Good News, Bad News For Gophers

The Gophers have shown dramatic improvement in their team game this season, but this might be the first time they've been on the big stage for everyone to see. Plus, get keys to the game and much more in the Gophers' first NCAA tournament game in five years.

THE GOOD NEWS: Minnesota has gone from being a selfish, out-of-control team a year ago to being a smart, tough and opportunistic team this season. Nothing but ninth place in the Big Ten was expected from the team this season and this team has exceeded all expectations by getting to the tournament. This is a team that can run, play defense, score and rebound. They are not great in any one area, but they are good in most of them.

THE BAD NEWS: The Gophers have played well all season when they have been under the radar. Now they have to show they can fight hard when they are the hunted. The Cyclones will be snarling when they come on the court for their first-round game. Will Dan Monson's Gophers match them in intensity?

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Brent Lawson — One of the most underappreciated players in the Big Ten. Lawson is averaging 7.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. Lawson is also connecting on 49 percent of his shots from the field. Not spectacular but he simply does not make mistakes.

Shooting guard Aaron Robinson — Averaging 8.3 ppg, Robinson is the guy head coach Dan Monson wants on the free-throw line when the game is in the balance. He is connecting on 81.1 percent of his free throws. He is also connecting on 40.7 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.

Center Jeff Hagen — Solid numbers, but they don't begin to tell the story. Hagen is a blue-collar worker who comes with a hard hat and a lunchpail everyday. He has been a valuable member of the program for years and now the senior gets his reward with a shot in the NCAA tournament. Averaging 11.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.

Power forward Dan Coleman — A decent contributor who can battle on the inside and shoot from the outside. Coleman is averaging 8.3 ppg.

Guard-forward Vincent Grier — This junior college transfer has carried the Gophers on his shoulders. At 6-5 and 200 pounds, he is big enough to take it inside and he can also fire the rock from deep. He is very creative off the dribble and shows tremendous leadership for Monson.

BENCH: Rico Tucker, Spencer Tollackson and J'son Stamper all show toughness and heart off the bench. Look for Tollackson to play with toughness and do the little things — setting screens, hard fouls — that help the Gophers win games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Minnesota is a very good team and Grier is a tremendous player. If we didn't have such a tremendous run, Dan Monson would have been the Big Ten coach of the year." — Illinois head coach Bruce Weber on how well Minnesota has played this year.

UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Iowa State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Charlotte, March 18.

KEYS: The Gophers and the Cyclones should play a very tight game. This could be one of the most entertaining games of the first round. The Gophers have been solid, determined and successful all year. The Cyclones are a tough, hungry team that has been surging.

ROSTER REPORT: Guard Vincent Grier
  • A big-time scorer and go-to guy for the Gophers. Grier will not shrink against big-time competition. In the Gophers' Big Ten tournament loss to Illinois in the conference semifinals, Grier fired up 25 shots — making 10 of them. He was not intimidated by the No. 1 Illini and he won't be bothered by the bright lights of the tournament.

  • Aaron Robinson is an outstanding free-throw shooter. He has made 81.1 percent of his free throws this year and Dan Monson would like to see him on the line in clutch situations.

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