There are many ways to think about a basketball coach. Some prefer to think of a stentorian drill sergeant shouting orders to his charges. Others  view a coach as a CEO, closing deals with recruits and using his managerial skills to create wins. A coach could be compared to a chef, mixing the right ingredients in the right amounts at the right time. The greatest basketball coach of all time was a bit of a new age guru with as many theories about socks and life as out-of-bounds plays. There’s even an occasional , bending the rules of  basketball logic. Regardless of how Tubby Smith chooses to view himself, I’ll see him as a puzzle solver, presented with eight new pieces, with limited time to see if and how they fit together.

The puzzle analogy works because when one of the pieces is taken away, no amount of rearranging the pieces, slamming them together, or throwing the whole thing on the floor can create a whole. The Gophers lost both primary point guards last season, and no matter how much talent was left on the floor, and how the players were positioned, without a point guard there could not be a cohesive team.

Luckily there are new pieces, lots of them, and with so many interchangeable parts this season has to be better that last year’s slow spin into misery…right? We begin our look at the upcoming season with a look at the new guys, all eight of them.

Joe Coleman 6’4″ 208lb shooting guard. Minneapolis, MN.

Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball is an electric athlete, intense defender, and loves to take the ball to the basket. Coleman’s athleticism and defense should allow the Gophers to bring back the full court press that was missing last season. His outside shooting needs some work as does his decision-making occasionally. He’ll soon learn that he won’t be able to go around, through, or above an entire Big Ten team.

Elliott Eliason 6’11” 260lb Center. Chadron, NE

Eliason isn’t exactly new since he red-shirted last season, but he sure will seem new. The main reason he sat out last season was to get in “Big Ten shape” and with the addition of 35 pounds of muscle, that mission has been accomplished. Tubby Smith has said that Eliason improved more in his red shirt season than any player he has ever coached and has reminded him of Kevin McHale. Let’s hope this is true.

Chris Halvorsen 6’8” 214 lb Power Forward. St. Paul, MN

Another red-shirted player who will be on the active roster this season, Halvorsen should see spot minutes, hopefully only in blowouts (if there are any). The Valparaiso transfer can jump out of the gym, and could have decent rebounding ability, but has yet to show a full skill set that would earn him significant playing time.

Andre Hollins 6’1” Point Guard/Shooting Guard. Memphis, TN

Minnesota’s most heralded recruit, Hollins is considered a top 50 recruit by some publications. He can take the ball to the basket at will, and has a devastating mid-range jumper that will be on full display at The Barn this winter. The big question is where to play him. In all likelihood, he will eventually play point guard, but he is hardly a true point guard, and running the offense as a freshman is a big assignment for anyone, let alone a freshman without much point guard experience. Playing mostly point guard in high school, he did earn Mr. Basketball honors in Tennessee, helped by a 46 point outburst against Findlay Prep that garnered national attention. The potential to be a great Big Ten guard is there, but how long will it take for him to reach that potential, if he reaches it at all?

Andre Ingram 6’7” 213 lb Power Forward.  Minneapolis, MN

The Trevor Mbakwe comparisons are inevitable. He is strong, can rebound, and scores most of his points on put back dunks. He’ll need to expand his set to be more than Mbakwe’s back-up, but there are worse things to have than a high energy post-player off the bench.

Oto Osenieks 6’8” 208lb Forward. Riga, Latvia

Yes,  he is another redshirt freshman. Offensively, Osenieks may be the Gophers’ most versatile weapon. He has above average ball handling skills, more athleticism than anyone named Oto should reasonably have, and may be the team’s best outside shooter. At 6’8” he’ll likely be defended by power forwards who will have a hard time sticking with him. On the defensive end, he is a big question mark. He likely isn’t quick enough to guard small forwards, and won’t be thick enough to stick with his man down low.

Julian Welch 6’3” 195lb Point Guard/Shooting Guard. Elk Grove, CA

Another juco transfer but with a year of Division I experience, and another combo guard, Welch should be in the running for the starting point guard spot. He was the Big West Freshman of the Year for UC Davis where he averaged 7.8 points per game. Even though it will be his first year with the Gophers, he’ll have the most experience in the  back court. The success for the Gophers as a team will depend in large part on Welch’s success as an individual.

Kendall Shell 6’1” 185 Point Guard. St. Louis, MO

If all goes well, we won’t hear much from Kendall Shell for a year or two. The walk-on gives the Gophers even more depth at the point guard spot, and shouldn’t be anything more than an insurance policy against a catastrophe. Last year we learned that catastrophes do happen.

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