Trevor Mbakwe, Elliott Eliason

Minnesota needs to do more to be slotted as Big Ten favorite

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I’m not going to sit here, trying to tell you that No. 9 Minnesota’s win over No. 18 Michigan State wasn’t impressive.

Because it was.

Andre Hollins is one of the most underrated point guards in the country, Trevor Mbakwe is rounding back into the form that had him pegged as a potential All-American heading into the season and Tubby Smith has finally kept his talent around for long enough to build the Gophers into a real threat nationally. The win over the Spartans only confirmed what we all thought to be true about this group, and that 22-4 finishing kick was the kind of knock-out punch that us sportswriters love to build into well-written narratives.

But let’s keep everything here in perspective.

Minnesota is coming off of a season where they finished 5-13 in the Big Ten. Their 13-1 record isn’t exactly filled with cupcakes — they’ve now beaten six teams ranked in Kenpom’s top 100 — but Memphis, Stanford, Florida State, North Dakota State and Richmond aren’t destined for the Final Four. They commit too many turnovers and they don’t rebound the ball well enough on the defensive end of the floor.

In other words: yes, Minnesota is a good team. But before we go anointing them the new favorite in the Big Ten, can we wait to see them do more than beat Michigan State at home in a game they trailed by five with nine minutes left? I’m looking you, Jason King:

Indiana may still be considered the class of the league, but at this point, no team looks as capable of challenging the Hoosiers as Minnesota. Especially if Mbakwe plays like he did Monday.

What about Michigan? You know, the No. 2 team in the country? They only have a point guard in Trey Burke that’s playing like a National Player of the Year candidate and surround him with a trio of big, athletic and versatile wings. I’m still not convinced that Minnesota belongs above Ohio State. They only have the league’s best scorer, an all-american point guard of their own and a trio of role players — Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross — that could make the Buckeyes elite if they continue to develop.

Look, this isn’t meant to trash the Gophers. I think this group is really good and probably deserving of their top 10 ranking.

But we’ve been fooled by Minnesota before. We’ve seen them shoot up the rankings in the non-conference part of their schedule only to disappear in league play.

It’s going to take more than a home win over a team they are ranked higher than to convince me that Minnesota belongs in the same conversation as Indiana and Michigan.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.