Gopher Hoops has sprinted their way to a 4-0 start by dominating a few teams that they probably should have dominated and pulling away from a solid Richmond squad. The results of the games are important but more than anything else we finally have live games to do some analysis on the 2012-13 version of the Golden Gophers.
There are a few things that I love about what we have seen, there are a couple things that greatly concern me and then a couple more things that have earned an N/A grade through just four games.
The first thing that I absolutely love is our aggressive defense. We are picking teams up in the full-court and generating turnovers that are leading to points. We have averaged 20.5 points off turnovers in four games, generating 16.5 turnovers per game and if you like efficiency stats we are turning over our opponent on just under 25% of their possessions. This has been great, but it isn't just the fact that we are using our athleticism to force turnovers in the full-court. When the other team gets into the half-court we are applying great pressure and making possessions incredibly difficult on our opponents. Our effective defensive FG% currently ranks 2nd in the nation! Overall teams are shooting just 28.6% from the floor against the Gopher defense. This is how you win big games and this is how you move up the conference standings. The team defense has been more than a pleasant surprise. I knew they were capable of playing good D, but this is going to be one of the best defenses in the Big Ten.
What else do I love? I love how well Rodney Williams is playing. It is early but he is playing within himself and the offense. He is a calming influence and a leader on the floor. And his early numbers are supporting the notion that he is having (and will continue to have) an outstanding season. He is shooting over 73% from the floor. This won't last but it is showing a maturity in his shot selection and his understanding of the offense to know when to score and when to move the ball. And he is up in points, rebounds, assists and steals while playing fewer minutes. Obviously the opponents are not Big Ten opponents but he really does look like a more mature and confident player out there. Love what I'm seeing from Rodney.
I already told you that I love our aggressive defense but I also love our aggressive offense. I'm not sure if you've noticed or not but we transition from defense to offense quicker than any Gopher team I can remember. Watch closely how when we get a deflection or a turnover or even after a made basket, we have five guys who immediately are looking to get down the floor and score. Some teams take second to make this mental and physical transition, the Gophers do it instantly. This is a subtle but significant change from previous seasons. This also leads to increased turnovers (which I don't love), but you might have to take the bad with the good in this case.
Lastly, I love our guard play. Joe Coleman, Austin Hollins and Andre Hollins are having very good seasons thus far. Austin is just solid and steady at everything. Andre started slower in the first two games but lately he has been what we saw at the end of last season. Joe is such a physical player who really excels at getting into the lane and drawing fouls. He has improved his jump shot a little bit too. In my backcourt preview I mentioned that this group is what will really take us from a good to very good team. We know what we'll get from Mbakwe and Williams, our guards need to be the ones to give us depth and balanced scoring.
So with all of that said, what don't I like? Two things really. Shooting and turnovers. Some of the turnovers I can live with. Pushing the ball up the floor for transition baskets has resulted in a few overly-aggressive passes that float out of bounds or ricochet off a finger-tip and out of bounds. But careless turnovers need to stop. We currently rank 238th nationally in turnover percentage and that won't get better when we face Big Ten defenses. This needs to stop.
Shooting has also not been very pretty and that has been against some weaker defenses. Richmond and Tennessee State play an aggressive defense but there is no excuse for shooting 4/22 against American. It is getting better, we are currently shooting 32.3% from behind the arc, but if this doesn't improve expect to see a lot of packed in zones to take away our big men and our penetration. I do believe that we are a decent shooting team. Andre Hollins is better than a 3/15 shooter, Julian Welch is going to shoot better than 20% from three and I don't think Oto will continue to shoot o-fer from behind the arc all season. This should get better but don't expect teams to come out trying to take this aspect away from our offense.
Finally I want to bring up Trevor Mbakwe. His results have been mixed so far but I'm actually really encouraged. He has yet to crack double-digit points and is averaging only 6 rebounds per game. But his minutes were purposefully limited in the first few games and the Richmond game was a showcase that he does still have explosiveness and is ready for more minutes. Against teams like American and Toledo he didn't need to play more than his 14 minutes and why put more wear and tear on his body if you don't have to. I have seen nothing that leads me to believe we won't still see regular double-doubles from Mbakwe in January, February and deep into March.
This team is pretty good, Gopher fans. Better than even I was anticipating. I am in love with their defense and aggressive offense. This team is capable of beating anyone and they should back down from no one, including the Dookies. We are not a perfect team but we have good depth, we play great defense, we rebound well and we have several guys who can carry us offensively. I am very excited for better competition and the Big Tens season can't get here soon enough.