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NIT 2012: Minnesota Golden Gophers Hoping Young Players Continue To Develop

The 2012 National Invitational Tournament will tip-off on Tuesday evening when the Minnesota Golden Gophers take on the La Salle Explorers in the first round of the other tournament contributing to March Madness. The Gophers ended the regular season on a sour note, but showed promise in last week's Big Ten Tournament while being led by a team of youngsters.

True freshman Andre Hollins became an overnight star, at least in the local market, while redshirt freshman Elliott Eliason showed the hustle and rebounding that has been missing in the Gophers lineup for most of the season. Both earned accolades from us following their first round upset of the Northwestern Wildcats, but head coach Tubby Smith chimed in with similar praise on Monday afternoon while talking to the Pioneer Press.

"We found a leader in Andre Hollins, a guy who we can put the ball in his hands," Smith said. "I think Elliott Eliason got quality minutes and he look good doing it. Those are young guys - all freshmen - who haven't ... played in (the postseason)."

While it'd be great to see the young guys continue to improve, Smith pointed out the ultimate goal is still putting a winning team on the court every night until this season is over -- meaning their first loss in the 2012 NIT Tournament Bracket.

"I think we're capable of a lot of things next season," Hollins said. "But for now, we have to take it step by step. We're not looking to next season because we have games to play. We want to win, and we want to get better."

For more on the Minnesota Golden Gophers, check out The Daily Gopher. You can also learn more about college basketball around the nation at SB Nation's College Basketball hub.

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.