While any loss is disappointing, Saturday's 73-61 loss in West Lafayette isn't surprising nor troublesome. The depleted Gophers ran into a hot-shooting Boilermakers squad that desperately needed to grab a home win after recent road losses at Minnesota, West Virginia and Ohio State.
What should stand out, however, is just how good of a coaching job Tubby Smith has done and will need to continue to do as Minnesota faces a tough stretch of the schedule without any point guards that are playing meaningful minutes. The jumbo lineup that worked so well against Northwestern was kept in check, largely thanks to foul trouble and Minnesota's struggles rebounding out of the 2-3 zone.
But the main difference was Purdue could score from the perimeter and Minnesota couldn't. Even though Minnesota won the battle of points in the paint, it wasn't enough to match Purdue's 10-23 from three compared to Minnesota's 3-9. It wasn't necessarily a case of bad perimeter defense as we've seen in games earlier this season. Instead, it was the simple fact that a 2-3 zone is going to force outside shots. And on this day, especially in the decisive second half, Purdue made its shots.
If you hadn't noticed before, JaJuan Johnson is good. He played 40 minutes, scored a game-high 24 points to go with 7 rebounds. When Minnesota had a chance to make a run on Purdue, there was Johnson with a put-back, fade-away jumper or smooth outside shot. He was an efficient 8-13 and went 8-9 from the free throw line.
Trevor Mbakwe led Minnesota again. He had a double-double again (17 and 14), but Mbakwe also missed a few opportunities close into the basket on dunk attempts that were a tad too aggressive. Blake Hoffarber added 14 points for Minnesota, as he once again did what he could to handle point guard duties with Al Nolen sidelined. Hoffarber played all 40 minutes
During the first half, Minnesota's 2-3 zone was frustrating Purdue. With Mbakwe on a low block, Rodney Williams or Austin Hollins joined Hoffarber at the top. The zone was active. The team's length was impactful. And Purdue struggled to get the ball inside. But all that changed in the second half when Purdue found seams in the zone.
It would have been intersting to see the outcome of this game if Iverson and Williams hadn't found early foul trouble. Iverson only played 15 minutes. Williams played 19. That meant the Gophers had to use a smaller lineup with inexperienced guards Austin Hollins and Chip Armelin. Both freshman played fairly well, but defensively losing Iverson's ability to rebound and Williams' ability to use his length and athleticism in all sorts of roles hurts Minnesota. The zone should allow Minnesota to avoid foui trouble. On this day, thanks to a couple cheap fouls, this wasn't the case.
All in all, this isn't a horrible loss for Minnesota. It was expected. But the boys do need to grab a road win later this week when they travel to meet Tom Crean and Indiana. Bullet points after the jump.
- With Nolen out and Devoe Joseph gone, it's surprising that Maverick Ahanmisi isn't playing more. I didn't like what I saw from Mav yesterday on defense. When he came in to play at the top of the 2-3 zone, he was far less active than Hoffarber was. That also meant Hoffarber was playing on the low block, which again hurts Minnesota because he's far less able to cover that territory than Williams, Mbakwe or the others.
- If Hoffarber is going to play point guard, and I believe Tubby is right to put him there right now, we still have to get him open for shots. It was clear after a couple timeouts that Tubby tried to draw something up for him to get a look. That's great, but I think we need more half-court sets that force teams to guard Hoffarber and Mbakwe at the same time. Isolate those two on one side of the floor. Force double-teams. Or simply run set plays to get Hoffarber looks. He was 2-4 from long distance on Saturday. He should get more than 4 looks.
- Colton Iverson has been whistled a few times over his career for fouls that shouldn't have been called. That wasn't the case Saturday, though the one of the early fouls he committed was completely unnecessary. Colton has to play smarter than that.
- I'm not sure what to make of Hollins' 29 minutes. I liked his effort on defense. He dove for loose balls. He came from the weak side to steal an entry pass. But he was 1-6 from the floor on offense and was not a factor.
- Chip Armelin again showed that in an up and down game he can help. But Chip also continued to show that he's prone to throwing up wild shots. And Armelin really needs to learn to use his right hand occasionally, even if it's just for a layup.
- Rodney Williams was 0-1 from the floor in 19 minutes. His worst game in awhile. Most of his minutes went to Hollins due to foul trouble. But Williams needs to do more than that in 19 minutes.
- With losses by Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan State this week to lesser opponents than Purdue, Minnesota shouldn't worry. Let's take care of business at IU.