NIT Preview: Minnesota


by: Griffin Bennett

Here we go. Are you read for some Final Four action? It might not be the the same Final Four that we’ve been clamoring for for years, but it’s the only Final Four we got.

The Dawgs are back in New York City and Madison Square Garden to take on the Golden Gophers of Minnesota. It should be a fun match up between two major conference teams who had disappointing seasons.

Tubby Smith’s Gophers play a slower tempo and and shoot for offensive efficiency over speed and fast breaks. Romar compared them to Colorado in his press conference and I think that’s a fair one. They have size and are good in the paint, especially on the offensive boards.

There’s one thing we know for sure, and that’s that this will be Darnell Gant‘s last hurrah as a Husky. It may feel a little extra special for Gant as he has some history with Coach Smith. He shared this anecdote about his recruiting process with me before the season in our interview:

“When we had tryouts at Crenshaw, Tubby Smith came in from the back area of the gym and I knew who he was but I didn’t know what Tubby Smith really meant. One of my friends at the time was like “Dog, you know who that is?” I was like “Yeah, that’s Tubby Smith” and he said “Naw, that’s Tubby ‘Effing’ Smith, dude!”. Tears were coming to his eyes. Like I said, I didn’t know his history and what he was about until later on a recruiting visit. But that’s one of the funniest times; when my friend was crying over a guy. Weird.”

Tubby “Effing” Smith. It has a nice ring to it.

Back to breaking down the Gophers. First off, let’s lead with what they DON’T have. They lost perhaps their best player during the preseason in Trevor Mbakwe which has really held them back. He was granted a 6th year so the kid at least gets to play again next year. Good for him.

One question mark for Coach “Effing” Smith and his team is their senior center, Ralph Sampson III. He has missed the past 5 games due to a knee injury. His presence could be a game changer as the Huskies lack overall height and depth in the post.

Of those set to play, Rodney Williams leads their team in points (12.1) and rebounds (5.5) per game. At only 6-7, the forward can do it all and will be tough match up for either Terrence Ross or Darnell Gant.

At guard, Minnesota trots out a threesome of Julian Welch, Austin Hollins, and Andre Hollins. Welch is their point guard who averages 9.9 ppg and a 2.9/2.3 assist/turnover ratio. Andre and Austin are not actually related but the freshman and sophomore are key contributors in the back court. All three of them are dangerous three-point shooters. Each have taken 100 or more shots and none are shooting below 37%.

As a freshman center, Elliot Eliason has stepped into the starting role in place of Sampson. He’s not a game breaker, but he did record 12 points and 7 rebounds in their last game against Middle Tennessee State.

Another recent starter freshman starter, Joe Coleman has supplanted Welch in recent games. It will assume at Coleman will start for the Gophers but you never know.

Starting Lineups:


Joe Coleman – 6’4 200lb

Austin Hollins – 6’4 185lb

Andre Hollins – 6’1 200lb

Rodney Williams – 6’7 205lb

Elliot Eliason – 6’11 260lb


Abdul Gaddy 6-3 185lb

Tony Wroten 6-5 205lb

Terrence Ross 6-6 195lb

Darnell Gant 6-8 230lb

Aziz N’Diaye 7-0 260lb

Keys to the Game:

  • Forcing Turnovers: The Gophers turn the ball over a lot. They have a 22.4% turnover rate which is 284th in the nation. Also, they have a steal percentage of 11.8% which is good for 330th in the nation. That’s 15th from last. Wroten, Gaddy, Ross and the rest of the guards will need to provide a lot of pressure and make them make mistakes.
  • Offensive Rebounding: This will be a battle between two of the top 30 team in offensive rebounding %. Especially if the Sampson plays, this could be key in Minnesota’s slower offense. Aziz needs to watch his fouls early and maximize his impact on the glass.
  • Abdul Gaddy: He has been and will be the key going forward. If he plays like he did against Oregon than the sky (NIT Title) is the limit for these guys.


It’s more of the same for the Huskies in New York. They’ve been there before and hopefully the lights won’t be as bright this time around. In their earlier games at MSG, they played fantastically but lost to both Duke and Marquette. I think they use that experience to keep the jitters down early in the game and slowly gain an early lead.

Will Sampson III play? That could be a huge factor in this one. Aziz may struggle against a large and experienced center in Sampson. We may not know if he will play until game time.

These are strange games to root for, these NIT bouts. If you win, “Hey, it’s only the NIT” but if you lose it’s, “Hahaha! You lost in the NIT? You suck!”. There’s a lot to lose and not a lot to gain here. The best option is to win the whole thing and be one of the few teams to finish the season with a win.

The Huskies will pull this one out late: UW 71, UM 67.