With the news that power forward Trevor Mbakwe was named a Third Team All-American by CBSSports.com yesterday there is excitement that the Minnesota Golden Gophers will return to the NCAA Tournament after a one year absence. Minnesota made the 2010 tournament with a surprising run to the Big Ten Tournament championship game. Along the way the Golden Gophers defeated Purdue and Michigan State, who share the 2010 title with Ohio State. Last year was a disappointment, however, as the Gophers suffered numerous injuries and lost 10 of their final 11 games after a 16-4 start that included a top 10 home victory over Purdue.
SBNation's BTPowerhouse has posted its preview of the 2011-12 Goiphers, and they expect Minnesota to challenge for an NCAA bid once again:
This Gophers squad is different than the ones of the past. This one is full of athleticism but lacks true scoring threats. The 2011-2012 season will be the first team that Tubby Smith has recruited each and every player on his roster. Smith has had success recruiting at Minnesota by the numbers, but the results haven’t been seen.
Colton Iverson just transferred to Colorado State. Devoe Joseph left last season to Oregon because he wasn’t happy with the program. Royce White, a five-star recruit from Hopkins, Minnesota, never saw the court for Minnesota because of legal drama. Bryant Allen and Justin Cobb have also transferred away from Tubby Smith and the Golden Gophers.
The front court will be the strength of Minnesota with Ralph Sampson III expected to be one of the best true centers in the Big Ten. Mbakwe gives Minnesota a player that can match up well with Preseason National Player of the Year Jared Sullinger of Ohio State. Unfortunately, guard play is essential in the college game and the gophers lack experience at point guard. With elite point guards such as Aaron Craft and Lewis Jackson in the Big Ten it could be difficult for Minnesota to challenge the league's best teams. Julian Welch is a junior college transfer at the point who was Freshman of the Year in the Big West conference two seasons ago, but the Big West is much easier than the Big Ten.