Gophers 2008-2009 Basketball Wrap
FINAL RECORD: 22-12, 9-9, seventh in the Big Ten
WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Gophers beat Louisville, the No. 1 overall ranked team in the NCAA Tournament, in December. Such a huge victory set the stage for what was a memorable season. Minnesota's defensive pressure and multiple sets caused fits for opponents. The depth (11 players averaged double figures in minutes) allowed the Gophers to wear down opponents. Junior Lawrence Westbrook increased his scoring output from 8.5 points as a sophomore to 12.6 points as a junior.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Turnovers crippled the Gophers as the season progressed. At one point, sophomore Al Nolen looked like the best point guard in the league — and one of the best in the country. But Nolen regressed to where he was temporarily pulled from the starting lineup. The Gophers' scoring was perhaps too balanced. Westbrook was the only player to average double figures in points, leaving the Gophers desperately searching for offense late in games that simply didn't exist. Critics were skeptical of Minnesota's remarkable 16-1 start because of a lack of opponents (aside from Louisville). Those concerns proved valid when the Gophers faded badly in an extremely competitive Big Ten.
THE GOOD NEWS: Minnesota returns all but two players from last year's team and adds one of the best recruiting classes in the nation. Incoming freshman Royce White, at 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds, highlights a class that should again give the Gophers tremendous depth.
The program topped out at No. 17 in the AP poll, something that bordered on the unthinkable when the season began.
Damian Johnson, Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III did a tremendous job of patrolling the middle. All three blocked at least 40 shots and combined to block a total of 151.
THE BAD NEWS: Tubby Smith is saying all the right things and insists he isn't chasing any jobs, but he has been careful with his language. He has never said whether or not other schools were chasing him — fact is, they'll be calling this season, next season and beyond. If the Gophers lost Smith, it would be devastating to a team (and an incoming freshman class) on the verge of great things.
Al Nolen seemed to regress at the point. Perhaps it was just fatigue, but it would seem teams learned how to defend Minnesota's point guard, which in turn muddled up the entire offense. From Nov. 26 through Jan. 11, Nolen had 15 turnovers in 12 games. From Jan. 12 through the end of February, Nolen had 32 turnovers in 12 games.
The Gophers don't return any prolific scorers with experience. With the game on the line, there aren't one or two players that Smith can turn to when he needs a basket. Perhaps Westbrook can evolve into that type of player next year.
KEY RETURNEES: All five starters, and the top nine scorers, are projected to return. Included in that are Damian Johnson, Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III. Iverson and Sampson give Minnesota a pair of 7-footers that can share the floor and cause matchup nightmares for opponents. Johnson is just 6-7, but found a way to block a team-best 60 shots while also grabbing 4.2 rebounds. Sophomore Paul Carter entered with the reputation as a prolific scorer, but struggled early finding his footing after transferring from the junior college ranks. He ultimately finished as the team's leading rebounder, though, with 4.5 per game.
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