08-09 Overall Record: 22-11
08-09 Conference Record: 9-9 (T-7th)
08-09 Conference Efficiency Margin: +0.01 (6th)
Percent of Returning Minutes: 89.4
Percent of Returning Freshman Minutes: 28.4
For those of you keeping score at home, Minnesota returns more minutes from last season than any other team in the conference. They also return the third-most freshman minutes, an important factor that we'll explain in more detail in an upcoming post. They had a positive conference efficiency margin last season. And finally, they welcome arguably the best incoming freshman class in the Big Ten, with top 50 RSCI recruits Royce White and Rodney Williams. It's hard to imagine how this team will not make the NCAA Tournament, and frankly, the goal ought to be to contend for a Big Ten championship.
And I'm not done listing the reasons why.
Consider that the Gophers ran into some bad luck last season, as opponents shot very well from the free throw line (72.6% overall, 74% in the conference season). Odds are those percentages will fall. Furthermore, despite the evidence that this team includes considerable shooting talent (71.8% FT overall, 75% in the conference season), they were poor from the outside (33% from 3 overall, 30.9% in the conference season). Again, I expect the outside shooting to improve, especially if Blake Hoffarber breaks out of his funk.
Sure, Minnesota might still turn the ball over too much, but considering the amount of options Tubby will have at his disposal, he won't be desperate for bodies. In other words, the turnover-prone will see the bench, and Minnesota's depth won't take a hit. That's the other thing about this roster -- other than Lawrence Westbrook or Damian Johnson (for his stellar defense), no one is crucial to the Gophers' success. Devoe Joseph (or even Westbrook) could take over at point guard. Ralph Sampson, Colton Iverson, White, Williams, and Paul Carter all figure to be quality contributors in the frontcourt. It's a long season. Players get hurt, suspended, ruled ineligible (or if you're Anthony Tucker, you get all three). Perhaps no team is better equipped to withstand losses to personnel than Minnesota. The real challenge is finding minutes for all of these guys.
And Tubby knows all of this to be true, putting a bit more challenge on the Gophers' schedule than last year (likely opposition in the 76 Classic over Thanksgiving: Butler, UCLA, and West Virginia). I'd still like to see a bit more rigor, but not everyone can be Michigan State.
With all of that said, there are some areas that Tubby will likely focus on improving. Namely, defensive rebounding, perimeter defense (as detailed yesterday), and getting to the free throw line (given the amount of scoring that comes from the paint, this should improve). Fix those things, and Gopher students can start thinking about spring break trips to second weekend venues in the NCAA Tournament.