What to watch for at the Old Spice Classic

Charlie Armitz

1. SampsonâÄôs ankle 

Center/forward Ralph Sampson III was kept out of MondayâÄôs rout of Mount St. MaryâÄôs with an ankle injury âÄúto make sure he heals completely,âÄù Gophers head coach Tubby Smith said.

Sampson is expected to return this weekend, but if his mobility is limited, center Elliott Eliason âÄî who played well in SampsonâÄôs place despite committing four fouls âÄî 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. WilliamsâÄô 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 MondayâÄôs 85-56 win against Mount St. MaryâÄôs 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 âÄî and his offensive game is limited when heâÄôs unable to do that.

Playing against three bigger nonconference opponents will be an ideal test for WilliamsâÄô ability to use his athleticism as an offensive weapon.

3. Austin HollinsâÄô emergence

Sophomore shooting guard Austin Hollins has quietly become the GophersâÄô 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 GophersâÄô 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 teamâÄôs exhibition and regular season home games in 2011-12.

Hollins, who has started every game, hasnâÄôt done enough to lose his starting job, but he hasnâÄôt 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 MondayâÄôs 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 âÄî against Bucknell and South Dakota State âÄî 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 gameâÄôs end and never lost its lead.

While the Gophers are favored to win the tournament, they arenâÄôt expected to blow away their competition. The games should be close âÄî and MinnesotaâÄôs ability to win close games could again be tested.