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Christmas Wish Lists: Minnesota can contend in the Big Ten with improvement in key areas

Dec 24, 2012, 5:58 PM EST

Trevor Mbakwe AP

Over the course of the next two weeks, College Basketball Talk will be detailing what some of the country’s best, most intriguing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams need. It’s the spirit of the holidays. We’re in a giving mood.

What do other teams have on their Christmas Wish Lists? Click here to find out.

Gotta have it list-topper: Improved work on the defensive glass 
Tubby Smith’s team is the best in the country when it comes to hitting the offensive boards, as they’ve managed to grab 48.9% of their missed shots to this point in the season. But the Golden Gophers haven’t been very good in regards to keeping the opposition from doing the same, as their defensive rebounding percentage of 64.5% ranks dead last in the Big Ten.

With players like Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams Jr. in the front court it may be easy to gloss over the fact that just one player averaging double figure minutes is taller than 6-9 (6-11 Elliott Eliason, with 6-10 Maurice Walker playing just 8.9 minutes per game). But if the fundamentals of rebounding (boxing out) are followed this shouldn’t be a serious issue for Minnesota, regardless of height. With the Big Ten opener against Michigan State next on the docket, this is the most glaring issue that the Golden Gophers have to address.

Stocking stuffer: Trevor Mbakwe remains healthy 
The sixth-year senior (8.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) has started just one of Minnesota’s 13 games this season (the reason was just as much disciplinary as him returning from a torn ACL, to be fair), but he’s put forth some solid performances to date. Mbakwe’s best games came against Stanford at the Battle 4 Atlantis (19 points, 12 rebounds) and North Dakota State (14 points, 18 rebounds), and if Minnesota is to carry their start into Big Ten play he’ll need to be a consistent performer. But to simply have Mbakwe is a bonus for Minnesota, as he’s the difference between a team fighting for an NCAA tournament berth and one that won’t lose any sleep the night before Selection Sunday.

Planning on re-gifting: Three-point shooting 
If there’s one other negative to Minnesota’s start besides their issues on the defensive glass it would be their three-point shooting. The Golden Gophers are making just 32.2% of their shots from beyond the arc, a number that currently ranks eighth in the Big Ten. To be fair the shot isn’t something that Minnesota relies on a great deal, as only 20.1% of their points come via the three-pointer, but players like Andre Hollins (39.7% 3PT), Austin Hollins (32.1) and Maverick Ahanmisi (43.5) will need to hit the shots they do take at a higher rate as Minnesota encounters teams better equipped to deal with their front court.

Stats courtesy of statsheet.com

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.