Smith to keep same starting five as Minnesota heads to Ohio State

Smith to keep same starting five as Minnesota heads to Ohio State

Ashley Goetz

After WednesdayâÄôs embarrassing loss to Michigan State, something has to change. Coach Tubby Smith knows that. More energy, better rebounding, tighter defense and getting the ball inside are all candidates for upgrading after MinnesotaâÄôs 29-point loss. But what probably wonâÄôt change, Smith said Friday, is the starting lineup. He plans to keep the same starting five Saturday night, 7 p.m., on the road against Ohio State: guards Al Nolen and Lawrence Westbrook, forward Damian Johnson and post players Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson. ItâÄôs the combination of Sampson and Iverson âÄî both true freshmen âÄî on the floor at the same time that some have questioned. Smith himself was reluctant to play the two at the same time early in the nonconference schedule, but has stuck with the same starting lineup since Christmas. It has been an overall success, too, with the team 18-4 and ranked in the top-20. But Wednesday was the teamâÄôs worst offensive game of the year âÄî probably the worst overall game, too âÄî and Smith acknowledges some of the pitfalls of a lineup heavier on size than athleticism. âÄúWe needed some more quickness, and Ralph and Colton might not have as much speed,âÄù Smith said. âÄúBut what we lack there, hopefully we can make up in rebounding.âÄù Rebounding didnâÄôt make up for much of anything Wednesday, as Michigan State held a 42-26 advantage. Though the Spartans do lead the nation in rebounding, it was still a poor performance that left Smith with no speed or rebounding. Swapping sophomore Paul Carter for Iverson is one option. The junior college transfer gives up two inches to Iverson, according to the teamâÄôs official roster, but is generally quicker. Carter also averages more rebounds per game, despite playing fewer minutes per game, than Iverson. âÄúOn the road, weâÄôve been kind of passive, and sat back and let the game progress a little more slowly,âÄù Carter said. âÄúWatching us from the sideline, I know itâÄôs my role, just to do all I can and keep the guys up beat.âÄù Carter can also penetrate from the outside and create his own shot better than either of the two freshmen centers âÄî which is important as the Gophers guards have struggled to get the ball inside for most of the conference season. Sampson is averaging around five shots a game and Iverson around four, and Smith has made no secret of his frustration over the offenseâÄôs struggle to get them the ball. âÄúWeâÄôve gotten away from that,âÄù Smith said. âÄúEvery time we scored a decent basket against Michigan State, it was when we got the ball inside and then back out.âÄù Ohio State doesnâÄôt have the host of powerful post players like the Spartans did, but they do have 7-foot, 275-pound B.J. Mullens. The freshman has improved quite a bit since his 18-minute, five-point game against the Gophers on Jan. 3, and is coming off a 17-point game against Purdue. âÄúMichigan State pounded us on the boards,âÄù Carter said. âÄúIn practice, weâÄôve been beating each other up and going hard. We realize we basically went in [to Michigan State] and got punked. WeâÄôre definitely trying to be tougher in practice and going at each other and not trying to be friends on the court anymore.âÄù