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Thursday, January 21, 2010
Gophers continue to make noise off the court


Some quick hitters for a Thursday afternoon:

• This continues to be a strained season for Minnesota. In the preseason, the Golden Gophers thought Royce White, Trevor Mbakwe and Al Nolen would be three of the most important members of the squad. It hasn't quite worked out that way.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported early Thursday that Nolen was academically ineligible. Through a source close to the program, ESPN.com has learned that the guard didn't pass the required six hours last semester because of a death in the family.

The Gophers have appealed the decision based on his personal extenuating circumstances, and are hoping they will get word Friday. As of now, they don't know whether he will play Saturday against Michigan State.

Nolen played 23 minutes in the loss to Indiana on Sunday, missed all four shots from the field and had just two assists and one turnover.

Meanwhile, White, Tubby Smith's most heralded recruit at Minnesota, finally showed up at practice this week after dealing with a misdemeanor shoplifting charge earlier in the season that resulted in his being suspended from the team. At one point, White announced on YouTube that he was quitting the Golden Gophers.

White isn't going to play against Michigan State, according to the source. But he has apparently already had an impact in practice, and there is a chance he will be on the court at some point for the Gophers if he proves he can be a responsible citizen on campus and in the city.

Suspended junior forward Mbakwe is still awaiting a court appearance on an aggravated battery charge that is scheduled for next month. If he's cleared, he'll likely call this season a redshirt and join Minnesota next season.

The Gophers have been reeling in the Big Ten, losing three of the past four games, with the one win coming against an Evan Turner-less Ohio State. But those three losses were all on the road.

Minnesota does have a win over Butler in the bank, which will hold weight come March. But if the Gophers (12-6, 3-3 Big Ten) are to make an NCAA-bid run, they need to clean up with this homestand against Michigan State and Northwestern.

The core group of Lawrence Westbrook, Blake Hoffarber, Damian Johnson, Devoe Joseph and Ralph Sampson III may not be enough to handle the depth of the Spartans. But somehow the Gophers have to find a way to win this game to make themselves matter again.

If coach Tubby Smith decides to bring White onto the court for games and not just practice, it needs to be when the games matter. They won't in March if the Gophers don't go on a bit of a run soon.

• The Gonzaga community continues to mourn the loss of former coach Dan Fitzgerald, who died Tuesday night. Gonzaga coach Mark Few -- like Long Beach State's Dan Monson and San Diego's Bill Grier, all former assistants -- is awaiting word on arrangements. But all have been discussing Fitz, as he was affectionately known, on the phone in the past 24 hours.

"He had a kind heart,'' Few said. "The reality is he gave us all our first chance. He loved the underdog role -- he relished it. He was an interesting dude, a charismatic personality, like Tom Brennan. Like Tom, he was someone who always liked to hold court.''

• Great call by the Big South Conference to go barefoot for Samaritan's Feet, a charity to put shoes on those who don't have them around the globe and here at home. It is a charity that has been championed tirelessly by IUPUI head coach Ron Hunter. Men's and women's coaches from the Big South all will take a turn going barefoot in games this weekend and continuing through March 1.