U says preferred seating won’t change, blames confusion on “clerical error”

Posted on June 10th, 2009 – 2:39 PM
By Myron Medcalf

I’ve received emails from angry season-ticket holders who were told by Minnesota officials, via mailing, that they would have to give the school a $700-$1,000 private donation per seat in order to renew their season tickets. As you can imagine, some of them were upset, especially since no one anticipated the sudden change.

Minnesota sports info director Garry Bowman, however, cleared up the confusion with this recent email:


We have not instituted a new preferred seating for men’s basketball. The ticket and seating system for 2009-10 will be the same as it was for last season, which does include a small number of season ticket holders who do pay a preferred seating fee that requires an additional donation above the face value of the ticket. Apparently what has caused some confusion is that there was a clerical error in the ticket office that caused … some of our regular season ticket holders to receive preferred seating donation information along with their invoices. As a result, though the invoices were correct, the additional preferred seating information included in the mailing was confusing.

With the Gophers bringing in a very talented recruiting class and hoping to build a $12 million-plus practice facility in the coming years, the university will have to find new ways to increase revenue.

-Gophers men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith spent Monday afternoon at Cass Lake-Bena High School, where he conducted a coaching clinic and participated in other activities, including an honor song and gift presentation. Smith is the first Minnesota head coach to appear at the school since Bill Musselman 35 years ago.

-Former Gophers small forward Jamal Abu-Shamala is preparing to compete with the Jordanian national team for the second year in a row. Abu-Shamala left for Jordan last week and will participate in a tournament in Italy next week.

-Former Gopher Dusty Rychart became an Australian citizen Tuesday, according to his blog.

-I’m not surprised Tim Floyd resigned from his former post at USC. He was in some serious hot water. But what did he expect? Floyd didn’t “recruit” O.J. Mayo. The latter sent a posse member to Floyd’s office, where he told Floyd that he could “get” Mayo for him.  If money was involved, I’m sure Floyd knew that was part of the deal before he even signed Mayo.

As I learned during my stint in New York City, any time a random guy walks up to you and tells you that he can “get” you anything, you can be pretty sure that there’s some kind of improper/illegal activity involved. “I can get you a BMW … that was owned by someone else up until a few minutes ago … ”

I tried to contact Floyd for a story I wrote about the recruitment of young basketball players a few weeks ago. His sports info guy’s response: “I think he wants to lay low,” after I presented my interview request last month.

When I covered the 2004 Reebok ABCD camp, Mayo, a soon-to-be sophomore at the time, had an entourage. His high school coach at the time swore to me that Mayo never dealt with any of the under-the-table nonsense. But I don’t just blame Mayo for what transpired throughout his amateur … um … semi-professional career.

This is what happens when the NBA forces future millionaires to stay in “school” for a year. These high-profile guys are professionals in many ways even when they’re in high school. Keeping them away from the prestige and wealth of the NBA only encourages them to pursue a slice of the pie before they get there. Then, Captain Sanctions runs in to save the day and slap a school for harming the imaginary world of amateurism that the NCAA pretends to promote.

Weekend Notebook: Maturi says U seeking basics for “$12 to $15 million” basketball practice facility

Posted on June 5th, 2009 – 5:07 PM
By Myron Medcalf

Plans for a new basketball facility for future Gophers continue to evolve. Athletic director Joel Maturi said Friday that the school estimates a “$12 to $15 million” price tag for a basic practice facility that would include a couple of courts and a weight room.

The parking lot adjacent to Williams Arena that runs along University Avenue is still a possible site, although Maturi said the U won’t finalize a location until it conducts various preliminary studies.

Maturi also said he hopes construction will begin as soon as the school raises the money and that completing it will not take longer than a year. Some of the U’s big boosters have already been contacted and told that their pocketbooks will be needed in the near future.

There was some talk, Maturi said, about the possibility of adding a practice facility to a renovated/new Barn, but because the U hasn’t had serious discussions about the fate of Williams Arena, those talks didn’t really move forward. Plus, it could be a decade or more before anything changes with the Barn, Maturi said.

-The Gophers continue to show interest in Kansas prep Trevor Relerford, a 6-0, 180-pound class of 2010 point guard, according to Rivals.com. I watched Relerford, whose brother plays at Kansas, compete at the Sabes Invitational last month. I like him. A lot.

But a Gophers insider who attended Sabes wasn’t sold on him. He thought Relerford was somewhat erratic and inconsistent. I think he’s just young. Point guard is the toughest position to play in basketball. He’s still learning.

I think he’s a strong distributor with the ability to score because of a quick first step. He’s fearless, and you could see that by the way he carried his Kansas City Pump ‘N Run team. I think every good team needs two to three true point guards. Adding Relerford would give the Gophers three (Al Nolen, Justin Cobbs). I’m not eliminating football/basketball prospect Bryant Allen from the mix, but until I see how much basketball he actually plays this season, I can’t assume he’ll be a contributor.

-Fans hoping for a sneak peak at Minnesota’s newest talents will get one at the annual Howard Pulley summer league, which will be played at the Salvation Army site in downtown St. Paul beginning June 22. Rodney Williams (Robbinsdale Cooper), Royce White (Hopkins), Trevor Mbakwe (Miami Dade community college) and Justin Cobbs (Bishop Montgomery-Torrance, Calif.) will all compete in the league “at some point” this summer, according to founder Rene Pulley.

Remember, folks. Summer league basketball can be deceiving. Devron Bostick looked unstoppable during last summer’s Howard Pulley. Colton Iverson took a beating against some of the veteran big men in the league. But Iverson was a key contributor for the Gophers, while Bostick struggled for most of the season.

-Ralph Sampson III will try out for the United States’ U19 squad June 16-18 in Colorado Springs, Colo., USA Basketball officials announced last week. The opportunity will certainly raise his profile nationally. And with all of the NBA scouts that show up at these tryouts, it might help him hop onto the radar of a few NBA squads. The NBA is suffering from a recession just like the American economy. A talent recession. A guy 6-10 or taller just has to be good at one or two things to get into the league these days. Just ask future Timberwolves center B.J. Mullens. And I don’t even know if Mullens is good at one or two things.

I covered the tryouts for the national U21 team in 2004. NBA scouts watched from the sidelines as future NBA players like Sean May, Rashad McCants, Aaron Brooks, Chris Paul, Charlie Villanueva and Adam Morrison competed for a spot on the squad. A good showing could certainly go a long way for Ralph Sampson III. Even if he doesn’t make the team.

Assistant coach for that team: Former Gophers head coach Dan Monson.

For sale: The Barn’s 81-year-old basketball floor

Posted on May 19th, 2009 – 3:47 PM
By Myron Medcalf

The U began a major overhaul of the original Williams Arena basketball floor last week. Well, overhaul is an understatement. They’re just going to get rid of it. A new floor will replace the one that Gophers legends have graced for 81 years.

That’s right, folks. The Barn’s basketball court has not been replaced since the building was constructed in 1928. Sure there were paint jobs, touchups and other maintenance. But the actual floor remained in tact for eight decades. That’s impressive.

That means Whitey Skoog, Mychal Thompson, Kevin McHale, Bobby Jackson and Kris Humphries all played on the same basketball court.

On Tuesday afternoon, U officials allowed the media to walk around the raised floor before it’s completely demolished in a few days. Check startribune.com for video of the construction process, which won’t conclude until a new floor is inserted in late August. Total cost of the project: $600,000.

Fans will have a chance to grab a piece of the historic court because the university will sell parts of the old floor, however, the details of the future have not been finalized, according to Matt Slieter, spokesman for the Gophers. Slieter said the school will make an announcement when the floor is on the market.

The crew from PCL Construction will delicately remove every section of the court to preserve the floor, according to Trent Johnson, project manager at PCL Construction.

I didn’t realize that the basketball floor at Williams Arena sits on top of a bunch of dirt and wood. When the school raised the floor, it built a support structure, filled it with dirt and “concrete pedastals” and put down dozens of wooden planks to anchor the floor. The problem with that setup is that it created numerous “dead spots” on the court.

A concrete slab will be placed over the current wooden support structure before the new Williams Arena basketball court is inserted. That’s the way that most modern Division I basketball courts are constructed today, according to Johnson.

Gophers recruits shine at Sabes Invitational

Posted on May 12th, 2009 – 4:37 PM
By Myron Medcalf

I spent my Friday night and a chunk of my Saturday at the Sabes Invitational at Bloomington Jefferson high. It was a great event with some of the top high school players in the country competing against each other. Division I coaches weren’t allowed to attend but they made sure that some of their unofficial reps were there.The Gophers are interested in numerous players from the class of 2010 who participated in the event. They’ll have just three scholarships to use on this class. Here’s my take on some of the guys that they’re after:

Group 1: Do anything legal to get him here

1.      Harrison Barnes (6-6, 205 pounds, small forward, Ames, Iowa) – Yes. He’s that good. I don’t know about No. 1 junior in America good, but he’s definitely going to make any of the 12 schools he’s considering much better. Good thing for Minnesota, he’s listed the Gophers as a finalist. I watched Barnes’ All Iowa Attack Red squad Friday and Saturday. The first thing I noticed was the way he handled the ball. He has enough finesse to be trusted to bring the ball up the floor and run the offense. He’s explosive in the paint, and he showed off good range. He had to play in the post for his small AAU squad, but he still managed to carry it on both ends of the floor. Down the stretch in a Friday night thriller between the All Iowa Attack and the Illinois Warriors, Barnes handled the ball in the closing seconds of the overtime loss for his team. A Warriors defender ran toward him and Barnes instinctively went behind his back to avoid him. The elusive move was effortless. It’s those flashes of brilliance that justify all of the hype.

2.      Ricky Kreklow (6-5, 185 pounds, shooting guard, Columbia, Mo.) – It was easy to see why the Gophers like Kreklow. In the opening minutes of his KC Pump ‘N Run team’s game against SYF Players, I thought he was a post player because of how aggressive he was on the boards and the way he blocked shots. But soon, it was apparent that he was a very talented wing player when his shooting touch kicked in. Kreklow called Minnesota one of two finalists, behind Missouri. He visited Minnesota before playing in the Sabes tourney and said he loved the “nostalgia” of the Barn. Kreklow, who has family in the metro area, would give the Gophers a big shooting guard that could become their Jon Diebler (Ohio State).

3.      Alex Kirk (6-11, 230 pounds, center, Los Alamos, N.M) – Kirk is very long, but he moves well for someone his size. He had a huge tournament at Sabes and earned all-tourney team honors. The times I watched him, I was surprised by how agile he was for a big man. Also, he can step back and knock down a 16-footer. He has more than a dozen offers on the table. Minnesota is interested in him, and I understand why. He can definitely play at this level.

Group 2: I’d like to see some more tape on him before I commit to anything

1.      Jacob Thomas (6-3, 170 pounds, shooting guard, Columbia Heights, Minn.) – In the end, I think Thomas will suit up for the Gophers, if he qualifies. But I know they have questions about his academics and ability. Lawrence Westbrook is undersized, too, but people don’t realize that he’s probably, pound-for-pound, the strongest guy in the Big Ten. Thomas is a good shooter, but he’s small for a Division I shooting guard. He’s good, but I think he’d be better off playing for a different program that would give him more minutes. At the Sabes Invitational, he earned all-tourney team honors after a series of solid performances. When he gets hot, he’s deadly. But he has to develop more off-the-dribble moves and become a more aggressive defender.

2.      Trevor Releford (5-11, 170 pounds, point guard, Shawnee Mission, Kan.) – If the Gophers sign Releford, I can just see Tubby Smith getting off of his stool and berating Releford for some ill-advised drive to the lane at least once per game. But I can also envision Smith praising Releford for an improbable clutch shot. The KC Pump ‘N Run point guard looked good both times I saw him over the weekend. He can get wild at times, but he more than makes up for it with his ability to will his way to the basket and get buckets. He’s small for that position but his older brother and current Kansas guard, Travis, is 6-4, so there’s a chance that he’ll grow a few inches. If he does, he’s going to blow up this summer.

Group 3: He’s probably better off playing elsewhere

1.      Chad Calcaterra (6-10, 210 pounds, center, Cloquet, Minn.) – There’s been a lot of recent chatter that suggests Calcaterra and the Gophers are both rethinking their initial interest in each other. But, Calcaterra does have an offer from his home state’s only Division I basketball program. At Sabes, he struggled at times. I questioned why someone his size wasn’t tougher around the basket, although I was impressed by his defensive aggression. I think the Gophers and Calcaterra will eventually join forces, but I’m not sure it’s a good fit for either team. I think he’d be better off in another system.

Group 4: I hope he gets a shot somewhere

1.      Brandon Peters (6-1, 185 pounds, shooting guard, Houston, Texas) – He’s not very big, he hasn’t earned any stars from rivals.com and there’s a pair of freshmen on his Houston Hoops squad that get more attention than he does, but Peters does it all. He had a huge dunk Saturday morning, when he caught an alley-oop and flushed with it with two hands against the Illinois Warriors. Peters helped lead his team to the 17U finals Sunday in the Sabes invite with his good defense, solid shooting and explosive finishes at/above the rim. I hope he just landed on some school’s radar because he could be a very good undersized talent for a DI program.

2.      Antonio Johnson (6-3, 200-plus pounds, Chicago, Ill., senior) – Here’s my theory. I think Tubby Smith should call Tim Brewster and men’s track and field coach Steve Plasencia. They should all take a trip to Chicago to watch Johnson. Before I tell you why, let me tell you a brief story. On Friday night, I saw a man fly for the first time. In a big game against Harrison Barnes’ All Iowa Attack squad, Johnson came out of nowhere to catch a shot off the rim and dunk it home. On the following play, he did it again, except this time his nose was above the rim. Don’t believe me? There were other witnesses. Johnson is one of the most athletic human beings I’ve ever seen. He’s built like a free safety, he’s versatile enough to play on the wing for a DI program and I’m pretty sure he would excel in track and field, considering his leaping ability and the fact that his calves look like they swallowed small mammals. I’m not sure where he’ll end up, but the Whitney Young product has a shot to have a great collegiate career in about five sports if he wants it. Right now, few schools have shown interest in Johnson. That should change.

-Trevor Mbakwe attended the weekend’s Sabes tourney. But for some reason, he wore a Marquette sweatshirt. Mbakwe, who is expected to be Minnesota’s starting power forward next season, told me that he intends to enroll at the U next month. He also said that the Gophers will probably play in the Howard Pulley pro-am again this summer. For now, Mbakwe is competing in a league in Minneapolis called Brother’s Keeper every Saturday.

-Rodney Williams told me Saturday that he received a 17 on his latest ACT try. Williams, a senior at Robbinsdale Cooper and Gophers signee, said he expects to be eligible to compete next season as long as he finishes strong academically.

Three Big Ten schools lose basketball scholarships after latest APR

Posted on May 6th, 2009 – 2:31 PM
By Myron Medcalf

The NCAA’s annual Academic Progress Rates (APR) report was released Wednesday afternoon. And three Big Ten men’s basketball programs were punished as a result.

Indiana (two), Ohio State (two) and Purdue (one) all lost scholarships. That’s a big blow because men’s basketball teams only get 13 full rides. The APR measures eligibility, retention and graduation of student-athletes from each Division I program. Schools are penalized when their overall scores fall below 925 and an academically ineligible student-athlete leaves a school, known as an “0-for-2″ in the APR.

Ohio State (911), Purdue (900) and Indiana (866) fell below the NCAA score necessary to avoid penalty.

After posting a 910 last year, Minnesota men’s basketball raised its score to 930 for the latest APR, which entails four seasons from 2004-05 to 2007-08. Minnesota men’s basketball score fell just three points below the national average of 933.

On second thought, don’t rule out Harrison Barnes in Maroon and Gold

Posted on May 6th, 2009 – 12:39 PM
By Myron Medcalf

What’s up, Gophers fans?

I reported Tuesday that Harrison Barnes, the No. 1 player in the class of 2010 on numerous boards, will compete in this weekend’s Sabes Invitational at Bloomington Jefferson. I also said that Gophers fans shouldn’t get their hopes up because he’s currently being pursued by numerous schools that have enticing attributes like national championship trophies.

I’m still not convinced that he’ll end up here, but Barnes is definitely impressed with both Tubby Smith and the Gophers program. He spoke with my brotha-from-anotha-motha and fellow journalist Jason Jordan Tuesday night about the recruitment process.

“Since Coach Smith has been at Minnesota, I’ve noticed that they’re starting to turn their program around,” he told Jordan. “They’ve landed two nice recruits in Royce White and Rodney Williams. That program is on the rise and he really develops players. That’s why I can see myself playing for him.”

Granted, Barnes has narrowed his list down to 12 final schools. So he’s probably telling a lot of coaches/supporters a lot of things.

But Jordan got the sense that Barnes is “really high on Tubby.” That’s a lot coming from him because he’s a Duke fan, and his Blue Devils are after Barnes, too.

For more info from Jordan, who writes for DIME Mag, visit http://www.highschoolhoop.com/category/recruiting-news/.

Let’s imagine for a moment that Barnes chooses the Gophers. And Smith gets two other recruits he’s after: Chad Calcaterra (Cloquet) and Jacob Thomas (Columbia Heights) Here’s what the roster might look like for the 2010-11 campaign.

Starters (Five potential pros)

C Ralph Sampson III, Jr.

F Trevor Mbakwe, Sr.

F Royce White, So.

G/F Harrison Barnes, Fr.

G Al Nolen, Sr.


Colton Iverson, Jr.

Paul Carter, Sr.

Rodney Williams, So.

Blake Hoffarber, Sr.

Justin Cobbs, So.

Jacob Thomas, Fr.

Devoe Joseph, Jr.

Chad Calcaterra, Fr.

What a collection of talent. Even if you have to replace Barnes with Joseph, Minnesota should still have a Sweet 16-worthy bunch for the 2010-11 season. I’m convinced that the Gophers have enough pieces to get there next season.

Even if Barnes doesn’t come, who cares? That’s a lot of talent.

The best prep in America is coming to Minnesota

Posted on May 5th, 2009 – 4:56 PM
By Myron Medcalf

What’s up, Gophers fans? I’ve been away for awhile. Vacation for the most part. But I’m back like Brett Favre. Um, I know that’s not “official” yet, so instead I’ll say, I’m back like an ill-advised college player that entered the NBA draft.

Well, as the headline suggests, the nation’s best prep, according to numerous basketball scholars, will be in Minnesota this weekend. Harrison Barnes, a coveted junior from Ames, Iowa, will participate in the Sabes Invitational AAU basketball tourney at Bloomington Jefferson high. Barnes plays with the All-Iowa Attack, an AAU program operated by former Minnesota prep stud Jake Sullivan.

Barnes is a 6-6, 205-pound small forward that’s coveted by most major programs in the country. He recently narrowed his list down to 12 teams and Minnesota made the cut. But don’t get your hopes up about the young star, who’s earned a five-star rating from rivals.com, suiting up for Minnesota. North Carolina, Duke, Kansas and UCLA are after him. That’s not, however, going to stop the Gophers from pursuing him. And if Tubby Smith finds a way to lure Barnes to the Barn, the Gophers will have a serious contender.

You can get more information about this weekend’s big tourney, which will feature other high major players, here.

Weekend Notebook: Jodie Meeks in Maroon and Gold?

Posted on April 10th, 2009 – 2:53 PM
By Myron Medcalf

What’s up, Gophers fans?

Believe it or not that headline nearly became a reality in 2007.

When Tubby Smith left Kentucky for Minnesota during the spring of that year, he left behind some serious talent on a young Wildcats squad. One player, Jodie Meeks, showed a lot of promise as a freshman, but who knew he’d become an All-American with a knack for Kobe-like scoring efforts (23.7 points per game).

Meeks hopes to take his craft to the NBA. He’s entered this summer’s NBA draft, however, he doesn’t have an agent.

After his freshman year at Kentucky, Meeks wanted to follow Smith to Minnesota, according to multiple sources. He would have been eligible to play for the Gophers during the 2008-09 campaign, after sitting out a year. But Smith nixed the deal in part because of concerns about the potential backlash.

Ultimately, both parties fared well. Smith led the Gophers to their first NCAA tournament bid since 2005, and Meeks had one of the best performances by any collegian this past season.

But the what ifs are fun to think about, especially when that what if is a 6-4 guard who dropped a school record 54 points on Tennessee a few months ago.

I wonder if Smith told former Memphis coach John Calipari that story when the latter called him before taking the Kentucky job. Calipari’s in the same situation. But I doubt he’s going to do anything to stop another one of his prized recruits at Memphis from following him to Kentucky. Super prep big man Demarcus Cousins has already decided to go to Lexington. Others will likely follow.

-It’s official. Travis Busch and Kevin Payton will not return to the team next season, according to this release.  I don’t think anyone is truly surprised by these departures. Tubby Smith has four incoming players, all part of one of the top recruiting classes in the nation, and only two players had used up their eligibility by season’s end. Smith needed two more scholarships and Payton and Busch were the most likely candidates to lose their full rides.

What stands out most for me is the way that the makeup of this program has changed in only two years. Remember, Payton was Smith’s starting point guard for a brief period at the start of the 2007-08 season. And Busch was a go-to guy in key games for the Gophers last season: see 13 points against Louisville. Busch is thinking about playing DII ball. Not sure about Payton.

The best thing about the whole situation is that both players are expected to graduate in May.

-About once a week, someone asks me this question: “I know Rodney Williams is a great athlete, but will he be a good college basketball player?” I’m still not sure what to think. On one hand, he’s somewhat undersized (6-5 and 100-and-something pounds, depending on the clothes he’s wearing), doesn’t really have a position and he’ll have to compete in a physical Big Ten, assuming he cracks a rotation that will include at least six forwards.

His jump shot isn’t consistent, but as I’ve said before, he’s young. He’ll need time to refine and learn new skills. Still, I thought he really struggled whenever an opponent put a body on him last season. I think he’ll have to find new ways to score at the next level.

On the other hand, I’ve talked to people who think Williams might be one of the best prep athletes in America. His highlight tapes remind me of that old Michael Vick Powerade commercial in which Vick throws a football into the upper deck of the stadium.

That commercial was a fake. Williams gliding above the rim like he’s walking on air is not. He is truly a phenomenal athlete. So maybe, he’ll excel beyond anyone’s expectations because he will be too athletic to stop in this league.

And we all know that high-end athleticism is a major element that’s missing in the Big Ten. Just ask Tom Izzo and Michigan State. The most talented, athletic team in the Big Ten was destroyed twice by the ACC’s best team, North Carolina.

I talked to Scout.com’s national director of basketball recruiting, Dave Telep, about Williams and his potential at the next level. Here’s what he had to say:

“He’ll be fine. This is a guy whose athleticism allows him to compete at [the] highest level. He can knock down mid-range shots and play above the rim. Against the best players, he was clearly a cut above athletically and could get to the rim. To me, he’s a lot like former Cincinnati standout James White.”

But even though White, a reserve with the Houston Rockets, can do this, his game is just now beginning to round out. He’s always relied on his leaping ability. Granted, it’s helped him earn an NBA paycheck, but I’m sure Williams wants to be known for more than just his dunks. And how many high fliers have gotten by on that alone?

-Larry Westbrook, the father of Minnesota junior guard Lawrence Westbrook, told me an interesting story Friday morning that backs his hope that his son’s school will do more to accommodate basketball players who won’t be around when/if a practice facility is built.

Larry Westbrook said he tried to find a place to practice with his son during a campus visit this past season. They went to Williams Arena. But a dance team was rehearsing there. They tried to go next door to the Pavilion but gymnastics equipment covered the court. They tried to go to the rec center, but it was closed. Finally, they ended up working out at the Target Center.

Larry Westbrook said he hopes the university will do more to block out chunks of time for basketball players to utilize Minnesota’s facilities. Makes sense. But it also shows how valuable a practice facility can be for the athletes that have access to them.

-The hype surrounding Gophers recruit Trevor Mbakwe continues to grow. He was recently named to the NJCAA All-America third team. He’s also competing for the U.S. in the FIBA World Championships in France. Mbakwe is playing for the under-22 team, along with two other players from Miami Dade junior college.



Monday notebook: 5 keys to victory that will help Michigan State win a national title

Posted on April 6th, 2009 – 4:46 PM
By Myron Medcalf

 What’s up, Gophers fans?

Monday night is the final night of the 2008-09 college basketball season. It’s been a lot of fun so far.

Michigan State-North Carolina is a good matchup for a national title game based on the success both teams have had in the NCAA tournament.  But if you look at what happened Dec. 3, the day that North Carolina stamped the word “beat down” in the collective backs of Spartans fans everywhere with a 35-point blowout over Michigan State at Ford Field, it feels more like a coronation for the Tar Heels.

I understand that Michigan State playing for a national title in nearby Detroit, Saturday’s surprising upset over UConn and the team’s rise over the last three weeks suggests that the Spartans are destined to cut down the nets. I don’t think that’s the case. North Carolina is probably the best college basketball team since the 2007 Florida squad. And even if Michigan State is a better team since the two squads met the first time, is it really 35 points better?

But there’s always a chance. Here are my five keys to victory for Michigan State:

Michigan State’s five keys to victory:

1. Transition defense: Somewhere, Avery Johnson is smiling. The bottom line is that North Carolina gets up and down the floor as well as any team in the country. And all five guys on the floor run for the Tar Heels. I don’t think Michigan State can stop North Carolina from getting up and down the court. What they have to do, however, is put themselves in a position to stop them from scoring through deflections, interceptions, drawing offensive fouls and reverting to hard fouls when necessary. The latter helped disrupt UConn’s transition game. By the end of the contest, UConn didn’t want to play rough anymore. North Carolina might get rattled if it can’t get some of the easy transition buckets it’s accustomed to.

2.  Physical intimidation in the post: This is another tactic that worked against UConn. As the smaller team, Michigan State has to show North Carolina immediately that it’s not going to back down. The best way to communicate that message is to play very physical but smart basketball in the opening minutes. When Travis Walton fouled UConn’s Jeff Adrien in the first half Saturday and Adrien responded by trying to throw him to the ground, Michigan State sent a message that it was not scared of UConn’s impressive size advantage. Both teams grabbed 42 rebounds apiece. UConn was the top rebounding team in the country, entering Saturday’s game.

3. Limit turnovers: I will guarantee one thing. If Michigan State has 16 or more turnovers against North Carolina, it will lose. Don’t think for a minute that Michigan State’s made it this far because of talent alone. The Spartans had a combined 23 turnovers against Louisville and UConn. When they lost to North Carolina Dec. 3, the Tar Heels scored 27 points off of 22 Michigan State turnovers. Michigan State cannot afford to cough up possessions the way it did in the first meeting because North Carolina will make it pay. If Michigan State limits turnovers, it will find itself in a completely different game than what it experienced a few weeks before Christmas.

4. Follow your leader: Tom Izzo has been here before. He knows what it takes to win national titles. I think the Spartans are extremely loyal to him and his coaching philosophy. And they need to maintain that attitude Monday night. Remember, this is a Michigan State team that relies on a bunch of underclassmen. If things aren’t going well, how will they respond? That’s where they have to hold on to one of the key things that put them in this position in the first place: listening to Izzo.

5. Force bad shots from the perimeter: In North Carolina’s 32 wins this season, it shot 39.7 percent from the three-point line. In its four losses, the Tar Heels made just 27.8 percent of their attempts, while their opponents made 40 percent of theirs from beyond the arc. Michigan State will have to apply a lot of perimeter defensive pressure and force the Tar Heels to rely heavily on points in the paint. Michigan State has very good interior defense and owns the nation’s best rebounding margin.

-Minnesota recruit and Findlay Prep (Las Vegas) guard Cory Joseph helped the Pilots win the ESPN Rise National High School Invitational championship with an 18-point performance in a win over perennial national power Oak Hill Sunday. Joseph, the younger brother of current Gophers combo guard Devoe Joseph, has offers from Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Minnesota, Texas A&M, UNLV, Virginia and Virginia Tech. He’s definitely a talent that the Gophers want, however, he has some work to do in the classroom, according to sources with knowledge of his academic situation.

But Joseph probably doesn’t want to leave high school … if that’s what Findlay Prep really is. Check out the “Findlay Athletics” section on this website, which talks about “two refrigerators kept full,” “two big screens” and “famous resort buffets” for players at the “Elite Nike Sponsored School.” They live like kings. And they’re in Las Vegas.

-Minnesota State Mankato named former interim women’s basketball coach Pam Gohl the new head coach of the Mavericks Monday. Here’s what outside candidates were up against: “Pam Gohl, who guided the Minnesota State women’s basketball program to a NCAA Division II national title as the interim head coach this season, has been named head coach of the Mavericks.” I wonder if anyone even applied for the “open” job.

-I know there’s been a lot of chatter about a new practice facility for Gophers men’s basketball. I’ve talked to someone very close to the discussions about the new building, and he’s not confident that enough money can be raised in this economic climate to make the idea a reality. But Minnesota officials are moving forward on plans to build one. Minnesota’s booster club, the Golden Dunkers, has been given the green light to conduct a study related to a potential practice facility.

-I talked to a source close to the Gophers at the state high school boys’ basketball tournament and asked him about this potential starting lineup for next season: F Trevor Mbakwe, F Royce White, F Damian Johnson, G Lawrence Westbrook and G Al Nolen. His response was that Ralph Sampson III is probably going to hold onto his spot as the team’s starting center. There goes that idea.

-Howard Pulley founder Rene Pulley told me last week that he thinks the Gophers might be better off redshirting Rodney Williams next season and allowing him to build up his body and focus on developing the fundamentals. I agree somewhat. But it will be hard to keep his athleticism on the bench in a league that doesn’t have a lot of it. Williams is still trying to get the necessary ACT scores to qualify to play next season.

Will Royce White, Trevor Mbakwe be the first NBA talents for Tubby Smith at Minnesota?

Posted on March 31st, 2009 – 4:45 PM
By Myron Medcalf

It’s not hard to track down amateur NBA scouts who claim that some kid completely off the radar will blossom into an NBA-level talent. But so few players actually make it to that level, it’s hard to make judgment calls before players have actually proven themselves in some way.

But people who know what they’re talking about agree that both Trevor Mbakwe and Royce White have the tools to get there. White and Mbakwe, both 6-8, 240-pound forwards, will join the Gophers next season and both players have a chance to earn big minutes right away. And both players have the kind of the skill sets that a lot of players in the Big Ten can’t match.

Former Gophers guard and NBA veteran Trent Tucker and I talked about White during the high school state championship games over the weekend. He told me that White has some really good tools, but he’ll need more to get the pro level. Tucker said a consistent jump shot could change everything for White in college and beyond. But Tucker likes the way White competes and what he’ll bring to the table next season.

AAU coach Rene Pulley, who has had numerous NBA talents in his Howard Pulley program, believes that White has developed so much in the last year that hard work under Minnesota coach Tubby Smith could help him earn an opportunity to play in the NBA one day.

White told me that he’s not thinking about the NBA right now. And I know he has to first prove himself in the Big Ten, which won’t be easy, before he seriously considers the NBA. But he has so many tools. Don’t be surprised if he shows up on mock draft boards with a good showing in his first season.

Mbakwe has more reasons to think about the NBA because next season will be his third, after playing for Marquette as a freshman and Miami Dade community college this past season. He told me recently that he’s already heard from people connected to the NBA who believe he can play at that level as a combo forward. Although he’ll play power forward for the Gophers next season, he’ll have to have a better outside game to get to the pros.

Mbakwe said Smith told him that if the opportunity to go pro is there after next season that he doesn’t have a problem with him entering the 2010 NBA draft. Again, there’s a lot of time before that.