Sorry to dampen your good cheer and flatten your egg nog, but Golden Gopher Nation needs a a visit from the Grinch. We need a reality check, if you will.
You see, we've been blessed with gifts for the past two months. Tubby Smith's men's basketball team has an unblemished record. They've done some good things including grabbing a neutral court win over a talented Louisville team. They've grown as a team on the defensive end of the floor. And some individuals--Al Nolen for starters--have taken strides.
But most of us have been unwilling, perhaps because we're in the season of positivity, to judge the Golden Gophers with any sort of rationality. We see 11-0. We see Tubby Smith. We see a national ranking. We overlook a nailbiter at Colorado State. We find ways to justify a poor performance against Southeastern Louisiana.
So, instead of practicing Minnesota Nice, I thought I'd use this space on Christmas to play the Grinch. Let me tell you what ails our unbeaten Gophers, and why they aren't quite sliced bread.
- Lawrence Westbrook, the junior guard who was supposed to lead this team offensively, hasn't lived up to the hype. Sure, he led the team on offense against SE Louisiana, but where has he ever been in big games? I still have faith in LDub, but the young man needs to step up in a big way if the Gophers are going to contend in the conference or make the NCAAs in a much improved conference.
- Our strength of schedule is atrocious and hasn't allowed us a true look to the type of team we have. We should remember this as we recalibrate our expectations.
- Ralph Sampson III's offensive game is not pretty. He'll grow in this area no doubt, but at the moment he can't be trusted in the low post.
- Speaking of the post play, I'm not sure the Gophers have any trusted post player who can score with his back to the basket. Colt 45 has had some nice moments. RSIII and Jon Williams have made a couple nice moves too. But none of the three allow a real inside-outside game.
- The other three members of Tubby's 2008 recruiting class have all not met expectations. Many thought Devron Bostick would lead this team in scoring. He's hardly playing. Devoe Joseph is growing into a back-up point guard role, but he's not the pure-scoring two-guard many thought he would be. Paul Carter has looked athletic and capable, but has been set back by injuries.
- I compare Jeff Hagen's foot speed favorably to Jamal Abu-Shamala's.
- The team as a whole has no offensive identity. When Blake Hoffarber is lighting it up, we're fine. When Damian Johnson is using his athleticism to score in myriad ways, we're fine. When Al Nolen is penetrating (under control) and getting to the line, we're fine. All of the above happens too infrequently, and rarely at the same time.
As we approach Big Ten season and two ranked teams--Michigan State and Ohio State--come to The Barn to begin the conference slate, let's remember that our team has overcome considerable deficiencies to get to where it's at.
On the bright side, that means that we've won games despite not playing great basketball.
~~~~ The Grinch