Behind Minnesota’s Slump: Lineup Confusion Holding the Gophers Back

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The rickety Minnesota team over the last four games sure isn’t indicative of an outfit that has the assets to make a Final Four.

The Golden Gophers have run the gamut of losing during their colorful four-game skid. The four losses: a tightly contested game that came down to the wire (Wisconsin), a semi-competitive scrum (Northwestern), a blowout-turned-dogfight (Indiana) and a straight beating from start to finish (Michigan). The Gophers have gone down in shootouts (Indiana, Michigan) and defensive struggles (Northwestern, Wisconsin). They’ve lost because they couldn’t box out on a missed free throw (Indiana) and because they couldn’t hit one themselves with the game on the line (Wisconsin).

Jan 23, 2013; Evanston, IL, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers forward Trevor Mbakwe (32) reacts after scoring against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Though the ways of losing have been assorted, there has been one constant underlying Minnesota’s recent struggles: players operating out of position.

Take, for example, Andre Hollins, a combo guard at heart assuming the point guard duties by necessity. Hollins is a born shooter whom Tubby Smith has charged with spearheading the offense. The results have predictably been mixed. The sophomore guard is averaging just 2.75 assists per game over his last four, low-lighted by a goose egg he posted over the weekend against Wisconsin. Hollins racked up a fair share of assists in transition during the non-conference, but the slow-it-down, grind-it-out pace of the Big Ten has impeded what he does best: fly up the floor or let it fly from deep.

The Gophers haven’t had a bona fide point guard since Al Nolen, and they’re hoping they don’t have to wait out a commitment from Tyus Jones, an in-state product who is the top high school point guard in the junior class, before they find their next. The development of Dre Hollins over the next two months will settle that one way or another.

Trevor Mbakwe is a power forward masquerading as a pivot, if only because Rodney Williams, a tweener through and through, is more comfortable playing the 4. Williams is a combo-forward with the mentality of a 3 but skill of a 4, and though he’s tried to become more perimeter-oriented of late, his best success has come at the rim. The senior Minneapolis native has fallen into an offensive rut over his last several games—Wisconsin was the biggest beneficiary of all—as he continues to soul search for a natural spot on the floor.

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Topics: Basketball, Minnesota Golden Gophers

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