Gophers Basketball 2008-09: What Went Wrong

As I'm sitting in my chaise lounger watching CBS' Tiger/Phil centric coverage of the Masters--and meanwhile neglecting yard work--I decided it's time to look back in a more critical fashion on the season that was for my favorite sports team.

While Tubby Smith's second iteration of Gophers took significant strides--making the NCAA's and winning 20 games for the second straight season, among other things--there's no doube that things could have sailed along more smoothly. Some players regressed. Others simply couldn't find a comfort zone.

After the jump I'll highlight a few areas that held the Gophers back during the past season.

Al Nolen: Coming off a freshman season in which Nolen made a name for himself across the conference by playing a stout brand of defense, expecations were high for the sophomore. Nolen didn't live up to those expectations.

Nolen did continue to play very well on the defensive end of the floor, that was never the question. But his game on the offensive end went from mediocre to detrimental to the team. Nolen shot 33 percent on the season, including 29 percent from three. His outside shot was highly erratic. When he penetrated--aside from the Louisville game during which he was outstanding--Nolen was rarely able to either finish around the basket or draw contact to get to the line. His play was so bad during a stretch of the season that Tubby Smith pulled him from the starting lineup in favor of freshman Devoe Joseph.

Those of us who had hoped Nolen would turn the corner offensively were disappointed in 08-09, and with Joseph coming back next year with a season under his belt and freshman Justin Cobbs coming in at the point as well, Nolen will have to take strides if he wants to remain the starting point guard.

Blake Hoffarber: Sometimes shooters lose their strokes for a period of time. Let's hope that's what we saw from Hoffarber during the season. The sharp-shooting Hoffarber shot 34 percent from three. During his freshman season, Hoffarber hit about 43 percent from the perimeter.

Some of that can be explained by defenses paying extra attention to him. But during many games Hoffarber was finding good looks that just weren't falling. Let's hope we've seen Hoffarber at two extremes during his first two seasons and his junior year finds a nice middle ground and he shoots around 38 percent.

Half-Court offense: A common refrain during the season was that if the Gophers were going to win, they need to score in transition. That wasn't because they were exceptional in transition, it was because they were on the putrid side in their half-court offense. There never seemed to be an overall gameplan in the half-court. Early in the Big Ten conference slate, Coach Smith made the decision to force the ball inside more. But there was no real inside-outside emphasis and even simple skills like entry passes weren't executed well.

Coach Smith is a defensive coach first. And I, for one, like that, but the half-court offense wasn't just something that went wrong last season, it's something that we need to see drastic improvement on in the years to come if the Gophers are going to be a contender in the conference.

Leadership: Or, rather, a lack thereof. When the Gophers were faltering during tough portions of the Big Ten slate, the Gophers never really seemed to find a leader on the roster to rally the team. That might sound cliche, and maybe it is, but it never really seemed the the Gophers had an emotional leader on the floor, though Damian Johnson seemed to try and fill that role as the season came to a close.  And maybe the lack of on-the-floor leadership isn't too surprising considering the Gophers lost seniors Spencer Tollackson, Dan Coleman and Lawrence McKenzie to graduation last year and replaced that trio with a bunch of underclassmen. 

I have a few others in mind, but that's what stood out to me. Anything to add?

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