I’m bored, admittedly, and on vacation and in desperate need of college basketball talk. So I decided to embark on a futile effort and rank (quite subjectively, I might add) the current Gopher players. The rankings are based on my perceived importance of the players to the team’s success overall, their performance so far this season and my own proprietary rating system (which provides a nice little loophole of defense should we engage in a snippy argument). There’s very little statistical backing to any of these, so don’t go quoting Ken Pomeroy rankings or things like that. This is almost entirely based on feeling. Off we go!
1. Austin Hollins
Bet you didn’t think I’d list him first, right? Ask 50 different Gopher fans who the most important player on the team is this year and you’ll get some combination of Rodney Williams, Andre Hollins or Trevor Mbakwe. Yes, they are crucial to the success of the team overall and missing any single one of those guys would be devastating to the success of this year’s squad. But I’ve said it all year and I’ll continue to say it — Austin Hollins is the most important player on the Gophers. Now, he’s not the best offensive player on the team, but he’s currently third on the team in points per game (10.2), which is not insignificant, and quietly second in made three pointers. He’s a fairly important part of the Gophers’ offensive capabilities.
But where he really excels and sets himself apart in terms of importance is on the defensive end. It’sdifficult to measure his effectiveness, but anyone who takes a couple minutes and watches JUST AUSTIN on the court sees how much he changes the game on defense. He’s frequently given the task of taking care of the opponent’s best player and does a great job of it (see: Michael Snaer). Too bad we couldn’t see him take on Nate Wolters, but at least he’s still a little under the radar. Deflections are his strength and he leads the team in steals by a wide margin. He’s also third in the B1G in steals per game. Simply put, he’s probably one of the top two backcourt defenders in the conference along with Victor Oladipo at Indiana.
So why is Austin Hollins my top ranked Gopher this year? He kills it on both ends and isn’t flashy about it. He’s improved his shot this year, is scoring at a decent clip and isn’t making mistakes. His defense is off the charts. Is Rodney a better overall player? Sure. Is Andre better at scoring? Definitely. But as we head to the conference season the focus is going to be less about scoring and more about stopping the other team. Minnesota is going to have to weather some offensive challenges this year, but being able to take the other team out of their game will be even more important. Austin is the pulse of that priority.
2. Andre Hollins
I love Rodney Williams, don’t get me wrong, and he is now a legitimate force on both ends of the court. But what the Gophers have in terms of defensive surplus they lack in terms of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. This is what makes Andre Hollins so important and why he is arguably the best player on the team. He does things on the court that no one on the team really can do. He’s the best ballhandler on the team, one of the only three-point shooters and, besides Joe Coleman, the only guy who can create his own shot off the dribble. And he is the only guy on the team who can take a game over by himself, and he’s done it twice already this year.
Rodney Williams might have the biggest impact overall on the game, but Andre is Minnesota’s most potent offensive weapon, and a guy that brings skills to the court that the Gophers haven’t had in several years.
3. Rodney Williams
Is this not the Rodney Williams we all pictured three years ago when he was a freshman? The sky was the limit in those days but, in hindsight, he had some on-court growing to do. And now that he’s all groweds up we have the privilege of watching him play to his potential nearly every night. While it sucks to admit, Mbakwe’s injury last year may have been the best thing to happen to Williams’ career. He moved from small forward to a more natural power forward position where he can play closer to the hoop and use his leaping ability to change the game.
This has elevated him to a legitimate scoring threat and a superior defender. He’s always changed the game on defense with his long arms, but it was only recently that he took his offensive game to the next level. His impressive end of last season has carried over to this year, leaving him not only as the team’s leading scorer, but also it’s foundation. A solid, reliable player is exactly what this team will need going forward.
4. Trevor Mbakwe
Who could have predicted this type of comeback? Little more than a year ago Mbakwe was crumpled on the floor clutching his knee and taking the 2011-12 season down with him. Now he’s back to pulling down rebounds, getting to the free throw line and being the beast that he always was. Perhaps sparked by Jeff Goodman’s asinine accusation/observation that he was “sad to watch” and a “below the rim player” Mbakwe threw down 14 and 18 against NDSU in only 21 minutes. How’s that for “sad”? Oh, and he’s playing more efficient minutes than either of the past two years. Sure, he looks a little slower, but he’s also wearing a clunky knee brace.
5. Joe Coleman
Coleman is listed at 6-4, but he plays a few inches taller than that. In fact, he might be the most adept player on the team at actually attacking the hoop and getting shots to fall close to the rim. And, believe it or not, he’s been one of the more consistent scorers on the team so far this year, scoring in double figures in six of the past seven games. Oh, and did you know he’s shooting 50% from the field this year? It’s certainly helped by the fact that he gets a lot of his attempts in close to the basket, but it’s obvious that he’s grown since last year and has cut down significantly on his turnovers as this season has gone on. Fun fact: Coleman is third on the team in rebounds per game. That’s more than Elliott Eliason. How’s that for playing big?
6. Maverick Ahanmisi
The top five Gophers are pretty clear cut, but the second five are a little harder to decipher. However, Ahanmisi has made quite a quiet improvement over his problematic past. He’s never going to look like a starting-caliber player and will likely be the source of much scorn going forward, but what the Gophers need off the bench is a guy who isn’t going to screw things up. And Ahanmisi has been exactly that this year. Basically his job is to score a little bit, keep the offense moving and not turn the ball over. His defense is still suspect but he’s scoring more often than last year in less minutes and even leads the team in three point percentage. In fact, he’s become a pretty solid three point shooter when called upon. With Julian Welch pretty much MIA in his minutes Ahanmisi has stepped up to assume backup PG duties in solid fashion.
7. Andre Ingram
What’s this? Ingram over Eliason? You got that straight. I have a thing for guys who make the most of their minutes (as evidenced by the above ranking) and Ingram is in the same boat. Last year he was pretty much a bumbling mess of a forward who had no hands and couldn’t do much with opportunities given to him. This year he is more coordinated with the ball and actually getting shots to fall. His minutes have seen a recent uptick, too. But it’s not scoring that I care about with Ingram, it’s him ripping the ball away and taking charges. I continue to search for a “charges taken” stat and have so far come up empty, but Ingram has to lead the team in this category. And in college basketball taking a charge at the right time can be a huge momentum swing. With Eliason and Walker struggling the door is open for Ingram to make more of an impact.
8. Elliott Eliason
Gotta love Eliason’s intensity, but at this point he’s a complete liability out there on both ends. He’s gotten exposed by opposing centers (namely the NDSU game) and didn’t even see the floor against Lafayette. It’s in the best interest of the Gophers for him to gain experience on the court, but at this point it’s at too much of a cost to give him extended minutes. If there has been one bad thing about this season it has been Eliason’s lack of growth. However, he’s a 7-foot center, which don’t come around very often.
9. Julian Welch
Where has Welch gone? He went from playing a significant role on last year’s team to barely registering on the radar this year. I thought he might have been enjoying a resurgence midway through the non-conference season but he has yet to really find his groove. And it’s a shame because he can be a dangerous weapon from long-range and would be a tremendous asset of the bench. Instead, he has yet to find his shot. At the very least he is serving as a decent outlet in the passing game.
10. Wally Ellenson
Let Wally World begin. Now that he’s missing his redshirt we can expect to see his minutes slowly increase – likely at the expense of Oto Osenieks. And I’m okay with that. He has huge leaping ability, a good shot and can’t be more ineffective than Osenieks has been this year. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s used going forward in conference play.
11. Mo Walker
Sure, Mo is huge, but the guy is immobile in the paint. He’s like the Hulk against lesser opponents, who can do nothing but hack him and send him to the line, but he’ll be relatively useless against conference opponents unless he can get better positioning and footwork. Tubby seems to agree at this point because, as it stands, he’s played more than 11 minutes only once this season.
12. Oto Osenieks
It’s been an ugly season for Oto and his shot has been completely off the entire season. He doesn’t look confident and, when he actually does see the floor, he doesn’t do a whole lot with his minutes. He’s only a sophomore so there is still time for growth, but there hasn’t been much to reinforce the idea that he’s ready to contribute on a grander scale. And he may have been leapfrogged by Wally Ellenson already. Ish.
13. Kendal Shell
14. Chris Halvorson
Agree? Disagree? Of course, there’s no right answer here. Curious to hear what others think.