MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The University of Minnesota men’s basketball season gets underway officially Friday night. The Gophers are hosting a tempered version of “Midnight Madness” at 7 p.m. at Williams Arena.

The team will host a skills competition and a dunk contest that’s sure to show off the team’s athleticism. It will be an interesting mix this year with experienced players back in Trevor Mbakwe, Rodney Williams and Ralph Sampson III.

But there’s also seven players on this year’s team who haven’t played one second in the Big 10 Conference yet. They have Julian Welch, Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman to replace the backcourt of Al Nolen and Blake Hoffarber.

Maurice Walker is also back from a knee injury last year, and Maverick Ahanmisi is expected to compete for the starting point guard slot but is also the only guard back with Big 10 experience.

Friday night’s tipoff is all about having fun and showing off skills. Mbakwe will be one player that will be the key to the Gophers’ success this season. He gave strong consideration to putting his name in the NBA Draft, but he was talked out of it and spent the summer changing his game.

Mbakwe played on a U.S. national team overseas and put in plenty of his own time in the gym. Without him, the Gophers are average, but they need him to be very good and more diversified.

“For the most part I was playing against bigger guys so I was able to use my athleticism and quickness a lot more, not just be able to back down because I’m always going to be stronger than my opponent,” Mbakwe said. “And just being able to develop a consistent outside shot because that’s what I’m going to need this season and to further my career.”


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