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Searching for Austin Hollins

The all-purpose senior needs to rediscover his three-point shot in order to lead a short-handed Minnesota squad

Ronald Martinez

The Minnesota Golden Gophers have outperformed preseason expectations by combining contributions from transfers, improved play from the center position, and a noticeably positive response to their new coaching regime and system set into place by first year sideline prowler Richard Pitino. And while things seem to be coming up roses for Minnesota right now, a single Gopher stands upon a tenuous precipice and how he responds to this may decide the course of the team for the rest of the season.

With Andre Hollins out for an undetermined amount of time with an always-tricky ankle injury, the team has but one player to look to for leadership and scoring during a possibly tumultuous stretch. That player is a senior guard with almost four years of B1G experience under his belt. A player with a multi-dimensional skill set that has given him a jack-of-all-trades-but a-master-of-none reputation. A player whose defensive prowess has been wildly underrated since his entrance into the league as a freshman. And finally, a player who hasn't be able to hit the broad side of a barn inside or outside the Barn in conference play this season.

That player is Austin Hollins.

Hollins holds the key to the most pivotal stretch of basketball for the 2013-2014 Golden Gophers. Below is a chart which displays key statistics from conference play throughout Austin Hollins' collegiate career. Every year he has displayed the ability to improve his game, whether it be through augmented overall production or increased efficiency.

Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
PER 13 15.3 16.4 14.3
True Shooting % 0.479 0.583 0.507 0.46
Effective Field Goal % 0.438 0.546 0.472 0.41
Offensive Rating 95.4 112.1 115.2 98.7
Win Shares / 40 0.064 0.116 0.138 0.093

Every year, we see a incremental increase in offensive rating and win shares per 40 minutes. That is, until this, his final year as a college basketball player. Cold shooting has doomed Hollins' offensive efficiency. The senior out of Germantown, Tennessee is shooting a horrendous 20.6% from 2-point range which has caused his overall field goal percentage to plummet to 35.8% in B1G play. This is absolutely unacceptable from a senior with almost 3,300 minutes played at the collegiate level.

While Hollins has gotten clean looks off of penetration from Deandre Mathieu and Andre Hollins, there has been something wrong with his long range shot since he went 4-8 from deep against the Boilermakers in Minneapolis on January 5th. With winnable upcoming games against the likes of Northwestern, Purdue, and Indiana, Minnesota must not drop more than a game during that stretch if they want to stabilize their NCAA Tournament hopes and Hollins must find a way to increase his in-game efficiency, especially without Andre Hollins in the mix. In order to do this, it would behoove him to become more aggressive attacking the basket, like this "Barn-burner" against the Badgers.

By increasing his number of high-percentage looks (Hollins is still shooting 51.5% from inside the arc in conference play) he can find his way into an in-game groove. It is often said that a player needs to make some easier shots to regain lost confidence and the longer shots will then follow. This has been an excellent example of such a phenomenon. And while Hollins needs to attack the basket, he also needs to become involved in the offense earlier in games. Too often he has looked hesitant and uncertain in the first half of games against Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Penn State. During the aforementioned stretch of winnable games, number 20 needs to establish an aggressive approach early and confidently dictate his offensive game.

While fifth year senior Malik Smith and transfer guard Deandre Mathieu have done an excellent job producing offense from the guard positions, Hollins needs to find his three-point stroke in order to keep defensive modest and open up the middle for the likes of Maurice Walker and Eliott Eliason. While Mathieu is incredibly efficient from behind the arc, he is much more tentative and picks his spots to shoot from deep. It is up to Hollins to first assert himself within the team offense early with drives and shorter jumpers and eventually extend his offense to all parts of the half court set.

Minnesota is in excellent position to grab an unexpected NCAA Tournament spot. It will be up to a highly experienced senior to rediscover his outside shooting touch in order to continue to rack up wins and maneuver an increasingly confusing and always difficult Big Ten.