- Obviously the Sweet 16 is the big news tonight, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention at least a couple of Gopher related items - this NIT Final Four berth and the Trent Lockett news.
First, it's still the NIT. No matter what, it's the NIT, but I will say that I'm actually starting to care. The first win at LaSalle was an ok win. The win at Miami was pretty worthless because it was clear neither the Miami team nor their fans cared to be there, but there was some merit in blowing a team out like that. Now the win over Middle Tennessee? You can officially call that a very good win, and the whole string taken together is a nice little run. Middle Tennessee was the Sun Belt regular season champion with an RPI of 74 who probably would have made the NCAA Tournament if they hadn't lost in the first round of the conference tournament and lost only once before at home this season. Not to mention a program like that isn't going to just go through the motion in the NIT like Miami, because when are the Blue Raiders going to have another chance to play on a national stage like Madison Square Garden? This was a talented team, a motivated team, and a strong home team and the Gophers beat them and controlled the game.
I'm not even sure who to be the most impressed with, because there's a lot going right here. Rodney Williams seems to have figured out how to take his limitless athleticism and use it to create easy buckets for himself, because he's scored 20+ in four straight games and has shot 34-48 in that stretch, and no that's not a mis-type. Outside of the LaSalle game he's 25-31. I mean. Jesus.
And as much as I'm falling for Rodney all over again, Andre Hollins might be my true new love. I'm telling you man, my comparison of him to Russell Westbrook is pure genius, because he's got like, the same kind of game. Fearless, either driving to the rim or with his jumper, lightning quick, and just an incredible leader already and he's just a freshman. He's currently running a seven game streak of scoring in double figures with three of those games over 20. I don't know if he'll ever become a true distributor, but I don't know if he really has to considering we're just talking college success here. One thing is for certain - he's the kind of kid you can build a team around. As long as him, his brother Austin, and Rodney are around next year this team has as decent shot at getting back to the NCAAs, especially if Elliott Elliason can play more like he did against MTSU (12 pts/7 rebs) instead of like he did against LaSalle/Miami (1 pt/4 rebs combined) and Mo Walker comes back and can play. If Tubby lets them play this wide open style.
And that's the last person I need to mention being impressed with, because Tubby seems more engaged in this tournament than he did in the last month and it shows. Even more impressive is he's shifted his philosophy or whatever you want to call it and it's playing to the strengths of his team. They're playing at a faster tempo (at least it seems like it, I was going to actually look up the numbers but I can't find them and am too lazy to calculate it myself) and that's played to the strength of a young team that's loaded with guards. He's also been willing to play his core far more minutes per game with four players on the floor for 30+ minutes against MTSU and three each against LaSalle and Miami. It's been a whole different team the last three games, and a big part of that is it's been a whole different coach. Or maybe this is all just a function of Ralph Sampson being out? Whatever it is, it's been a fun preview of next year's squad and it's not over yet. The next game might be the most fun yet, because Washington is up and down in a hurry and the kings of circus ball. With the new uptempo Gophers we might be looking at a 85-80 type game. Good times.
- The other Gopher news worth talking about is the speculation that Trent Lockett might be coming home. Lockett's a shooting guard from Hopkins who graduated in 2009 and was ranked by Rivals as the #80 recruit in the country and #19 shooting guard and he chose Arizona State for some reason which I can only assume was the super mega hot chicks down there and they gave him the Jesus Shuttlesworth treatment. Anyway, his mom is really sick and he's looking to transfer back home to be closer to her. The Gophers technically don't have a scholarship available, and many people (on the gopherhole at elsewhere) are saying that Lockett can't/shouldn't/won't come here because either the Gophers already have too many guards or that it isn't fair to take someone else's scholarship away just because Lockett is a better player. Too those people I say STFU.
I can't decide which reason is more idiotic. That Lockett, who has scored 13+ ppg both of the last two years and hit over 41% of his treys this year, would be afraid to come here because Austin Hollins or Chip Armelin would steal all his playing, is ludicrous. Assuming there's no miracle sixth year for Mbakwe, Lockett would immediately become either the second or third best player on the team, depending on where you want to put Dre Hollins. Playing time concerns aren't going to keep him out of here. And as far as it being a dick move to take someone's scholarship and give it to him, yeah, I agree it is kind of a dick move but you know what? Who cares? Guess what the basketball team's job is? To win games. I suppose it's also their job to get kids to graduate, but only in so much as it keeps them eligible to play and help win games. Who is going to help the Gophers win more, Lockett or Andre Ingram? Exactly. Sorry Andre, you seem like a nice kid and I bet you were really something before you destroyed your knee (I'm not making this up, right?) but it's time to pay your own way.
Also ha ha Wisconsin guess who is still playing when you aren't? Gophers totally win this season.
[EDIT: According to twitter all of a sudden, and all the caveats that entails, Trevor Mbakwe has indeed been granted a medical redshirt and will be eligible to play next year. I'd comment more on this, but my raging boner is getting in the way. I'm sure I'll write something when the news becomes official unless I'm too drunk]