With the season approaching, we are making some predictions for how the 2014-15 season will unfold. The Minnesota Golden Gophers are coming off an NIT title and fans are looking to build off that performance. Here are 5 Bold Predictions for Minnesota Basketball 2014-15.
#1 - Elliott Eliason will lead the Big Ten in rebounds and blocks.
Eliason was among the league leaders in both categories last season, ranking 5th in rebounds at a 6.9 per game clip while swatting away nearly 2 shot per game (1.9), good for 3rd in the Big Ten.
Eliason has the size (6'11", 240-pounds) and mobility to be one of the top frontliners in the conference. But the key to make this happen in 2014-15 is mental. For all the good things Eliason did for the Gophers last season, his inability to control his frustrations negatively impacted his performance. A year of experience and maturity should help Eliason keep his emotions in check, which will pay big dividends to Minnesota as a result.
#2 - Minnesota will finish undefeated at home.
The Gophers were 18-3 at home last season, and don't have to play either Michigan State or Michigan inside Williams Arena this winter. The Gophers have to face Wake Forest in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, certainly not one of the top teams in their conference. The toughest home test looks to be Wisconsin, which comes in the last week of the regular season and is part of a difficult 3-game closing stretch for the Badgers. And the season ticket renewal for this coming year is reported to be the highest ever in Minnesota history. Always a difficult place to play for opposing teams, the Big Barn should be rocking again this winter.
#3 - Minnesota will finish in the top four of the Big Ten.
Minnesota has a favorable schedule that should allow it to have an upper-tier finish in the conference. The only top conference contenders that the Gophers play twice are Wisconsin and Nebraska. And the toughest stretch of the season will be an end of February road trip to Wisconsin and Michigan State before returning for the rubber match against the Badgers the first week of March. It's very possible that with a veteran team to see 13+ wins in the conference.
#4 - Andre Hollins will make All-Big Ten.
Hollins is completely healthy from the nagging ankle injury that plagued him toward the end of last season, which likely was a contributing factor to his 3-pt accuracy of 34.9 %. He can score in a variety of ways, and will be called upon to help replace the nearly 20 ppg lost with the departures of Austin Hollins and Malik Smith last season. Look for Hollins to have an outstanding senior season.
#5 - Minnesota will advance to the Sweet 16
Despite bringing back a veteran team, Minnesota is not considered by many to have a high level of talent - at least enough to contend for a Big Ten Championship. Even though the Golden Gophers should finish higher than the 7th place showing from 2013-14, they are in many ways still flying under the radar because of the lack of superstars.
But look back at most of the surprise teams that have advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament and the common thread is veteran players who play well together, whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Don't be a bit shocked if Minnesota finds a little of the post-season magic from last season and manufactures a Sweet 16 run.