Post play is king in past, present, future

Luke Middendorf

From the moment he stepped onto the Ohio State campus, it was widely speculated that former Buckeyes center Greg Oden would play college basketball for only one season. This became truth after the dominating post player was selected as the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NBA draft.

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what: Men’s basketball
when: 6 p.m., Wednesday
where: Bloomington, Ind.

Whether Ohio State head coach Thad Matta knew Oden would leave after one year or not, he was quick to replace one seven-footer for another when five-star recruit Kosta Koufos committed to the Buckeyes for the ’07-’08 season.

Koufos has made an immediate impact during his freshman season as a replacement for Oden, averaging nearly 14 points and seven rebounds per game.

But during Minnesota’s senior day victory against Ohio State on Saturday, the Gophers two best interior players over the last four seasons, Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson, held their own in the post to help Minnesota get back to .500 in the Big Ten.

“I couldn’t be happier for our seniors,” Gophers head coach Tubby Smith said after the game. “They have gone through a lot the last few years.”

Although neither is as good as Oden – who averaged nearly 16 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks per game as a freshman last season – the loss of both Coleman and Tollackson, who combine to average 23 points and 10 rebounds per game this season, may have a bigger impact on Minnesota next year than the loss of Oden did to the Buckeyes.

But just like Matta bringing in Koufos to Ohio State, Gophers head coach Tubby Smith also did some off-season work to recruit four-star center Ralph Sampson III to fill in for the loss of Coleman and Tollackson next season.

Sampson will bring heavy expectations with him to Minnesota, as the Duluth, Ga.-native is the son of former three-time college basketball player of the year and 1983 NBA No. 1 draft pick Ralph Sampson.

During his senior year at Northview High School, Sampson III was known to give many spectators flashbacks to his father, as the Gophers prized-recruit averaged 20 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 7.04 blocks per game.

Although Gophers fans may be drooling over the thought of having 6-foot-11 Sampson III on campus to guard premium post players like Koufos, Minnesota’s two 6-foot-9 seniors were more than enough on Saturday to help the Gophers out-rebound the Buckeyes 37-24 and hold Koufos to four boards.

“He (Koufos) had a pretty good rebounding game in game one against them at Columbus,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. “We need him to rebound, but if he gets stretched outside we need other guys to rebound, too.”

And while the state of Minnesota may be waiting for the arrival of Smith’s nationally ranked recruiting class for next season, Coleman’s 13 points, Tollackson’s emotional play and senior Lawrence McKenzie’s five three-point field goals were enough on Saturday to keep the Gophers post-season hopes alive and overshadow the future for the here-and-now.

“The seniors played hard all year,” sophomore guard Lawrence Westbrook said. “We wanted to give them our best effort to let them know we appreciate them.”