Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
It seems like it was days (and several football games) ago but there is still time to put down some thoughts about Monday's win over Michigan State. Format of today's recap is going to be bullet point style.
- The Barn was AWESOME! This is what people are talking about when they pine for the days when the Barn was rocking and one of the more difficult places to play. When the Gophers are good, like they are this year, the Barn gets absolutely juiced. This was a great game, it was an outstanding atmosphere and I hope this is the norm. This fun atmosphere that ended with a win over a really good opponent is a huge recruiting tool. And the 2014 trio of Minnesota recruits were in attendance, this game had to have had an impact on those three.
I love the Gopher depth and conditioning. There are a lot of strengths to this Gopher team and a number of reasons why they were able to pull off this win, one key strength is the Gopher depth. Michigan State was tired and the Gophers were poised to close this game out going away. With that said, our five starters actually played more minutes than MSU's starting five. Conclusion? We were better conditioned. There were a couple of nice sparks from Oto and Andre Ingram but this game was won by our starting five who scored 66 of our 74 points.
- Andre Hollins is secretly our best player. Don't look now but Dre might be our #1 option ahead of Rodney William and Trevor Mbakwe. The senior forwards had great games and really this is a three-headed monster, but Hollins is our best shooter, leading scorer, leads the team in assists and is the guy to be called upon when a basket is needed in critical moments. I recognize that this team is a top 10 team right now because of our collection of talent. Rodney and Trevor are critical as is Austin's overall game, Joe's toughness and the bench. But I bet opposing coaches are most worried about Andre at this point.
- Defensive rebounding is still an issue! Michigan State is a great rebounding team, always has been under Izzo. But regardless of how good the Spartans are at rebounding 16 offensive boards is way too many. The problem is complicated and everyone needs to get better. Rebounding 61% of our opponent's misses is not good enough. If we continue to have high turnovers and give the other team second opportunities we will not win very many games.
- Love our aggressiveness on both ends. And this is what won the game for us. Michigan State took 10 more shots than we did. As I just said, if we lose the turnover battle and give up 16 offensive rebounds we are going to lose some games. Our defensive aggressiveness kept Michigan State's shooting percentage down and then our offensive aggression led to 22 free throw attempts. These two things proved to be more important than giving MSU extra possessions...this time.
- Entertaining game, great win. Another win over an RPI top 50 team to boost our own RPI. This is going to be an exciting Big Ten season for our Gophers.
- Imagine with me. A 2014 backcourt of Andre Hollins, Tyus Jones and Rashad Vaughn with Joe Coleman coming off the bench! Maybe Mbakwe can petition for a 8th (or would it be 9th) year of eligibility. Yesterday's atmosphere had to help in the recruitment of those two (plus Reid Travis). But the chants of "We Want Tyus" got me thinking. What about Vaughn? Don't show Tyus so much love that we forget about Vaughn, he needs just as much love shown.
But we have to move on to Northwestern. The Big Ten is going to be a super grind and there is no time to rest or take a breath. Northwestern is going to be one of the bottom three teams in the league but you cannot look past them.
The best thing about playing that 12/31 game is that we get quite a few days to get ready for Northwestern. We get 5 days of practice plus the gameday shoot-around to prepare. Northwestern has to play Michigan tomorrow and will get just 2 days to prepare. That is a significant advantage, especially when you are playing a team with unique systems on offense and defense.
My biggest concern with Sunday's game is scoring on that 1-3-1 defense. Gopher teams in the past have a tendency to throw lazy passes over that top guy and ignore trying to get the ball into the heart of the D with the dribble or the pass. We cannot be content to be passive up top, kill Northwestern from the inside out.
I suspect that we'll jump on them early and put them away, but much crazier things have happened.