After tasting success their first year with a trip to the NCAA Tournament, three sophomores on Minnesota’s men’s basketball team have had to taste something different this season.
Not only is a return trip to the Big Dance looking less and less likely, but all three sophomores – Dan Coleman, Spencer Tollackson and Rico Tucker – have seen their minutes decrease and their roles change.
“It’s definitely been tough (having minutes cut),” Coleman said. “(The season) definitely didn’t turn out the way it was planned.”
Coleman started 27 games last season as a redshirt freshman, but has started just seven this season.
Tollackson actually has seen more playing time than he did last season when he was backing up senior center Jeff Hagen.
However, the center, who started 14 of the first 17 games, hasn’t started in the past 10 games.
As for Tucker, both his minutes and starts have decreased from last season, with his minutes dropping significantly the past five games. And for the first four games of the season, Tucker was suspended because he was placed on “academic lockdown.”
“I think last year they really understood what you have to do to play in this league,” coach Dan Monson said. “But this year, I think they’re understanding what you have to do to be impactful and I think it’s a big difference.”
Each player has done that at least once this season, coming off the bench and giving the team a lift and, ultimately, a win.
Against Penn State, Coleman dropped in 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds off the bench. His play received praise from Monson who gave the forward much of the credit for the team’s victory.
Tollackson has come off the bench and scored in double figures in four of the past five games on 71.9 percent field-goal shooting.
The center led the Big Ten in shooting at 62.3 percent against conference opponents this season.
“After the Iowa game, my confidence level went up even though I wasn’t starting,” Tollackson said. “Every time I shoot I think it’s going in.”
Tucker was instrumental in the wins against Penn State and Purdue, scoring 11 points and 10 points, respectively.
But the decrease in minutes hasn’t happened because of the play of the sophomores, but rather the strong play of the five seniors on the Gophers roster.
However, that is something that will be missing on next year’s squad, as the team will have no seniors on its roster.
That makes their playing time these past two seasons even more invaluable.
“We’re gonna be the most experienced guys that we have next year Ö so it’s going to be huge for us,” Tollackson said. “But it’s just good this year to get your feet wet and take on that leadership role slowly as the season progressed and hopefully we’ll be able to translate that leadership role into next season.”
And while they admit that making the NCAA Tournament last year and – barring a deep run into the Big Ten Tournament – their failure to do so this year is disappointing, Monson feels that early success is a positive.
“Winning breeds winning,” Monson said. “I think that’s always a very good thing to be able to point to and to understand.”