contest, but he did prove to have one of the highest basketball IQs on the team. Hollins always seemed to be in the right place on defense, which helped him to average an impressive 1.2 steals per game while logging just 17 minutes per contest. He is a very fundamentally sound play who made solid plays when given the opportunity. While Hollins will still backup Rodney Williams next season, expect him to be an improved shooter and scorer to combine with his impressive defensive skills.
Quote of the Year: Tubby Smith after the Gophers last loss of the regular season to Northwestern: "If you told me that at the beginning of the year, I would have said, ‘boy, we're going to have a great season. But you've got to have leadership and you've got to have guards that can help you get in the offense or bring the ball back out when you have to, get it set up,' and we just haven't had that."
Recruiting Trail: The Gophers have a very solid class coming in next season. Minnesota native Joe Coleman was the Maroon and Gold's first commit and should be quite a player in the future. Coleman, a 6-foot-3 wing recently won his third State Championship with the Hopkins Royals. He is a quick and very athletic player who likes to get to the bucket where he can rise up and score over the defenders. After Al Nolen went down with a foot injury, the Gophers had trouble the rest of the season getting the ball inside through dribble penetration. Coleman will be a nice instant form of offense next season driving the ball next year.
Andre Hollins is a 6-foot-2 shooting guard out of Memphis, Tennessee. Hollins is another athletic player who can play above the rim if he gets the chance. He is also a lights out three point shooter, something the Gophers will need next season with the departure of Blake Hoffarber. While Hollins will most likely play point guard, he will have to compete for playing time with the Gophers' latest commit.
Earlier this month, JUCO transfer Julian Welch gave is verbal commitment to Minnesota. With the transfer of Devoe Joseph, the Gophers had an extra scholarship and were looking to fill it with an experienced guard. Welch. who is 6-foot-3. is a tall point guard but is someone who has no problem getting to the basket to score or distribute to his bigs.
With Colton Iverson transferring last week, the Gophers are left with one more scholarship available. It remains to be seen if Tubby Smith will try to add another player late to this class or save the scholarship to use for 2012 on a kid he can recruit for a longer period of time.