Gophers’ coach Clem Haskins could have one of his deepest and most talented teams in recent years, but it remains to be seen whether talent and depth will translate into wins.
Haskins should have more flexibility in using different combinations on the court, but he is quick to point out that the team’s success hinges on the production of two of his top returning players, guard Kevin Clark and forward Quincy Lewis.
“Those two will determine how far we go this season,” Haskins said.
Here is a look at how each position figures into the overall team equation for the 1998-99 season.
“With Kevin Clark, Terrance Simmons, and Mitch Ohnstad, we have some of the quickest guards in the country,” Haskins said. Indeed, the outstanding depth and quickness the Gophers possess in the backcourt will allow Haskins to utilize more offensive combinations and defensive press packages.
The key addition to the unit will be Simmons, a transfer from Louisiana State who sat out last season. The 6-foot-3 sophomore will replace steady but unflashy Eric Harris at the point, and his adjustment into directing the offense will be key in the Gophers’ execution.
Simmons possesses tremendous quickness, but Haskins believes he will need some time to adjust to being a true “lead” guard. Clark, who made strides at the off-guard position towards the end of last season, will now be the second scoring option on the team. While he still lacks consistency from the outside, Clark is a tremendous slasher who can beat defenders off the dribble.
Ohnstad, another newcomer in the backcourt, will be the third guard and could give the Gophers some options in three-guard sets. Freshman combination guard Kevin Burleson may see some playing time, but his role could be limited by the depth ahead of him.
Swingman Sam Jacobson’s loss could be reflected in offensive production, but the team may have actually improved its stock at the forward spots.
With Quincy Lewis back at his natural small forward position, the Gophers should have tremendous flexibility in the front court. The 6-foot-8 senior averaged 14.5 points per game and shot nearly 46 percent from the floor.
As a full-time wing player, Lewis will be even more of a threat offensively. However, the key to the Gophers’ success will be Lewis’ ability to nail outside jumpers on a consistent basis. Power forward Miles Tarver often jokes about his lack of skills and offensive ability, but he has established himself as a defensive presence in the low-post.
Where the Gophers will have problems is getting increased offensive production from the power forward position. Freshman Nick Sinville (6-foot-6) might not be the immediate answer at power forward, but his athletic ability and good post game could be a factor as the season progresses.
With forward Jermaine Stanford’s departure, twin brother Jason could see even more playing time as an extra body on defense. Redshirt freshman Dusty Rychart is still developing physically, but could see some time spelling Lewis at the “three” spot.
Contrary to popular opinion, this might be the Gophers’ biggest area of concern. Seven-foot freshman Joel Przybilla has received rave reviews from coaches and teammates, but like all big men, his development figures to be more long-term.
Sophomore Kyle Sanden returns as the starter, but with his continuing fainting problems, he will be a question mark for durability. Sanden has bulked up to 265 pounds, but whether he can play aggressively in the paint remains to be seen.
The most intriguing prospect at center is sophomore Antoine Broxsie. After playing most of last season at a lanky 225 pounds, Broxsie is playing at about 235 pounds and may be more physically durable than either Sanden or Przybilla at the pivot.
“Antoine is coming along offensively,” Haskins said. “He is still a year away, but he will definitely have an impact on our team.”
Haskins also hinted at using both Broxsie and Przybilla at the same time, giving the team two athletic shot blockers in the frontcourt. However, the team’s big men are still developing, and their effect on the offense may not come in the near future.