An early-season funk left Minnesota senior forward Dan Coleman with more questions than answers. The team's second-leading scorer last season failed to show up as needed in a road loss to Florida State in November — he scored seven points. But he vowed to improve after that performance. The Minneapolis native has since snapped out of his slump with a vengeance.
After that loss, the team's sole blemish of the season through 11 games, Coleman became a more aggressive player, slashing to the basket instead of settling for jump shots the way he did earlier in the season. He's also helped out as the team's primary post defender whose shot-blocking ability has helped the Gophers force turnovers and score in transition.
With Coleman's help, the Gophers topped nine wins — last season's win total — in just 11 contests. Although they faced a number of teams without NCAA tourney hopes in their nonconference schedule, they gained a sense of confidence that was absent all of last season.
If the Gophers are going to have some success in a Big Ten that features two nationally-ranked teams in Indiana and Michigan State and a few poised to break into the Top 25, they'll have to ride on Coleman's shoulders. The senior was averaging a team-high 15.2 points and 5.8 rebounds in the team's first 11 games.
His new coach Tubby Smith knows top talent when he sees it. He believes that Coleman has evolved into an offensive threat that will cause problems for future opponents. He's banking on Coleman's continued growth to help him earn his 15th 20-win season in a row.
"I think in Dan Coleman is one of the best players in the country," Smith said. "He's a gifted athlete."
Tubby Smith's "platoon" rotation system, in which he swaps his five starters with a second unit five minutes into the game, is working. So far that group of reserves has contributed an average of 27.7 points and 14.3 rebounds in 11 games.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters — F Dan Coleman, C Spencer Tollackson, G Lawrence Westbrook, F Jamal Abu-Shamala and G Lawrence McKenzie. Key Subs — F Damian Johnson, G Blake Hoffarber
Minnesota 68, Santa Clara 50
Minnesota 77, Nicholls State 32
Minnesota 83, Kennesaw State 66
at Michigan State, Saturday, Jan. 5
vs. Northwestern, Wednesday, Jan. 9
IN FOCUS: Michigan State blew out the Gophers 70-46 during their first matchup last January. The Spartans returned all of their key players and have since been ranked in the top 10 by both major national polls. They face the same Minnesota team from a personnel perspective, but not from a strategy standpoint. Tubby Smith has molded what was a 9-22 team last season into a squad that pressures teams to cough up the ball through an aggressive full-court press. He also has helped mold senior forward Dan Coleman, who earned honorable mention all-conference honors last season, into one of the top big men in the league. And freshman guard Blake Hoffarber is already one of the league's best sharpshooters.
ROSTER REPORT: Sophomore guard Travis Busch returned recently after sitting out part of the season with a deep thigh bruise.
Senior guard Lawrence McKenzie attributed some his early subpar performances to adjusting to a new offensive system under Smith, not a groin injury he suffered earlier this season. He said he's completely healthy now.
Senior forward Dan Coleman collided with freshman guard Al Nolen during practice for a holiday tournament in Las Vegas. Coleman needed six stitches in his lip, but he didn't miss any games.
KEY EARLY SEASON CONFERENCE GAME: at Michigan State, Jan. 5 — The Gophers could go into their Big Ten opener sporting one loss, but they failed against teams on the road last season, winning only one game away from Minneapolis. A strong showing against Michigan State, even if they lose, should set the team's tone on the road for the rest of the year.
LAST YEAR'S CONFERENCE RECORD: (3-13, ninth in the Big Ten)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We can be better. We've taken some tough shots early on in the season and I feel like guys are still learning our offensive scheme and where their shots are going to come from." — Coach Tubby Smith.
Coleman Coming On Strong
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