There is no good time for an injury, especially an ankle sprain that could linger for the rest of Andre Hollins’ junior season. Some times are worse than others, and the Golden Gophers got a bit lucky with the timing of this injury. There will be only two games in the two weeks following the win over Wisconsin, and Nebraska and Northwestern can’t compare to the four game gauntlet that Minnesota survived. Still, in a conference as tough as the Big Ten, someone will have to step up for the Gophers to keep winning, especially on the road in Lincoln on Sunday.
They can do this in three steps:
1. More Malik.
The great news is that Richard Pitino was able to convince Malik Smith to move from Miami to Minneapolis for a winter. While Hollins and Smith are very different players, they are both capable Big Ten shooting guards. Malik Smith has been more efficient, a better shooter, and commits turnovers less often than Hollins this season. Smith obviously isn’t nearly the distributor that Hollins is, and gets to the free-throw line half as often. Smith hasn’t needed to carry the load on offense, and hasn’t been a focal point of opposing defenses, so there is some question how much his efficiency will suffer when he has to carry a bigger burden. He wasn’t nearly as efficient when he was a bigger piece of the puzzle at FIU, but he should still be more efficient than he was last season.
|2014 Andre Hollins||116.8||25.6||50.2||19.5||16.1||55.9|
|2014 Malik Smith||119.8||19.1||55.2||13.3||13.3||27|
|2013 Andre Hollins||116.1||24.7||52.7||25.3||19.7||38.1|
|2013 Malik Smith||101.9||21.3||49.3||16.8||16.8||29.9|
2. Fill Malik’s spot on the floor.
If Malik Smith can statistically replace Andre Hollins, the Gophers should continue to play well without their best player, but they will still have a hole in the roster to fill. Deandre Mathieu will play more minutes as long as he stays out of foul trouble, and since he is committing only 3.3 fouls per 40 minutes, he should be able to stay on the floor more. But Smith and Mathieu won’t be playing a combined 80 minutes per game, which means Maverick Ahanmisi and Daquein McNeil, will play a lot more, and could even seen their minutes double. Thanks to Mathieu and Smith, the Gophers don’t need either Ahanmisi or McNeil to do anything particularly special. In fact, with the relatively easy schedule ahead, the Gophers can win as long as they have a neutral impact when they play. If Ahanmisi can make an open shot or two, play solid defense, and can avoid unnecessary turnovers, they’ll have done their job.
3. Go inside
The much-maligned Minnesota front court might not be that bad. If the last few games are any indication, they might actually be good. In the non-conference season, Oto Osenieks, Elliot Eliason, Maurice Walker, and Joey King combined for 25 points per game. This is obviously nothing special, but it didn’t leave a huge burden on the back court either.
|Opponent||Front court points|
|Non-conference season||25 per game|
Front court production suffered a bit once the Big Ten season was underway, nearly vanishing in East Lansing. Lately though, the front-court has stepped up, especially in their dominating performance against Wisconsin. Elliot Eliason didn’t score, and the front court still managed to have a major scoring outburst. Nebraska isn’t a bad team as they are projected to finish the conference season with a 7-11 record. In the front court, especially on defense, they are very bad. They rank last in the Big Ten in blocked shots, and 10th in defending two point shots. The Cornhuskers also allow the second most free-throw attempts in conference play, which doesn’t suggest good interior defense either.
Andre Hollins’ main role this season is to score, and Malik Smith only needs to increase his scoring average six points per game to match Hollins. If Ahanmisi and McNeil can be solid, and the front-court can keep on keeping on, the Gophers should be just fine. Injuries are part of any basketball season. This time, an injury shouldn’t ruin the season.