What to watch for

With two exhibition games under its belt, here are five things we learned about the Gophers men’s basketball team.

Charlie Armitz

1. Lack of depth

Tubby Smith said at Big Ten Media Day on Oct. 27 that he would look to play a 10- to 12-man rotation, even during Big Ten play.

That might not be possible if the teamâÄôs second unit continues at its current pace.

MinnesotaâÄôs bench players combined for just 41 points in the teamâÄôs two exhibition games against Bemidji State and Augustana despite seeing extended playing time. No reserve scored more than seven points in either game.

When MinnesotaâÄôs first unit sat, the opponent rallied. When the first unit played, Minnesota had little trouble handling its Division II foes.

2. MbakweâÄôs leadership

Senior Trevor Mbakwe has admitted to struggles at the end of games last season and has said he plans to be a better leader in his last season with Minnesota.

So far, so good.

Mbakwe led the team in scoring, rebounding and field goals made in both exhibition wins. In MondayâÄôs 72-60 comeback against Augustana, he scored 16 points in the second half, including seven of the last nine to seal the game.

He also made 12-of-13 free throws against Augustana. Last season, Mbakwe was a 63 percent free-throw shooter.

With Blake Hoffarber graduating, the Gophers needed a new go-to player down the stretch in 2011-12. Mbakwe seems more than fit to handle that role.

3. SampsonâÄôs consistency

Smith has lauded senior forward/center Ralph Sampson III during the preseason for his consistency as MinnesotaâÄôs second scoring option to Mbakwe.

Sampson scored four points, shot 1-for-5 and had seven turnovers against an undersized Augustana team.

The question on Sampson remains whether he lacks the toughness and physicality to be an effective center in the Big Ten.

But Smith doesnâÄôt have much choice but to start him. Mo Walker is out indefinitely while recovering from a knee injury, and Elliott Eliason is in the early stages of adapting to the college game.

4. Three-point shooting

ItâÄôs been well documented that the GophersâÄô perimeter players have impressed Smith with their shooting abilities.

Smith has called them the best group of shooters heâÄôs coached at Minnesota, but they havenâÄôt lived up to that billing in exhibition play.

The Gophers shot a combined 6-for-24 from distance against BSU and Augustana. Take away Austin HollinsâÄô 3-for-6 shooting from deep and the team is 3-for-18.

If the team lacks perimeter threats, opponents wonâÄôt hesitate to double-team Mbakwe and Sampson, and MinnesotaâÄôs half-court offense could struggle even more than it did last season. ThatâÄôs no small concern.

5. Point guard battle

After freshman Andre Hollins dished out eight assists with no turnovers against BSU, his spot at point guard seemed safe.

But Hollins had just one assist and two turnovers against Augustana while shooting 1-for-7.

In the two exhibition games, Hollins combined to shoot 3-for-14 from the field, including 0-for-6 from 3-point range.

Julian Welch, meanwhile, had a solid performance against Augustana after sitting out the BSU game with an ankle injury. He shot 2-for-4 from the field, 1-for-2 from three-point range, and had seven points and four rebounds.

While Hollins is likely to start Friday, his job may not be secure.