Key Losses: C Jeff Hagen (11.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.5 bpg), G Brent Lawson (7.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg), G Aaron Robinson (8.4 ppg)
Postseason: NCAA: Lost to Iowa State 64–53 in the first round
Minneapolis, MN/Medical Redshirt 2004-05
St. Paul, MN/Redshirt 2004-05
Minnetonka, MN/Transfer from Harvard
Brooklyn Park, MN/Henry
St. Cloud, MN/Medical Redshirt 2004-05
Boone and Hargrow have scored a combined 1,223 points in college. Neither, however, played for the Gophers a year ago. Boone, who is expected to start at point guard, missed the season after surgery to repair a torn biceps tendon in his shooting arm. Hargrow is eligible to play after leaving the Gophers for Arkansas and then turning around and returning to Minnesota. In addition to the recycled guards, Dan Monson and his staff brought in Payton, Johnson and Smith, a trio of athletic perimeter players. Minutes will be tough to come by for the freshmen, however.
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A year ago, Minnesota coach Dan Monson had little use for predictions, and little time to listen to the lower-than-low expectations of his team. The Gophers, after all, were expected to finish at or near the bottom of the Big Ten, and many in the Minnesota fan base were less than thrilled with Monson.
Maybe that's why Monson isn't too concerned about what anyone thinks of the Gophers entering the 2005-06 season. After all, last season's team was so lightly regarded and yet reached the NCAA tournament.
Even so, the tournament appearance -- Minnesota's first since the program was gutted by academic fraud in 1999 -- coupled with the return of the sometimes unguardable Vincent Grier, means the Gophers won't be able to sneak up on anyone this season.
Much of the Gophers' success hinges on whether they can get production up front. Departed center Jeff Hagen was limited by injury and his play wasn't always picturesque a year ago, but he was effective and finished as the team's second-leading scorer.
While Dan Coleman, Spencer Tollackson and J'son Stamper return, Minnesota is going to be very thin up front in experience and sheer numbers. None of the three returnees have more than one season of Division I experience and none was a consistent producer. Tollackson, who will likely start at center, saw his minutes dwindle as the season went along. Coleman was consistently inconsistent. And Stamper remains an undersized power forward. Jonathan Williams, who redshirted a year ago, will be in Monson's rotation, but that is about it.
Tollackson's role will increase more than any other player on the team. "He knows we have to count on him more, and he's going to have to shoulder more responsibility," Monson says.
With only four players in the inside rotation, the Gophers are going to need production from all of them, and they're going to have to remain healthy. An injury up front, even a minor one, will create serious problems.
If college basketball is truly about guards, Minnesota has a chance to make an impact in the Big Ten.
Grier was as explosive as any player in the league a year ago. The left-handed Grier has a knack for getting to the basket. When his jumper is falling, he's nearly impossible to stop. He'll blow by a defender who tries to take away his shot, and he'll shoot over a sagging defense.
Grier will also have some help on the perimeter as both Moe Hargrow and Adam Boone return. Hargrow sat out last season after transferring to Arkansas midway through the 2003-04 season and transferring back several months later. Hargrow was one of the league's most improved players as a sophomore but was frustrated as a junior by an early-season injury and the offense's reliance on current Utah Jazz forward Kris Humphries.
Boone, who began his career at North Carolina, gets one final chance at collegiate glory. After missing last season because of a torn biceps tendon in his shooting arm, Boone was granted a rare sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA. Boone should be Minnesota's starting point guard. In that role, he hopes to be more of an offensive threat than when he shot 28.9 percent from beyond the arc in 2003-04.
Rico Tucker, an extremely athletic sophomore, was in Monson's rotation a year ago, but his minutes dwindled as the season went along. Some of that was health related -- Tucker was diagnosed after the season with Graves' disease -- and some was the result of on-the-court mistakes. Tucker should see minutes, but the backcourt is much more crowded than a year ago.
The increased expectations are warranted after last season, but Minnesota certainly has questions to answer. How will this team fare offensively without Hagen's presence inside? Can they survive without the senior leadership of Brent Lawson? And after some success, can the Gophers continue to play defense and play together well enough to return to the NCAA tournament?
If the Gophers commit to defending and sharing the ball, a return trip to the tournament certainly isn't unrealistic.