College Basketball Nation: Austin Hollins

Bracket reveal: Maui Invitational

July, 17, 2013
Editor's note: Over two days, we're releasing the brackets/matchups for 11 of the top early-season events. A thread of previews and info for all 11 tourneys can be found here.

Tournament bracket for the EA Sports Maui Invitational

When and where: Nov. 25-27 at the Lahaina Civic Center in Maui, Hawaii

Initial thoughts: The 2012 EA Sports Maui Invitational will be tough to top.

Chaminade’s stunning annihilation of Texas ... Rotnei Clarke’s buzzer-beater to lift Butler past Marquette ... North Carolina’s uncharacteristic display of mediocrity ... Illinois players hoisting the championship trophy after winning three games by an average of 23.3 points. Each game brought a new storyline.

This year’s event could provide similar drama. Although there is only one preseason top-10 team (Syracuse) in the bracket, the 2013 field is far from weak. Gonzaga spent time as the nation’s No. 1 team last season, Cal and Minnesota made the NCAA tournament, and Baylor won the NIT championship.

Each of those teams (with Baylor being the possible exception) should take a small step back this season, but all of them will still be solid and contend for NCAA tournament berths. In other words, there’s not a dud in this bunch, which leads me to believe that almost every game in this year’s event will be entertaining and competitive.

[+] EnlargeAndre Hollins
Kevin Jairaj/US PresswireMinnesota will be counting on Andre Hollins to provide a scoring punch again this season.
Matchup I can’t wait to see: Minnesota vs. Syracuse. Event organizers couldn’t ask for anything better than a first-round game pitting two of the biggest names in coaching: Pitino and Boeheim. Ha-ha. Gotcha. This isn’t Hall of Famer Rick Pitino we’re talking about. Instead it’ll be his son, Richard, coaching for Minnesota against Jim Boeheim’s Orange. Richard is in his first season with the Gophers after being plucked from Florida International to replace Tubby Smith. Minnesota lost two of its best players (forwards Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams) to graduation, but guards Austin Hollins and Andre Hollins return in the backcourt and may be able to make this game competitive, especially since Syracuse is replacing a few key parts as well.

Potential matchup I’d like to see: Baylor vs. Gonzaga. Baylor shouldn’t have any problems beating Chaminade in the opening round and advancing to the semifinals against either Gonzaga or Dayton. The Flyers are always pesky, but I still think Gonzaga wins that game. Baylor and Gonzaga have faced off in two of the past three seasons, with Gonzaga winning both times by single digits. But I’d pick the Bears in this one. The Zags lost their top two post players (Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris), and Baylor’s strength is in the paint with Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin, Ricardo Gathers, Taurean Prince and Royce O’Neale. Gonzaga boasts one of the country’s top point guards in Kevin Pangos while Baylor is searching for a replacement at that position following the graduation of Big 12 scoring leader Pierre Jackson. Still, Baylor’s overall depth in the backcourt is strong with experienced players such as Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin there to guide newcomers like Ishmail Wainright, Kenny Chery and Allerik Freeman.

Five players to watch

Justin Cobbs, Cal: Transfers are hit and miss, but things couldn’t have worked out any better when Cobbs left Minnesota for Cal a few years ago. The athletic guard averaged 15.1 points and 4.8 assists a game as a junior last season. He’ll be asked to do even more following the departure of leading scorer Allen Crabbe to the NBA.

Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: Returning standouts C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant are more recognizable names, but no player in the Maui Invitational will be under as much scrutiny as Ennis, the freshman point guard who has been tabbed to replace NBA lottery pick Michael Carter-Williams. How Syracuse fares in the ACC and, ultimately, the postseason will depend heavily on how Ennis performs in his first season of college basketball.

Andre Hollins, Minnesota: Hollins led the Gophers in scoring last season with 14.6 points per game. His 41-point effort in a victory over Memphis in the Battle 4 Atlantis was one of the top performances in college basketball all season. He should combine with Austin Hollins (no relation) to give Minnesota one of the more formidable backcourts in the Maui field. The biggest issue for the Gophers will be finding scoring down low.

Cory Jefferson, Baylor: The Bears power forward is fresh off a breakthrough season in which he averaged 13.3 points and eight rebounds a game. Jefferson was particularly effective in the postseason, when he averaged 21.2 points over a five-game stretch to lead Baylor to the NIT championship. The freakishly athletic Jefferson will combine with the 7-foot Austin and a bruiser in Gathers to give Baylor one of the nation’s top frontcourts.

Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: A point guard, Pangos ranked third on the Zags in scoring last season with 11.9 points per game and averaged a team-high 3.3 assists. He shot just 42 percent from the field, a number that will need to increase this season. The loss of leading scorers Olynyk and Harris (who combined to average 32.4 PPG) means that Pangos will likely be asked to score at a higher rate.

Title game prediction: Syracuse over Baylor

Baylor has the size, depth, talent and experience to hang with Syracuse, and winning the championship of such an elite tournament would be a huge momentum boost for a squad loaded with potential. Syracuse, though, is an incredibly difficult team to prepare for on short notice because of its unorthodox style. Even though they lost Carter-Williams, James Southerland and Brandon Triche, the Orange aren’t short on experience, depth or talent either. Fair averaged a team-high 14.5 points and seven rebounds a game for a team that reached the Final Four last spring. Grant showed flashes of brilliance when his minutes increased during Southerland’s suspension, and DaJuan Coleman, Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita are poised for breakthrough seasons. They’ve proved they can excel at the highest level. Look for Syracuse to win an entertaining championship game.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Baylor over Syracuse
Jeff Goodman: Gonzaga over Syracuse
Andy Katz: Syracuse over Gonzaga
Myron Medcalf: Syracuse over Baylor
Dana O'Neil: Syracuse over Baylor

MINNEAPOLIS -- A few quick thoughts on Minnesota’s 77-73 victory over No. 1 Indiana at Williams Arena on Tuesday night. It was Minnesota’s first win over a No. 1 team since 1989 (Illinois on Jan. 26, 1989).

Overview: With NBA scouts in attendance, senior Trevor Mbakwe looked like a pro in the first half. He scored 12 points (shooting 5-for-7) as the Gophers stopped Indiana from entering the break with a big lead. A huge momentum swing changed the first half for the Gophers with 12 minutes, 46 seconds remaining.

Victor Oladipo hit a 3-pointer as Minnesota's Elliott Eliason was called for a foul off the ball. Officials deliberated before deciding that the shot counted. Indiana retained possession and Jordan Hulls hit a jump shot. Hulls then made a 3-pointer on the Hoosiers' next possession.

The Hulls triple capped off a 10-0 rally for Indiana. The Gophers were up 16-10 when Mbakwe went to the bench; Indiana had a 20-16 edge by the time he returned.

The Hoosiers entered the second half with a 34-30 lead -- and without a field goal from leading scorer Cody Zeller (0-for-4).

The back-and-forth pace continued after intermission. The Hoosiers took a 44-36 lead with 15:43 to play. But with about seven minutes to go, they were down 56-52 following Mbakwe’s three-point play.

Turning point: The game was filled with turning points. The Gophers took an early lead. Indiana bounced back. The Hoosiers seized an advantage early in the second half. Minnesota closed the gap.

The game really turned toward the end.

Austin Hollins' three-point play gave Minnesota a 61-59 edge with 4:36 to play. Then, the Gophers converted a turnover by Will Sheehey on Indiana’s next possession into an Andre Hollins 3-pointer on the other end.

A Christian Watford 3 in the final minute cut Minnesota’s lead to four points (70-66). He hit another 3-pointer with 43.9 seconds to go. But the Gophers held on. Even though they maintained their lead, Hulls' 3-pointer with 4.2 seconds to play reduced Minnesota’s edge to 76-73.

Andre Hollins was fouled on the inbounds pass. And the sophomore hit one of two free throws to extend Minnesota’s lead to the final margin of four. The Gophers intercepted Indiana’s inbounds pass to seal the victory.

Key player: Eliason scored seven consecutive points during a second-half stretch that kept Minnesota (19-9, 7-8 Big Ten) alive with Mbakwe on the bench due to foul trouble. Those were his only points, but obviously crucial. Then there’s Mbakwe. The senior led the way from start to finish (21 points, 12 rebounds, a block and a steal).

Key stat: The Gophers won despite shooting 4-for-20 from the 3-point line.

Next up: The Gophers will face Penn State on Saturday. Indiana (24-4, 12-3) will host Iowa the same day.

MINNEAPOLIS – On Thursday night, Rodney Williams grimaced as he held his left shoulder.

With his team facing a deficit in the second half of a 58-53 overtime victory against No. 20 Wisconsin at Williams Arena, the senior tried to ignore the pain of an injury that forced him to miss last Sunday's loss to Illinois.

Williams has nearly exhausted his tomorrows. And his team needs him now.

So when he aggravated the shoulder injury in the second half, he did not put on his warm-ups and tell his coaches he couldn’t go. He just went to the team’s trainer and asked for ibuprofen and a glass of water. A few minutes later, he checked back into the game.

“I just wanted to go out there and fight for my teammates,” said Williams, who sported a cantaloupe-sized ice pack on his left shoulder following the victory.

His teammates channeled the same attitude against the Badgers. Finally, the Gophers played with a hunger they’ve tapped during stretches throughout the season. It’s a resilience they lacked during a period that included six losses in eight games.

After a rough first half Thursday night, the Gophers pushed the pace against a Wisconsin team that’s accustomed to controlling the tempo.

Williams scored on a tip-in, drew a foul and hit the free throw with 14 minutes, 32 seconds remaining in regulation. That sequence tied the game at 33. A pair of Andre Hollins free throws gave Minnesota its first lead, 35-33, on its next possession. A Trevor Mbakwe dunk put the Gophers up after Wisconsin pulled back even.

[+] EnlargeRodney Williams
Marilyn Indahl/USA TODAY SportsMinnesota's Rodney Williams, sore shoulder and all, slams home a pair of his 10 points.
But the Badgers, up 49-47 late, regained the edge and nearly sealed the game in the final seconds of regulation after Mike Bruesewitz drew an offensive foul on Austin Hollins with 22 seconds to go. On the next play, however, Bruesewitz committed a turnover on the inbounds.

Sophomore Joe Coleman was fouled, and he hit the free throws to tie the game at 49-49 with 17.4 seconds to go.

Yet, the teams' second game nearly ended like their first. In the Jan. 26 meeting in Madison, Traevon Jackson hit the game winner with 4 seconds to play in a 45-44 victory for the Badgers. Jackson had the ball again Thursday on his team’s final possession.

But it was a messy finish that concluded regulation as Jackson’s last-second shot clanked off the backboard.

By then, the Gophers had already recaptured the night. The Badgers failed to record a field goal after Ben Brust’s jumper with 6:18 to play in regulation until Jared Berggren’s layup with 10 seconds remaining in overtime.

“It started on defense,” said Mbakwe. “We got a lot of key stops at the end. We made Wisconsin play our tempo a little bit and that’s kind of hard, especially against a team like that.”

In overtime, Andre Hollins hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 3:40 to go and blew a kiss to the crowd. Mbawke, a 62 percent free throw shooter entering the game, hit a pair on Minnesota’s following possession to give the Gophers a 54-49 lead with 1:32 left. The teams traded free throws down the stretch but the Badgers (17-8, 8-4 Big Ten) couldn’t secure the shots necessary to overcome the Gophers’ late push.

“We just kept being aggressive, kept being aggressive on defense,” Coleman said. “We try to make the least amount of mistakes possible, and I think we really focused in on that at the end of the game … it helped going into overtime. We were playing so aggressive and it helped.”

Hollins led all scorers with 21 points. As a team, the Gophers (eight turnovers) held the Badgers (10-for-17 from the free throw line) to a 30.5 percent shooting clip in arguably their most significant Big Ten matchup of the year.

The pressure has become palpable in Minneapolis.

The Gophers (18-7, 6-6) have fallen in the Big Ten standings and lost their national ranking. Tubby Smith’s job status has been questioned by local media. Earlier this week, the Star Tribune’s Jim Souhan wrote a column titled “If Tubby can’t turn this around, it’s time to get [Shaka] Smart.”

“The sky was falling around here. Sometimes when the sky is falling and you’re lying under the ceiling, you think it’s going to cave in on you,” Smith said after the game. “They wanted it, but we had to have it. That was the key tonight.”

“Desperate” is a term that’s frequently used to describe the condition of any college basketball team that’s struggling in mid-February.

The bubble is big. And the subjective process of a selection committee that consults stats, standings, RPI figures and overall resumes to determine the teams that will earn 37 at-large slots on Selection Sunday, fuels paranoia.

Are we in or are we out?

The Gophers seemed desperate entering Thursday's game. But most of their recent losses came in matchups against ranked Big Ten teams. So they maintained a top-20 RPI.

They’re not Illinois or Villanova or Baylor.

But the expectation for 2012-13 is not an at-large bid. The expectation is an at-large bid and a few wins.

Smith has not won an NCAA tournament matchup in his six seasons with the Gophers.

“We don’t listen to too much on the outside,” Mbakwe said. “I know a lot of people were high on us. We [lost] down the stretch and people were like, ‘This is the same old Minnesota team.’”

Winning is the only elixir for that perception.

Thursday’s victory was a good start.

But it certainly won’t cure the pain of a program that’s feigned progress in the past.
College hoops polls might be inconsequential noise, but that doesn't make the arguments any less fun. In that spirit, I present the creatively named Poll Thoughts, which you can expect every Monday until the season is over.

I’m substituting for Eamonn Brennan for this week’s Poll Thoughts. But I’m sure we share the same views on the most recent developments in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll.

For the fifth consecutive week, we have a new No. 1. They call them the Hoosiers. The recent movement is an extension of the parity that college basketball has this season. We don’t have a truly dominant program.

This is the first time we’ve had five different No. 1 teams in consecutive weeks since the 2008-09 season. That year the last five polls featured new No. 1 programs: Connecticut, Pitt, Connecticut (again), North Carolina and Louisville.

Indiana, which has won five in a row, deserves this. The Hoosiers’ big win over then-No. 1 Michigan on Saturday ended any arguments about their status as the top team in the country.

But they’ll travel to Illinois on Thursday and Ohio State on Sunday. The Wolverines were the presumed No. 1 team in America and then, they lost in Columbus. No guarantees.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Hoosiers have been No. 1 for six different weeks, a stretch the program hasn’t matched since its undefeated season in 1975-76. Another interesting fact? The Hoosiers were never No. 1 when they won national titles in 1980-81 and 1986-87.

But with all of the chaos at the top, we know we can’t make any assumptions. Let’s see how long the Hoosiers hold onto this spot.

Other thoughts on this week’s poll:
  • Florida is climbing. The Gators are No. 2, a two-spot change from last week’s poll. The Gators have been the most dominant team in America in recent weeks. They’ve defeated their last 10 opponents by 14 points or more. Yes, the SEC is the country’s weakest “power” conference. But the Gators just smashed an Ole Miss team that appeared to be its toughest competition in the league entering last week.
  • I think the voters made the right move in dropping Michigan to No. 3. Anyone who watched that game could see that two of the top three or four programs in America were on that floor in Bloomington. The Hoosiers were the better team that night, but the Wolverines were good, too.
  • Ditto for Kansas at No. 5. That’s reasonable for a team that had won 18 games in a row and 33 consecutive matchups at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks have some issues that can’t be ignored. Bill Self isn’t even sure he has a point guard. But they lost to an Oklahoma State squad that played out of its mind on Saturday. Kansas is still king, however, in the Big 12.
  • Miami (FL) is the real deal. The Hurricanes jumped eight spots after a last-second road win over NC State. Reggie Johnson’s return was another boost for a program that’s playing like the best team in the ACC right now. It’s been an amazing ride for a squad that lost to Florida Gulf Coast (without Durand Scott, who was serving a suspension) on Nov. 13.
  • I have Butler at No. 14 in my power rankings this week, same slot the Bulldogs occupy in the new AP poll. But I wouldn’t have had a problem with a lower slot somewhere in the top 20. Last week’s lopsided loss to Saint Louis was a major disappointment for a team that had a chance to prove it was the frontrunner for the Atlantic 10 crown.
  • Minnesota is way too high at No. 18. I’m not even sure the Gophers deserve a ranking. They escaped Sunday’s win over Iowa via Austin Hollins’ 3-pointer in the final seconds. But the Gophers were outplayed for the bulk of a matchup against a 3-6 Big Ten team. They’ve lost to Northwestern and Wisconsin in recent weeks. And they should have lost to the Hawkeyes. I watched the game Sunday. The Gophers didn’t look like the 18th-best team in America. That’s too high in my book.
  • Welcome Oklahoma State (No. 22) and Pitt (No. 23) to the polls. Both teams earned spots in this week’s rankings after wins over Kansas and Syracuse, respectively. Welcome … Notre Dame? Is that the proper reward for an overtime win over a DePaul team that’s lost seven of its first eight Big East games?
  • Just waiting to hear more on Missouri’s case for this No. 21 slot after last week’s road loss to LSU. You can reach me at I can’t figure it out. Maybe you all can help me understand this one.
  • Saint Louis beat Butler by 17 points. Crushed Dayton by 29. The Billikens are a versatile team that’s lost two games since November. It’s OK to rank them. Just saying.

Loss leaves Gophers grasping for answers

January, 18, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota can no longer blame injuries and defections for the Golden Gophers' sudden issues.

Blaming the competition doesn't fly, either.

Minnesota probably shouldn't win at Indiana (Wisconsin did) or beat Michigan at home (Ohio State did). But the Gophers are no longer the Gophers from the past two seasons, when issues dogged the team.

Yet, the convincing Jan. 9 victory at Illinois was followed up by flops in the first halves at Indiana and then again Thursday against Michigan. The Gophers had chances to come back in both games, playing to their strengths by getting rebounds, spreading the floor, causing turnovers and making shots.

But it was too late in both games and now, after the 83-75 loss to the No. 5 Wolverines, the Gophers are 3-2 in the Big Ten and looking up at not just Michigan and Indiana, but also Michigan State, Ohio State and 4-0 Wisconsin.

[+] EnlargeTim Hardaway Jr., Austin Hollins
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesAustin Hollins couldn't keep up with Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr. most of the night in Minnesota's loss.
"I'm disappointed," said Minnesota coach Tubby Smith. "Usually we respond much better. I don't know what happened."

The ninth-ranked Gophers dug themselves a huge hole against the Wolverines, much as they did against the Hoosiers. Turnovers dogged Minnesota early and often; so, too, did missed free throws. Oh, and the inability to even cover Tim Hardaway Jr., let alone Trey Burke -- arguably one of the best backcourts in the country -- led to a 19-point deficit at one point.

"We can't be digging these holes like we do," said Minnesota's Rodney Williams, who fouled out after scoring 11 points. "We can't be out there and not be on the same page."

Williams said Hardaway made tough shots in the first half, and that Austin Hollins did a good job contesting them. But over the course of the game, the Gophers couldn't stand in front of Burke or Hardaway, unlike Ohio State on Sunday. There was no Aaron Craft defending Burke, and certainly no one face-guarding Hardaway as well as possible.

Hardaway finished with 21 points; Burke had 18 points, 9 assists and just 1 turnover. Burke played 36 minutes -- and would have played more had he not ripped his shirt. The Gophers committed 15 turnovers and many turned into Wolverines points -- the most embarrassing of which Glenn Robinson III finished off with a 360-degree dunk.

"We're turning the ball over too much," said Minnesota's Trevor Mbakwe. "They scored 22 points off turnovers. We got off to a slow start and it killed the momentum [from the second-half comeback at Indiana]. We've got to figure out a way to take care of the ball."

Look, the Gophers have lost only to elite teams -- to Duke in the Battle 4 Atlantis and now to Indiana in Bloomington and Michigan at home. If those are the worst losses the Gophers suffer, they'll be just fine. But there are concerns in the way the Gophers suffered the two most recent defeats.

This team still can contend. But the players cannot point fingers, get frustrated or get out of sync too often.

"We know the winner of the Big Ten is going to have two or three losses," said Mbakwe. "It's too early. You've got to take care of your home game and win all of your home games. Everyone has a loss in the Big Ten except Wisconsin. Hopefully, when we go there next week [after a road game at Northwestern] we can hand them a loss. We still believe we have a chance to win the Big Ten."

MINNEAPOLIS -- The matchup between No. 5 Michigan and No. 9 Minnesota at the Barn on Thursday night was billed as a battle between a pair of top-10 squads fighting to maintain their voice in the Big Ten title discussion. But the Gophers were silent. An early Michigan push in the second half changed the game, as the Wolverines left the Gophers behind in their 83-75 victory.

Overview: In the first half, both teams refused to guard the 3-point line. The oversight, however, added to the excitement. Michigan connected on 6 of 11 shots from beyond the arc (54.5 percent). Minnesota shot 71.4 percent from the 3-point line (71.4 percent). But those marks highlighted their respective defensive gaps. The Wolverines carried a 36-30 lead into the second half, a margin that Tim Hardaway Jr. (17 points before halftime) helped create. They extended that edge early in the second half with a 20-7 rally that led to a 56-37 lead. The Gophers couldn’t stay with Trey Burke (18 points, 9 assists) or Hardaway Jr. The duo toyed with Minnesota as the Gophers tried to adjust between man-to-man and zone. Minnesota made a brief run, but Michigan’s 3-pointers (10-for-20) were the difference. Just like last weekend’s loss at Indiana, the Gophers spent the evening trying to overcome a deficit. And in the end, they couldn’t do it. Meanwhile, Michigan made a statement about its Big Ten and national title hopes with a dominant performance -- ignoring the final, sloppy minutes -- against a top-10 squad. Minnesota’s Austin Hollins had 21 points in the loss.

Turning point: That run in the second half was devastating for Minnesota, uplifting for Michigan. The Wolverines showcased that top-rated offense (No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency) when they pounced and turned the game for good. On the road, especially in a league like the Big Ten, I think you have to initiate in a hostile environment. The Wolverines recognized that and did something about it, quieting the Barn crowd in the second half.

Key player: Burke was the maestro for the Michigan, but Hardaway (21 points, 6 rebounds) was the playmaker. The Gophers didn’t have an answer for him. He raced up the floor and picked up easy buckets in transition. He hit jump shots. He hit 3s. He was a problem all night for Minnesota.

Key stat: The Gophers committed 15 turnovers. That’s their story. Teams rarely overcome sloppy ballhandling to get a win over a top-five opponent. Minnesota didn’t take care of the ball because the Wolverines did a great job of pressuring. But the Gophers were also irresponsible with possessions.

Other thoughts: Russ Smith and Phil Pressey might be faster, but Burke can shift gears in ways no other player in America can. That’s why it’s so difficult to stay in front of him. That’s also why Aaron Craft deserves more credit for his defensive effort against Burke on Sunday. ... Freshman Mitch McGary had a tough task. He was matched up against Trevor Mbakwe on multiple possessions. But he didn’t back down. He’s maturing. ... Before the game, I talked to an NBA scout who told me that he’d “been waiting” for Rodney Williams to blossom the way he has thus far. But he went 4-for-12 against the Wolverines and didn’t play with the same discipline he’d showcased in past games.

Next game: Michigan will face Purdue next Thursday in Ann Arbor. The Gophers will face Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., on Wednesday.

Weekend Watch: Minnesota-Indiana preview

January, 11, 2013
Editor's note: Each Friday morning, Jay Bilas will break down the weekend's top game. This week, it’s the Big Ten matchup between No. 8 Minnesota and No. 5 Indiana at noon ET on Saturday.

Game overview: Minnesota is coming off a victory at Illinois in which the Golden Gophers shot 9-of-15 from 3-point range, scored in transition and took the ball inside against the Illini. Tubby Smith has a good defensive team that plays primarily half-court man-to-man (although Minnesota does press, mostly after free throws). The Gophers pressure the ball, contest passes on the perimeter and close out well on shooters while still taking away drives. This team loves to get out on the break, but does not force a lot of turnovers or rely upon steals, and loves to get the ball inside via post passes and drives. The Gophers have shot the ball well, but the primary deep threats are Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins, the only two players on the roster who have hit more than 10 3s on the season. But what Minnesota may do best is hit the offensive glass and get second shots. Trevor Mbakwe and the super-athletic Rodney Williams are both averaging around 3 offensive rebounds per game. Williams has been playing the power-forward slot and has been having his best season. Minnesota leads the nation in offensive rebound percentage at 48.5 percent. The Gophers are deep, play hard together, are finally healthy and at full strength, and expect to win.

The Hoosiers are an outstanding offensive team and an underappreciated defensive unit. Indiana gets up and down the floor better than Minnesota, especially Cody Zeller, who runs the floor better than any college big man. The Hoosiers are balanced, with five guys who average between 11.1 and 16.5 points per game, and shoot better than 51 percent from the floor as a team. Indiana does a great job using ball screens and finding opportunities to cut to the basket or the 3-point line. It all starts with Zeller, whose running game drags the defense toward the baseline and provides opportunities for others. Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey provide versatility and toughness and freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell has improved game by game. Indiana has several players who can hit a 3 -- but two whom you must find in transition and cannot leave, Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford.

[+] EnlargeAndre Hollins
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesShooting at a 43.3 percent clip, sophomore Andre Hollins is Minnesota's top 3-point threat.
Indiana’s best player: Cody Zeller. The third of the Zeller brothers is the most efficient big man in the country, and is the Hoosiers’ best scorer, defensive rebounder, offensive rebounder and most efficient player. Zeller averages 16.5 points and 7.9 rebounds on 62.7 percent shooting, and takes just over 8 shots per game. Zeller does not turn the ball over and gets to the free-throw line. While he could clearly be a better defensive rebounder and more assertive and look to take over on the offensive end, this team does not win without Zeller. Since his arrival in Bloomington, the Hoosiers are 41-10.

Minnesota’s best player: Andre Hollins. He is a scoring point guard who has only been playing the position for a few years. Hollins was a scoring guard in high school, playing in the same backcourt with Memphis guard Joe Jackson. He is Minnesota’s primary handler and top assist man, but he is also an attacking guard who loves to get past defenders to explode into a shot or get to the rim. Hollins has shot more free throws than any Gopher but Mbakwe, and is a streaky 3-point shooter who has hit 29 triples on the season. Hollins is also a terrific defender who is very good pressuring the ball.

Indiana X factor: Victor Oladipo. The dynamic wing is having an outstanding season, and he can be plugged into almost any role on the floor. Oladipo is nothing but energy and activity, and can guard anyone from a point guard to a four, and can keep primary offensive options from catching it where they want. He is relentless in going to the glass, going after loose balls and making momentum plays in transition. Oladipo is averaging 13.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.1 offensive rebounds and 2.2 steals, while shooting 67 percent from the field.

Minnesota X-factor: Trevor Mbakwe. Mbakwe is older and more mature, and is incredibly strong around the goal. He is hard to move off his spot, and is an outstanding rebounder at both ends. Mbakwe has huge hands and is among the best offensive rebounders in the country. Indiana cannot allow Mbakwe to get angles in the post and must make him run and guard ball screens at every opportunity.

Key stats: Turnovers and offensive rebounds. Both teams are good defensively, and an important factor will be second shots. Minnesota gets more of them than any team in America, but can also give them up. Indiana has two outstanding offensive rebounders in Zeller and Oladipo. In addition, Minnesota has to take care of the ball. The Gophers are rated 254th in the country in turnover percentage.

Who wins: This is a big-time game between two teams that can beat anybody. Indiana is at home, where it plays its best and has been difficult to beat. I favor Indiana to win, 76-72.

INDIANAPOLIS — Reaction from Minnesota's 75-68 overtime victory over Northwestern:

Overview: Northwestern entered its first-round matchup against Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament Thursday needing a win, maybe multiple victories, to earn its first-ever NCAA tournament invitation. But the Wildcats never made it past the Golden Gophers, suffering a loss that damaged their hopes of dancing for the first time.

The Gophers jumped out to a 15-5 lead less than seven minutes in, but the Wildcats were 9-for-20 from beyond the arc before halftime, which helped them climb back into the game and take a 36-34 lead at the break.

Andre Hollins hit a big 3-pointer with 5 minutes to play that tied the game at 57. And he scored on a crucial drive with 55.2 seconds to play that established a 61-61 tie; that shot ultimately sent the game into overtime.

In the extra period, the Gophers played big. Austin Hollins hit a 3-pointer with just under three minutes on the game clock that put Minnesota ahead 68-64. Yet Northwestern was within one in the final 90 seconds of overtime before another Andre Hollins layup extended the lead to three.

A Rodney Williams dunk with 27.9 seconds to go put the Gophers ahead by five.

The two teams split their two conference games, with the Gophers taking a 75-52 victory in Minneapolis on Jan. 22 and Northwestern returning the favor in a 64-53 win in Evanston, Ill., on Feb. 18.

Turning point: Andre Hollins’ 3-pointer near the five-minute mark started a final push by the Gophers, who ended up sending the game into overtime. They were looking for a catalyst in the final minutes and they found one in the freshman.

Key player: Last year, Andre Hollins was a star prep in the state of Tennessee. On Thursday, he looked like a young collegiate star as he carried the Gophers with clutch shots and big plays. He scored a game-high 25 points and went 5-for-10 from beyond the arc.

Key stat: The Gophers outrebounded the Wildcats 41-24. Both teams shot 42.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Miscellaneous: The Gophers played without injured center Ralph Sampson III … The two teams were 16-for-35 combined from beyond the arc in the first half.

What’s next: The Gophers will face Michigan on Friday night. Northwestern will sweat on Selection Sunday as it awaits its postseason destination.

Reaction from Michigan State's come-from-behind 66-61 victory at Minnesota:

Why it happened: The Gophers led Michigan State for the majority of the second half. They were tougher and more physical. Surprising. Down the stretch, however, the Spartans woke up.

Back-to-back buckets by Brandon Wood cut Minnesota’s edge to 58-56 with 2:27 to play. Joe Coleman was flagged for a double-dribble on Minnesota’s next possession and Draymond Green muscled his way to the bucket on the other end to tie the game. The Spartans took a 60-58 lead on a pair of Keith Appling free throws with 32.2 seconds to play, giving the Spartans their first lead since the start of the second half.

The Gophers scored three points in the final 3:21 of the second half. The Spartans closed the second half with a 16-7 run. Michigan State was 17-for-23 from the charity stripe.

First Half: The Gophers held their own against the surging Spartans in Minneapolis. The Gophers had the rebounding edge against one of top rebounding teams in the country (15-14). They shot 50 percent from the field (2-for-9 from beyond the arc). But the Spartans took a 31-30 edge into halftime after shooting 46 percent from the field. Green had 12 points before halftime. The Spartans shot 16 treys in the first half (5 for 16).

Stars of the Game: Green continued his pursuit of the Big Ten player of the year (he’s the front-runner in my book) with another outstanding effort. He finished with 17 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. For Minnesota, sophomore Austin Hollins carried the scoring load with 17 points.

Turning points: The Gophers led the Spartans 51-47 with 6:58 to play when Appling fouled Andre Hollins at the 3-point line. The freshman hit all three free throws to extend Minnesota’s lead to 54-47. But a late Minnesota turnover led to Green’s game-tying layup on the other end with 1:38 to play.

What it means for Minnesota: The Gophers missed a chance to boost their at-large résumé. They’re just not an NCAA tournament team right now. And unless they finish with a dramatic rally (Indiana and Wisconsin are next), they’ll miss the NCAA tourney for the second year in a row.

What it means for Michigan State: It was a tight victory. The Spartans nearly squandered this one. But they won. And as far as their bid for a No. 1 seed is concerned, that’s all that matters.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Thoughts from Wisconsin's 68-61 overtime win at Minnesota:

Overview: Wisconsin point guard Jordan Taylor was on a mission Thursday night. The Twin Cities native had never won at The Barn in his four-year career.

But he was determined to get his first W at Williams Arena in his final opportunity.

The senior went 4-for-4 from the 3-point line in the first half and scored 14 points as the Badgers took a 32-24 lead into the break.

Taylor hit another big 3 with 17 minutes to play that opened a double-digit lead (37-26) for the Badgers, who went 7-for-11 from beyond the arc in the first half.

The Gophers put up a fight down the stretch and closed the gap to 51-46 with 4:10 on the clock on a Rodney Williams layup. Freshman Andre Hollins cut Wisconsin’s lead to two points with 2:10 to go. Austin Hollins tied the game with a pair of free throws with 1:02 to play, all during a seven-minute scoring drought for the Badgers.

The Gophers had a chance to win the game on the final possession but missed their final two shots in regulation. In overtime, the Badgers found success at the free throw line and outscored the Gophers 17-10 in the extra period.

Star of the night: Jordan Taylor scored 27 points in his final game at The Barn, once again showing local fans what they lost when the state’s former Mr. Basketball chose to play for Bo Ryan’s squad. Even though he was quiet down the stretch, his strong start sparked the Badgers, and he hit key free throws in overtime.

Things to know: This is a major rivalry in this region. Three of Bo Ryan’s starters are from Minnesota. But the Badgers had lost their previous two games at The Barn.

Stat of the night: The No. 22 Badgers failed to score for the final 7 minutes, 44 seconds of regulation. After making seven of 11 3-point attempts in the first half, the Badgers made two of 12 after halftime.

What it means: With the Badgers having lost to Ohio State on Saturday and traveling to East Lansing, Mich., to play the Spartans next week, Wisconsin needed a win Thursday. A loss would have set up the serious possibility of another three-game losing skid. For a team that’s playing for a seed -- in both the NCAA and Big Ten tourneys -- and still trying to keep its Big Ten title hopes alive, Thursday’s game was crucial.

With three of their next four home games against nationally ranked teams, the Gophers can stay on the bubble and potentially play their way into the tournament, which would be a remarkable development for a young team that lost its best player (Trevor Mbakwe) to a season-ending knee injury in November. They also could tumble down the standings. You just never know with a team that depends on so many young players.
Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and John Calipari couldn’t do it. Jared Sullinger, William Buford and Thad Matta couldn’t, either.

But somehow, a Minnesota squad that had lost its first four Big Ten games this season – and 13 of its past 14 – pulled off a 77-74 upset of No. 8 Indiana on Thursday night in Bloomington, Ind.

“It feels great. We were 0-4 going into Indiana. To get the win, it’s a huge win,” Austin Hollins (career-high 18 points), the son of Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins, told “We play in a really tough league. I don’t think [we were] thinking about 0-5. We were thinking that anything can happen in any game. … We had to keep our heads up and keep our confidence up.”

Both the Wildcats and the Buckeyes, ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, at the time, lost at Assembly Hall earlier this season. The Hoosiers were undefeated at home entering Thursday’s game.

A Gophers team playing without one first-round draft pick on its roster and competing sans its best player (Trevor Mbakwe suffered a season-ending knee injury in November), however, bullied the Hoosiers on the boards (16 offensive rebounds) and strangled the No. 1 3-point shooting team in the country. The Hoosiers had made 48 percent of their 3-point attempts entering the game but connected on just 4 of 18 against Minnesota (their starters were 1-for-12).

Even Cody Zeller’s career-high 23 points weren’t enough to help the Hoosiers avoid their sixth loss in eight games against the Gophers.

[+] EnlargeAustin Hollins
Michael Hickey/US PresswireMinnesota's Austin Hollins (18 points) and Indiana's Cody Zeller (23) both hit career highs.
“We played solid [defense]. We got up in their faces. We switched when a switch was needed,” Hollins said. “We really focused on it in practice. We came out here and executed on defense.”

It was Tubby Smith’s first true road win against a top-10 team as Gophers coach and his sixth overall against a top-10 squad.

By now, you’ve read the box score, so you know the numbers.

But you might not know the recent history.

Every time that Smith has taken his Gophers to the state of Indiana to face the Hoosiers, a dramatic matchup has ensued.

Days after suffering a double-digit loss to the Hoosiers in Bloomington, the Gophers beat a nationally ranked Indiana squad in the 2008 Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis via Blake Hoffarber’s turnaround buzzer-beater (the shot earned Hoffarber his second ESPY nomination).

Two years later, Verdell Jones (who chose the Hoosiers over the Gophers) hit a jump shot to seal Indiana’s three-point victory in overtime at Assembly Hall.

And last season – after officials decided to proceed with the game in the middle of an ice storm that shut down Bloomington – a nationally ranked Gophers squad fell to a Hoosiers team that ultimately won three Big Ten games.

Rodney Williams said Minnesota’s recent rivalry with the Hoosiers, especially last season’s road loss, was on his mind entering Thursday’s matchup.

“Me personally, I had that in the back of my mind a little,” the junior forward (12 points) said. “My freshman year, it was a really close game as well. This is one of the toughest places in college basketball to play. The loudest gym I’ve ever been in. It was getting so loud that the rim was shaking.”

For the Gophers, the victory might help them salvage their season. For the Hoosiers, the game was a lesson on the consistent toughness that league play demands.

For those who’ve followed this matchup in recent years, it was simply the norm.

Gophers win first game without Mbakwe

December, 1, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS -- When forward Trevor Mbakwe tore his ACL on Sunday, Minnesota's hopes of winning its Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup against Virginia Tech on Wednesday – or any game, really – seemed to dwindle.

But adversity rarely arrives alone. During the past three seasons of Gophers basketball, it’s come in truckloads.

So it was only fitting that Minnesota’s tenure without Mbakwe – the senior will miss the rest of the season after suffering the injury during a loss to Dayton in the Old Spice Classic final in Orlando, Fla. – commenced with more bad news. Starting center Ralph Sampson III was sidelined with an ankle injury Wednesday.

And yet, a Minnesota starting lineup that featured two freshmen, a 6-foot-7 power forward who hadn’t played the position full-time since high school, a junior-college transfer making his first start for a major Division I program and a sophomore who’d suddenly become one of the team’s key veterans managed to thrive.

The Gophers regrouped and adjusted without Mbakwe and Sampson in the lineup and toppled the Hokies 58-55 in a game that wasn’t decided until the final seconds. The Gophers now have a 5-8 record in the Challenge.

Rodney Williams, the team’s new power forward, scored 14 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. Julian Welch, who played junior-college ball last season, manned the starting point-guard slot and recorded 15 points. Redshirt freshman Elliott Eliason finished with 8 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks. Freshman Andre Hollins and sophomore Austin Hollins – no relation – combined for 3 steals.

“It took a full team effort. Once we heard that [Trevor] was going down, we came to practice the next day and we found out that Ralph wouldn’t be playing, either. Everybody just took it upon themselves to get two really good days of practice in. And we came out ready today,” Williams said.

[+] EnlargeJulian Welch
AP Photo/Jim MoneJunior-college transfer Julian Welch scored 15 points, including the winning ones, for Minnesota.
Erick Green scored his last bucket (he had a game-high 25 points) with 23 seconds left, giving the Hokies a 55-54 lead. But a Jarell Eddie foul put Welch on the free-throw line. He hit both shots and the Gophers gained a 1-point edge.

Then, Robert Brown bobbled the inbounds pass and crossed midcourt on Virginia Tech’s next possession, a backcourt violation. It was a crucial turnover. Welch was fouled and went to the line and hit two more free throws as the Gophers stretched their lead to 3 in the closing seconds. Green’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer fell short.

The two-thirds-full Williams Arena vibrated as the Gophers dismissed their circumstances and bounced the Hokies back to Blacksburg, Va., in the latter’s first true road game of the season.

Virginia Tech suffered a loss that could haunt coach Seth Greenberg’s squad down the line. The Hokies shot 37.7 percent from the field. They committed a dozen turnovers. And although the Gophers only hit 2 of 13 3-pointers, Virginia Tech couldn’t contain them inside, where they scored 65 percent of their points.

When the college basketball world learned about Mbakwe’s season-ending injury Monday, the consensus was that Minnesota’s NCAA tournament aspirations were shot. Some even projected a finish at the bottom of the Big Ten standings.

Both remain possibilities.

The Gophers might be riding the temporary emotions sometimes spurred by a major setback. So it will take a few games before we know who these Gophers – playing without a potential All-America the rest of the season – really are.

But their quick turnaround during their biggest nonconference matchup suggests that they possess the mental fortitude to reinvent themselves in time to salvage the season.

They’ll never be who they could’ve been with Mbakwe in the lineup. But they’re clearly not ready to wave a white flag on their season. And that’s a good sign for a young team transitioning to its new identity.

“This group of guys, we all stayed together, we got the stops we needed,” Williams said.

Mbakwe delivered a pregame speech that inspired players. Welch wouldn’t reveal the details of Mbakwe’s message. He said its contents were “team confidential.”

What’s not a secret, however, is that the Gophers have more battles in their future. And they’ll have to continue to find ways to win without their best player, who’s just a cheerleader now.

Breaking down the Old Spice Classic title game:

Overview: Archie Miller’s Dayton squad fought for a pair of tough victories against Wake Forest and Fairfield to reach Sunday’s title game in the Old Spice Classic at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Fla. The Gophers recovered from a double-digit deficit against DePaul in their first game in Orlando and knocked off Indiana State on Friday, earning a shot at the program’s second nonconference tourney title under Tubby Smith. Last season, Minnesota defeated Western Kentucky, West Virginia and North Carolina to win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off championship.

Dayton has displayed offensive balance throughout the tournament. Six different players scored 10 points or more in the team’s two wins in Orlando. Both games were battles through the final minutes, proof that these Flyers -- sans Chris Wright and former coach Brian Gregory -- possess the same grit that fueled a 22-14 season and a trip to the Atlantic 10 tournament title game last season.

Dayton could have problems with Minnesota’s size. But the Gophers’ young backcourt is up against a veteran crew (Kevin Dillard, Paul Williams and Josh Parker).

And the Flyers have managed to stifle 3-point shooters (opponents have hit just 28.1 percent of their attempts). The Gophers have struggled from beyond the arc (33 percent), but their young backcourt matures with each game. Freshman Andre Hollins scored 16 points and hit 4 of 5 from the 3-point line against Indiana State on Friday. Junior college transfer Julian Welch scored 17 against the Sycamores. Sophomore Austin Hollins is averaging 1.5 steals per contest. And things get personal for Minnesota in the paint. The Gophers have recorded 32 blocks in their first six games. Star forward Trevor Mbakwe is responsible for 10 of them.

Both teams have ballhandling issues. Dayton and Minnesota average more than 15 turnovers per game. So this is the kind of game that could come down to one or two costly errors down the stretch. The Flyers will try to pressure Mbakwe, who failed to crack double digits against Indiana State. But under those circumstances Friday, the Gophers’ youngsters stepped up.

Smith won’t be stingy with the press. He has an athletic roster that’s built for the full-court pressure he enjoys. But Dayton has experience at every position. And the Flyers have already proved that they’re not the kind of team that will succumb to pressure.

I expect a battle.

Players to Watch: Mbakwe had an unusually quiet outing for the Gophers against Indiana State (nine points), a day after recording a double-double in the team’s win against DePaul (16 points, 12 rebounds). He’s been mentioned as a player who could be a part of the All-America conversation at the end of the season. Well, players in that category show up in big games. Mbakwe will have to carry the Gophers the same way he did last season when he earned MVP honors in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. It’s hard to imagine the Gophers winning the tournament title without Mbakwe making a big impact on offense.

Dillard, a transfer from Southern Illinois, looks comfortable in his new uniform. Against Fairfield on Friday, the junior scored 12 points. But he’s recorded 15 turnovers in the past four games. Those are the mistakes that could crush Dayton’s hopes of winning the tournament. The Flyers need Dillard to limit his turnovers.

X Factor: Were Minnesota junior Rodney Williams’ 18 points in Thursday’s win against DePaul a fluke? He had three against Indiana State on Friday. And Dayton senior Paul Williams has scored 15 or more in three games this season. In his other two games, he finished with just five. Which Paul Williams will show up against the Gophers on Sunday night?

Predictions: I’m sticking with Minnesota. Dayton hasn’t faced a player like Mbakwe, and Minnesota’s backcourt continues to grow. But I think this could be the kind of game that’s decided with a last-second shot or overtime. Minnesota 67, Dayton 66.