1. Sampson’s ankle
Center/forward Ralph Sampson III was kept out of Monday’s rout of Mount St. Mary’s with an ankle injury “to make sure he heals completely,” Gophers head coach Tubby Smith said.
Sampson is expected to return this weekend, but if his mobility is limited, center Elliott Eliason — who played well in Sampson’s place despite committing four fouls — may see extended playing time.
Sampson is averaging 8.7 points and 4.7 rebounds in 27.3 minutes per game to date. Eliason is averaging 2.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 7.8 minutes per game.
2. Williams’ explosiveness
At times, Rodney Williams looks like the most talented player on the floor with his incredible athleticism and ability to finish at the rim.
All five of his field goals in Monday’s 85-56 win against Mount St. Mary’s came on dunks, two of which were putback slams.
The problem for Williams has been getting to the rim. The junior still struggles to take defenders off the dribble and make cuts to the basket — and his offensive game is limited when he’s unable to do that.
Playing against three bigger nonconference opponents will be an ideal test for Williams’ ability to use his athleticism as an offensive weapon.
3. Austin Hollins’ emergence
Sophomore shooting guard Austin Hollins has quietly become the Gophers’ second scoring option to Trevor Mbakwe.
Hollins has averaged 10.0 points, 2.5 assists and 1.8 steals through four games in 2011-12. He has started every game and made more 3-pointers than any of his teammates, 5-for-17.
Last season, Hollins started five games and averaged 4.5 points.
He has been consistent throughout his career at Minnesota, but the Gophers may need him to step up on the perimeter while Andre Hollins and the rest of the Gophers’ young guard core adjusts to playing at the college level.
4. Three-way point guard battle
Point guards Andre Hollins, Julian Welch and Maverick Ahanmisi have each seen ample playing time during the team’s exhibition and regular season home games in 2011-12.
Hollins, who has started every game, hasn’t done enough to lose his starting job, but he hasn’t separated himself from the pack either. He is averaging 9.0 points, 1.5 assists and 2.0 turnovers through four games.
Welch, a junior college transfer who has starred on defense at the end of games, struggled offensively until Monday’s win, when he had five points, four assists and no turnovers. He is averaging 3.0 points, 2.0 assists and 2.0 turnovers through four games.
Ahanmisi has been the most impressive on the stat sheet, averaging 3.5 points, 2.0 assists and 0.8 turnovers. The sophomore also has a year of experience under his belt, unlike Hollins and Welch.
5. Close games
The story has been well told early in 2011-12: The Gophers struggled in close games last season, but have looked good early this season.
They rallied from five points down in the second half twice — against Bucknell and South Dakota State — to post double-digit wins.
In a sloppy win against Fairfield on Nov. 17, Minnesota extended a five-point halftime lead to 10 by the game’s end and never lost its lead.
While the Gophers are favored to win the tournament, they aren’t expected to blow away their competition. The games should be close — and Minnesota’s ability to win close games could again be tested.
UMN students have traveled to Florida colleges to collaborate with students on various projects.
When UMN students plan for a vacation, having trip cancellation travel insurance is a worthwhile commodity to check out.
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