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Opinion

U of M basketball program talented, troubled

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November 5, 2009

The Minnesota Golden Gopher men’s basketball team has high expectations this upcoming year after a successful 2008-09 campaign. The Gophers made the NCAA Tournament last year for the first time since 2004-05 and the first time since Tubby Smith, the Gophers head coach, took over three years ago.

Smith is entering his third year as head coach for the Gophers after coaching ten seasons with the Kentucky Wildcats. In his first year with the Gophers he took a team that was previously 3-13 in conference play and 9-22 overall to a record of 8-10 conference play and 20-13 overall, making it to the first round of the NIT Tournament. Last year, the Gophers went 9-9 in conference play and 22-11 overall, making it to the NCAA Tournament.

This upcoming season has created a lot of stir in “Gopher Nation” because the Gophers come into this season with the 22nd nationally ranked recruiting class, according to ESPN. com. The team showed a lot of promise last year and the new players coming in will add a lot of depth to an already talented team. Above all that, the team only lost two players from last year’s team, which means there will be a lot of returning players.

The talented recruiting class coming in isn’t all sunshine and butterflies, though. The biggest criticism this team is facing is the amount of baggage these new players are bringing in. Three players have already been suspended until further notice and two of the three are players from the talented recruiting class.

Trevor Mbakwe, a former Marquette player two years ago, played at a junior college in Miami last season. He was then recruited by Tubby Smith this year but has been suspended due to his legal issues down in Miami. There’s a good chance Mbakwe could miss the entire season. Royce White, a freshman recruit who played for Hopkins High School last year and was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball, is suspended for shoplifting. According to the police reports obtained Tuesday by the Star Tribune, White and three other males attempted to steal $100 worth of merchandise at the Mall of America. The third player suspended on the Gophers basketball team is Devon Bostick, who has been suspended indefinitely for team rules violation. The team starts out non-conference play on Friday, Nov. 13 against Tennessee Tech at The Barn in Minneapolis. The team’s preseason ranking is currently 25th nationally in the AP Top 25 Poll, and 18th nationally in the ESPN/USA Today Poll. The team, the fans and the media all have high expectations for the Gophers this season.

The question now is will legal issues and lack of team discipline among the players hamper these high hopes, or will Tubby Smith rally his players around for another successful season in Gopher Nation’s eyes and a possible deep playoff run?

Derek Johnson is a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.