Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE
A weekend trip to the Bahamas sounds nice doesn't it? My six year old wants to go to Atlantis, so do I. But when my mind wasn't wandering to warmer climates and swimming with dolphins I was fortunate enough to watch a lot of Gopher basketball. And the more I watch this team the more excited I get, which scares me a little. I'll get to my season thoughts in a moment but let's go game by game first.
Duke, Loss 71-89
I know this sounds an apologetic and rube-like but I don't feel like this was an 18 point game, or that Duke is 18 points better. Duke was good enough to never let the Gophers go on a run to close the gap while they slowly extended their lead. I felt like this was an 11 or 12 point game that ended up worse than it really was.
There were two factors that kept Minnesota from ever closing the gap and making a legitimate run at winning this game. One, Duke was really good at controlling the tempo and never let us go on a run of more than 4 points. And two, they hit a number of contested threes on their way to 80% from behind the arc. Both are examples of why they are a top 5 team and we are not.
The thing is, this game is kind of meaningless IF the Gophers can bounce back and win their next two games. There is no shame in losing to Duke, especially when you have an opportunity to play another ranked team the next day.
The good news is that this was our best game in terms of limiting turnovers (OK the American game was better, but level of competition varied slightly). The bad news is that it was still over 20% of our possessions. I thought guys like Rodney Williams and Andre Hollins really rose to the occasion. Trevor Mbakwe had a solid game but we lacked the offense to keep up with Duke.
Memphis, Win 84-75
I got a little nervous in the 2nd half when Memphis went on an 11-2 run to go up 68-67, but Minnesota answered with a 6-0 run to retake the lead that they never relinquished. Not sure if you noticed but Andre Hollins had a decent game, and did you know that he was from Memphis? This is a team with a few five-star and four-star recruits on their roster.
Memphis is no slouch and I expect that they will rack up a LOT of wins in Conference USA, which will boost their RPI which will boost our strength of schedule which will boost our RPI. This was a good win for the Gophers.
Hollins and Williams led the way offensively in a big way. Austin Hollins is getting lost in the Andre hype but he played great defense and had a very good all-around game. I am really starting to get concerned about giving up a lot of offensive rebounds, Memphis had 19, but I'll address that further below.
Stanford, Win 66-63
I went to the SBN Stanford site to get their take on the game, but they are playing meaningful football. I don't want to hear (and I'm not) anybody complaining about that foul on Andre for two reasons. One, it was a foul and incredibly stupid on the part of the Stanford guard. Two, the previous Stanford possession was a TERRIBLE call on Mbakwe. So the refs gave Stanford two, game-tying points and then they gave us three to win it.
Finally we get a good game from Mbakwe. This was the guy we have been expecting to see in the first six games. It is a slow process to get back into freakishly-explosive form, but "In-n-Out" is back. Actually I expect the double-double machine to take a step back again but I've seen enough to be confident he'll be his usual double-double self by the Big Ten season.
Good win over a decent Pac-12 team. Yahoo!'s The Dagger predicts them to finish 4th in an improved Pac-12, and from here on out we all want them to be an NCAA Tournament team.
I love that we got that breakout weekend from Andre. We have a very solid nucleus of Rodney, In-n-Out and Dre. All three are capable of dominating the box score, usually two of them will do it and that makes for a very difficult team to defend. After that you have Austin who does everything well. For a guard he rebounds well, he is our best defender, he passes well and he shoots well. Coming into the year I was hoping we'd get 8-10 ppg from Joe Coleman with improved shooting and good defense. We are getting that. That is your core 5 and they are performing as expected or better.
Elliott is starting, for now, and is doing an OK job. He is what he is, a big kid who rebounds and defends well. He appears to know his role and does it the best he can. A big night from Nebraska will be 8 points and 8 rebounds in 17 minutes.
I have never cared for Maverick Ahanmisi, but this year he has been proving me wrong. His turnovers are down, relative to the rest of the rotation, and he is giving some very good minutes off the bench. He is a decent shooter and an OK defender. He played with no fear against Duke and gave us 10 points.
Julian Welch needs to give us more, but if my memory serves me right he started slow last year as well. More than anything we need him to shoot the ball. 14% is not good enough and his role is to give a little shot of offense off the bench, to date he is not living up to his end of the deal. He's getting minutes, he needs to be more productive.
The other surprise player this year has been Andre Ingram. Tough kid in the paint who is rebounding, defending and putting the ball in the hoop around the basket. His 10 minutes per game are all good minutes and for your 9th man he is proving to be a good depth guy in the front court.
Oto and Maurice Walker on the other hand, these guys are in danger of really losing minutes. Walker is OK for short stints but it is painfully obvious that he is really slow, both vertically and horizontally. I think he is a good shooter and a good passer but he hurts us defensively. Oto has one job...make threes and stretch the defense. He is not doing that and it doesn't look pretty...to the tune of 0-11. I'd like to see Walker's minutes go to Ingram and Oto needs to get things figured out before Big Ten play or he is in danger of not seeing the floor at all.
After this weekend I have a new concern that is greater than the turnover issues and that is interior toughness. I NEVER thought I would think that (or type it), but we got worked inside all three games. Sure, Mason Plumlee is Mason Plumlee and 20 points is not unexpected. But he had 17 rebounds. He had his way in the interior and neither Rodney's athleticism nor Trevor's physicality could do anything about it. But it didn't get any better over the next couple games. Shaq Goodwin and Tarik Black muscled up and 25 points while Memphis as a team out-rebounded the Gophers. Then we faced the Dwight Powell and watched him dominate the paint, single-handedly keeping Stanford in the game on Saturday scoring 18 second half points, 22 for the night. Stanford also clipped the Gophers for 16 offensive rebounds.
Defensive rebounding is quickly becoming a major issue for this team. We currently allow teams to get their own missed shots almost 38% of the time, that ranks 282nd nationally! Our defense has been outstanding this year but teams are still scoring points because we are giving them too many opportunities. It kept both the Memphis and Stanford games from double-digit wins and it will prevent wins at all if it doesn't get fixed soon.
To end on a positive note, I still love our defense. That Duke came really should have been much closer were it not for a few difficult shots that went in, in spite of good defense. I also really like our offensive balance. Rodney and Andre are both capable of getting that big bucket when we absolutely need it. Mbakwe is still very tough and explosive in the middle. And you'll still get double-digit nights out of Coleman and Austin every so often. Good balance, good defense. Turnovers need to come down, defensive rebounds need to go up.
As we sit today, I really like this team. I view them as undoubtedly a top 20 team, that is not a top 10 team. I am getting more and more excited for the Big Ten season when I feel like we can beat anybody, home or away. Stay healthy my friends.