I know this was discussed in the Nugz below, but I had a few other thoughts that I took away from attending the 76 Classic in Anaheim. I think it's safe to say most Gophers fans left the tournament disappointed. After a tremendous performance against Butler, the Gophers pretty much fell flat.
Here are some thoughts.
Fans: The Minnesota fans deserve tremendous praise for showing up in large numbers. Minnesota probably had the largest contingent of fans at the tournament--Butler might have come close. The fanbase definitely traveled well. I'm starting out with that positive, because the rest of this will be relatively critical.
2/3 zone: Early on against Portland, the coaching staff for the Pilots had their team switching back and forth between a 2/3 zone and a man to man defense. The Gophers seemingly could never solve either, but it's the 2/3 zone difficulty that was the most alarming. If you watched many of Minnesota's possessions against the zone, you'd notice that the team seemed to have no idea what to do. Minnesota's center and power forward were positioned most of the time down on the blocks with the two guards and the small forward stationed at the top of the key or on the wings. There was rarely an attempt to get the ball into the middle of the zone to force the defenders to collapse. Instead, the Gophers swung the ball around the perimeter. And even when they did that, the passing was relatively non-chalant.
In my opinion, you need to do two things against a 2/3 zone: 1) Get the ball into the middle and 2) move the ball crisply and efficiently in order to make the defense move. The Gophers did neither.
And while the Pilots were switching from a 2/3 back to a man defense and then back again, the Gophers' players continuously failed to recognize what defense they were playing against.
To me, the failure against this 2/3 zone rests mostly on the coaching staff. I can't tell you how many times I turned to my buddy and asked if he thought the Gophers even had a 2/3 offense to use. It didn't look like it.
Westbrook/Nolen benching: Everyone here knows the duo was benched for the first half of the third place game against Texas A&M. Rumors around the arena mostly hit on Tubby Smith's desire to get the ball inside more often and the two guards' unwillingness to do so. What those watching on TV probably couldn't see is that during the entire first half against the Aggies, Nolen and Westbrook sat on the end of the bench looking entirely dejected. They looked ambivalent during huddles and timeouts. Now, while I take issue with how Nolen and Westbrook seemed to be handling the benching, it doesn't surprise me that there would be some concern with the offensive game plan the Gophers are putting forward. We're now in the third year of the Tubby-era and the Gophers continue to lack any continuity on offense or an identity altogether.
Entry Passes: If the reason for the benching was indeed related to a reluctance or inability for Nolen and Westbrook to get the ball inside, it's my belief that the coaching staff shares some blame. Other than Blake Hoffarber, can anyone here name a wing player on this team that is consistently capable of throwing an entry pass? The Gophers are abysmal at this and have been for two years. If Tubby believes that the Gophers need to play inside-out basketball, then his coaching staff really needs to teach these kids how to feed the post. Because at this point, they don't know how.
The team's best point guard: It was a point of discussion below and will likely be all season. Who is this team's best point guard? From my perspective, judging from this weekend, it's hands down Devoe Joseph. Many of you are spot on when you say Nolen is a great defender. Indeed he is. But Joseph isn't a liability on defense and when he was orchestrating the offense the Gophers did a number of things much better. They were able to get the ball inside. They moved without the ball significantly better and the offense against man defenses actually had some success. With Nolen on the court the offense at many points became incredibly stagnant unless Nolen was driving to the basket. Further, with Joseph leading the offense, all of a sudden the point guard can be a threat from outside offensively. If the Gophers are going to run a high pick and roll offense, then two things are needed from a point guard: 1) an ability to hit the open jumper and 2) an ability to feed the ball down low. Joseph does both far better than Nolen.
RSIII: Some of the talk over the last year-plus about RSIII "looking" disinterested has seemed silly. I don't care how he looks as long as he plays hard. Well, this weekend there were a number of times when RSIII was simply out-hustled for loose balls. Against Portland and the Aggies the Gophers as a team were out-hustled. RSIII certainly wasn't the only culprit, but his hesitance was obvious. It can't be about lighting a fire under RSIII anymore. I'm sure the coaching staff has tried that. RSIII simply needs to find the want-to necessary to play at this level. Right now he doesn't seem to have it.
"Tenacious" man defense: The talking point since Tubby Smith arrived was that the Gophers play a tenacious man-to-man defense. Well, in Anaheim, with the possible exception of the game against Butler, the Gophers' defense was anything but tenacious. If you want to watch a team that really does know how to swarm on defense, check out Bob Huggins' Mountaineers. West Virginia did to Portland exactly what we could have. They used superior athleticism and size to contest every shot. They beat Portland to loose balls, disrupted passing lanes and played help-side defense. Against the Gophers, Portland was able to consistently beat us off the dribble. They were able to get far too many open perimeter shots. There is absolutely no excuse for the Gophers to allow an inferior team athletically to consistently beat its "tenacious" man defense.
Who are the Gophers: It was sort of amusing to see the reaction of Minnesota fans after the win against Butler. There was talk of going to the Great 8. I was skeptical when hearing these fans because all I've seen through the first handful of games is the same team we saw last year that is simply one year older. When the team gets hot and hits its shots, it can probably play with most teams. But most of the time the Gophers are stagnant on offense, have no true scorer and play good but not great team defense. Unless Royce White and Trevor Mbakwe come back and have a meaningful impact, this Minnesota team is a middle-of-the-road major conference team.