Gophers show improvements in wins and in the stat book

Minnesota ranked third or better in 10 conference categories Saturday.

Zach Eisendrath

It might be a surprise to some that the Minnesota men’s basketball team is off to a 6-1 start with relatively the same group of players that completed a program-worst 9-22 campaign last season.

But after looking at the statistics, it shouldn’t seem as unreasonable that the Gophers are just three victories away from tying last year’s win total.

Minnesota, which ranked near the bottom in nearly every statistical category within the Big Ten Conference last season, entered Saturday night’s game against Colorado State ranked third or better in 10 categories.

“We are really pleased with the way we shot the ball, the way we shared the basketball and the way we rebounded the ball,” Smith said after the 91-74 win.

After their first 90-point output since the 2005 season, the Gophers are second in points per game with 77.7 per contest, second only to No. 13 Indiana, which is putting up 81.1 per contest.

Out of 11 teams, Minnesota was dead last in assists last year with 12.77 per game. Now it ranks second in the Big Ten with 17.4 assists per game in its seven games.

Coach Tubby Smith’s aggressive defensive scheme appears to also be paying dividends early. Minnesota, which gives up only 58.9 points per contest, is tops in the conference in steals (11.3) and blocks (5.9) – while forcing their opposition into an average of 19.1 turnovers.

Recruits impressing

Smith’s first group of recruits isn’t sitting on its thumbs as the group waits to arrive on campus next fall.

Just the opposite. The three high school players which comprise the Gophers’ five-man recruiting class for the 2008-09 season, appear to be getting better each day.

Six-foot-11-inch center Ralph Sampson III from Northview, Ga., had 31 points, 20 rebounds and 10 blocks in a 68-61 win Friday night.

Sampson, the son of former No. 1 NBA draft pick Ralph Sampson, is averaging 23 points, 10 rebounds and has 35 blocked shots through six games.

Considered by many as the best prospect out of Canada, Devoe Joseph, a 6-foot-3-inch shooting guard from Ajax, Ontario, continues to put up eye-opening performances.

Joseph, who chose Minnesota over Texas and Kansas among others, won his second consecutive tournament MVP award after averaging 23.3 points per game in three games over the weekend as his high school team, Pickering, won the Ontario Invitational Shootout tournament.

South Dakota forward Colton Iverson had 11 points and 10 rebounds in his season debut Friday night for Yankton High School.

Player of the week

For the second straight week, Indiana senior forward D.J. White took home Big Ten Player of the Week honors.

White averaged 22.5 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks to lead Indiana to victories over Tennessee State and Kentucky. Against Tennessee State, White had a career-high 29 points last Monday.

And in front of a nationally televised audience – with Hoosiers’ leading scorer -freshman phenom Eric Gordon – out with injuries – White carried Indiana on his back, putting up 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocked shots Saturday afternoon as the Hoosiers decimated the Wildcats 70-51 for their 23rd straight win at Assembly Hall.

“My goal is I want to be a double-double guy,” White said after the win. “I want to help my teammates in any kind of way, defense, offense or rebounding.”

In victory, White also became the 41st player in Hoosiers history to reach the 1,000-point mark.