NIT Preview - Minnesota

In what will be an historic NIT appearance for No. 1 seed Washington, the Huskies' road to the tournament final won't be easy as they take on a No. 6 seed Minnesota Golden Gophers team firing on all cylinders. The tip will take place at 6 p.m. PT Tuesday from Madison Square Garden in New York City, and will be shown live on ESPN2.

Minnesota, led by veteran coach Tubby Smith, have posted a 22-14 record so far this season, with their lone marquee win coming at No. 8 Indiana. In the NIT, the Golden Gophers have upset No. 3 seed La Salle, No. 2 seed Miami and No. 4 seed Middle Tennessee State.

Despite losing their top player (Trevor Mbakwe) seven games into their season, Rodney Williams has kept the Golden Gophers' ship afloat, averaging 12.1 points a game on 57 percent shooting. The 6-foot-7 junior is also averaging 5.5 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.4 steals a game. Nationally, the Minneapolis native is No. 66 in field goal percentage (57.3), No. 71 in effective field goal percentage (59.7) and No. 81 in floor percentage. During the three NIT games, Williams is averaging 22 points a game.

Next in line of importance is Julian Welch. The 6-foot-3 point guard is averaging 9.9 points a game on 48 percent shooting during the season, and seven points a game during the NIT Tournament. The UC Davis transfer is also averaging 2.9 assists and 0.9 steals a game in his junior season.

Also at the guard spot, Austin Hollins is a solid contributor with 9.1 points a game on 44 percent shooting. The 6-foot-4 sophomore also averages 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals a game. Other contributors will be Andre Hollins, Joe Coleman, Chip Armelin, Oto Osenieks and Elliott Eliason.

The two Hollins are both guards from Tennessee, but are not related. Andre is averaging 17 points in the NIT, while Austin - whose father Lionel played and coached in the NBA - is averaging 11.3 points per game.

Like Washington, Minnesota is a young team. Smith has put the ball in the hands of a true freshman - Andre Hollins - and he has delivered. Their only seniors are Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III, but his availability for Tuesday's game is questionable. A knee injury during practice for the Big Ten Tournament continues to linger, and Smith wasn't sure Monday whether or not Sampson would have the spring and explosion in his affected leg to play.

As a team, Minnesota does a lot of things well. However, their best spots are being ranked No. 5 in defensive rebounds per game allowed (19.7), No. 12 in assist percentage (62.6), No. 15 in block percentage (9.2), No. 33 in defensive field goal point percentage (47.6) and No. 47 in field goal percentage (46.5).

Historically, Washington and Minnesota don't have a big rivalry. A series that started in 1940 with a 47-41 Husky loss at home, UW does own the all-time advantage at 9-6, but is 0-1 in neutral games (77-76 1965 loss at the Los Angeles Classic). The last time the two schools met was in 1990 and 1991 in a home-and-away series. Both teams won on their respective courts. This will be the first time Smith has ever coached against Washington, although he did coach against Lorenzo Romar when Romar was an assistant at UCLA and Smith was a head coach at Tulsa.


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