Gopher basketball suffered maybe their most devastating injury in school history and quickly bounced back with a scrappy effort and an improbable win over their ACC opponent, Virginia Tech. Not many thought this was going to happen but this was a very good effort by the Gophers. Julian Welch and Rodney Williams combined to score 21 of the team's 33 second half points and led the offensive charge to beat the Hokies. Elliott Eliason played his part defending the paint while contributing 8 points and 7 rebounds.
I said before the game that this game has very little to do with Virginia Tech and really the outcome was almost a secondary concern. There were a lot of questions coming into the game and at least for one night I think I learned a few things about the Gopher basketball team today.
1 - Elliott Eliason is undoubtedly our best defensive player. He isn't all-Big Ten defensively but he made a difference tonight and he did it without leaving his feet trying to block shots. I desperately wish we had a perimeter player or two who could play some D but I fear Eliason is the best we have.
2 - Defensively we still stink as a team. Tonight we played better on-the-ball defense but on the helpside we still are terrible. We sit too deep, we react too slow when the ball moves and because of that we don't get to shooters.
3 - Julian Welch should be playing point guard, with Andre Hollins playing off-guard. This one maybe wasn't exactly obvious from tonight's game anymore than any other game. But Welch just looks comfortable with the ball, he can penetrate while controlling his dribble and he still sees the floor. Certainly we need him as a scorer but I fear Tubby is making an incorrect PG decision again. Andre wasn't bad but I think Julian would run our offense better AND still be able to get his points.
4 - I still think what we saw tonight from Chip Armelin is fools gold. I know you got 9 points out of him tonight but it isn't ever going to be consistent. He is an OK shooter, he is an OK defender but he is willing to take some shots, which some guys are reluctant to do. He is a nice spark off the bench but please don't get too excited about his 9 points tonight.
I know that Rodney Williams and Julian Welch led the team offensively and they both played very well but for my money Elliott Eliason was the player of the game.
With a derth available big men, Elliott Eliason took advantage of the playing time opportunity. The big man played with some passion, grabbed seven rebounds, scored a few buckets in the paint, played all 20 minutes of the 2nd half (technically he sat for 8.5 seconds but that is close enough) and defended the lane like a big-man should. He didn't lead the team in scoring and he isn't filling the shoes of Mbakwe, but he is the one guy played like he was taking advantage of his opportunity. But the best thing he added to the game was his interior defense. Eliason defended the post by keeping himself between his man and the basket making his guy shoot over him, which is not easy to do. When guards penetrated the lane, Eliason was there to slow them down. He wasn't perfect but he looked the part of a solid big man tonight who will be capable of anchoring the post in Big Ten play.
I don't want to take too much away from Rodney, he too played a very good game (on the offensive end). He certainly looked as though he was stepping up to try and lead his team. Rodney also played all 20 minutes of the second half and down the stretch he was the focal point of the offense posting his man up on most possessions. His offense was crucial tonight and it will be for the rest of the season if we are to win many more games. He still struggles mightily on the other end of the floor. Most nights his offense will outweigh his lack of defense and tonight certainly qualifies as one of those nights. He is a mature kid who is so gifted athletically. He is the new focal point of the team.
This game was a very nice win for the Gophers but I hope we don't get too excited by this one. Virginia Tech is an OK team who made a lot of mistakes tonight. And it should be noted that last year we beat Northwestern by 11 in the first game without Al Nolen. But it didn't take long for the book to be written about how to beat the Gophers. This team still has a long ways to go. It isn't like me to put a wet blanked on a win but we will need more, fortunately we have five more games to work things out before the Big Ten games.
I may get a little big technical here digging into some Xs and Os but offensively I was very curious what the Gophers were going to run. They actually ran a few different looks offenses, none of which were new but I was just watching more intently tonight.
They started both halves with a four-out look and a lot perimeter screens (both on the ball and away from the ball). The screens were primarily set by Elliason and whoever passed the ball from the top of the key would screen away on the perimeter. This isn't a new offense, over the last few years we have seen a ton of great, high-low looks and open Sampson jumpers from the top of the key area. Eliason did set some nice screens forcing Virginia Tech to switch and give us some favorable matchups. This seems to be the primary offense from which they run set plays and then can still get into their offense.
Near the middle of the first half they were running a flex-cut, motion offense where upon ball reversal a screen is set at the opposite block for a cutter coming across the lane. I am personally a fan of this offense. At this level it is great to run for a stretch of a few minutes to get the defense looking away from the ball thinking only about the coming screen and not giving up a lay-up. But you need to switch out of it after using for a change of pace offense.
In the last few minutes of the first half then went with a 3-out, 2-in offense with Ingram and Rodney on the extended blocks with three guards in motion looking for penetration and dump opportunities. This offense led to a couple of open threes on penetration with a kick-out to weak side when the defense collapsed. But overall I'm not sure this is a great set for us right now. If our guards were more dangerous putting the ball on the floor, maybe, but I'm not confident enough in their ball-handling and decision making yet.
Our main set (the first one mentioned above) worked very well for us in the second half. Eliason on the top of the key setting great screens and Rodney posting up was a nice set that caused problems for Virginia Tech. Assuming Rodney can be a threat in the post this may open things up for someone to start making some threes. This offense works well for us and it will be interesting to see how it flows when Ralph comes back.