Ohio State’s lived up to its preseason billing as a Final Four contender. Michigan State and Purdue are unbeaten. Illinois and Wisconsin each have one loss, but those were losses to NCAA tourney-caliber teams.
Then there’s Minnesota. Who knew Tubby’s team had this in ‘em?
The Gophers are 5-0, have beaten North Carolina and West Virginia, along with Wofford and Siena, two NCAA tournament teams from 2010. (They also pounded Western Kentucky.) As Jeff Eisenberg notes, Minnesota didn’t grab much preseason acclaim because the rest of the league was so stacked, but perhaps it’s time to start taking Tubby Smith’s squad seriously as a Big Ten contender.
The early wins are reason enough. Supporting arguments? How about Trevor Mbakwe? He never got a chance to play last season due to legal woes, but he leads the Gophers in points (14.0) and rebounds (9.6) a game. Then there’s Blake Hoffarber, one of the game’s lethal shooters who finally appears comfortable taking more than a handful of shots a game.
Throw in playmaker Al Nolen and bigs Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson and it’s a salty group.
Usually this is where I might juice the hyperbole by imagining how suspended guard Devoe Joseph will only help matters when he does play this season, but given what Minnesota did last season amid myriad suspensions and uneven play, I’d say don’t mess with a good thing.
And right now, Tubby’s got a good thing going.
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