This is by far Tubby Smith’s best Golden Gopher team and perhaps one of his best ever. That’s saying a lot when you consider he won the 1998 NCAA championship at Kentucky.
Every time I watch this Minnesota team, I’m more and more impressed.
Take Saturday for example. The Gophers trailed at No. 5 Indiana by 23 points at halftime, but rallied in a way very few teams have ever done at Assembly Hall, one of the most difficult places to play in America.
Minnesota got to within three points with 19 seconds to go and had it been able to box out on an IU missed free throw, would’ve had a chance to tie the game.
However, the Hoosiers pulled out an 88-81 victory handing the Golden Gophers their first loss since November when they fell to then-No. 5 Duke in the Bahamas.
There’s no shame whatsoever in losing to the Hoosiers and Blue Devils, two legitimate national title contenders.
The fact is this Minnesota team is simply loaded.
It has a dominate rebounder in Trevor Mbakwe, who at 245 pounds is extremely difficult to move off the blocks. It has a sophomore guard that can light up the scoreboard in Andre Hollins (he had 41 against Memphis this season and is coming off back-to-back 20-plus point games against Illinois and IU). And don’t forget second-leading scorer Rodney Williams. He’s a human highlight film and one of the best dunkers you’ll find in the college game.
Minnesota’s speed, quickness and talent is equal, if not superior to any other Big Ten team. That’s saying a lot when you consider this is the best conference in the nation with four teams ranked among this week’s top 11.
What makes this Gopher team so tough on opponents is its ability to get out in transition with regularity and cause teams fits with their tenacious defense, often times that includes a half-court trap that morphs into a full-court press on occasion.
Don’t think Minnesota can only play an up and down game. It also excels in the half court where it thrives at getting second- and third-chance opportunities because of how tenacious and relentless it is on the glass.
No doubt this Gopher team has all the ingredients you’re looking for when seeking out teams to watch this time of year.
Sitting currently at 15-2, the 2012-13 Gophers will easily become Smith’s winningest team in his six seasons in the Twin Cities and when all is said and done may just rival some of those stellar teams he had in Lexington.
That’s why the Golden Gophers are not only my sleeper pick to win the Big Ten championship, but my pick to be playing in the Georgia Dome come April in the Final Four.
Doug Griffiths is a columnist/writer for RantSports. Follow him on Twitter @ISLgriffiths.