The first 20 minutes Saturday in Iowa City might have been the best 20 minutes of Minnesota Golden Gophers basketball against Big Ten competition in the last decade. And since this was the first game of the '10s, maybe it's a sign of things to come!
The Gophers overwhelmed the Iowa Hawkeyes early by forcing turnover after turnover through full-court pressure and then scoring in transition. The depleted Hawkeyes had no answer for much of the first half as the Gophers built leads as large as 25. Blake Hoffarber hit from the outside in the first half when the Gophers weren't scoring in transition. Hoffarber finished with a team-high 24 points. The Gophers coasted in the second half to an 86-74 win that was more lopsided than the final score indicates.
While Hoffarber took the scoring crown for the day, the story was Minnesota's swarming team defense (or, I could argue the story was Iowa's inability to handle defensive pressure). Either way you want to look at it, Minnesota is at its best when they are able to force turnovers and score in transition. They did both in abundance Saturday afternoon and blew Iowa out of the gym as a result.
The Gophers racked up 17 steals and the Hawkeyes coughed the ball up 24 times. It was Minnesota's athleticism that completely overwhelmed the Hawkeyes. Iowa had no answer for Minnesota's length or quickness.
The full-court pressure allowed the Gophers to push the tempo early on and force the Hawkeyes into an up-and-down game. And that was the right thing to try and do, considering Iowa is much more capable of pulling an upset when a game is in the 50s.
The absence of Ralph Sampson III--who sat with a boot on his ankle--didn't seem to hurt the Gophers. It just meant that the Gophers were going to be smaller than usual. Against some teams that would definitley hurt the Gophers, but the Hawkeyes lack any real size, so in this case Minnesota's small-ball lineup only worked to highlight the athleticism difference of the two teams.
The Gophers shot 50 percent on the game, continuing their hot shooting ways. Hoffarber was red hot again, going 5-7 from three and 8-11 from the field. Damian Johnson, who added 13 points, four blocks, three steals, three assists and five rebounds, was 6-7 from the floor.
The Hawkeyes, who shot a 44 percent from the field, were led by Matt Gatens' 14 points.
* Carver Hawkeye Arena was absolutely dead. The Iowa faithful must be focused on their meaningless bowl matchup, or they're already giving up on the Todd Lickliter era.
* Devron Bostick, who has played sparingly since returning from his suspension, found his way into the rotation thanks to RSIII's injury. Bostick played pretty well. He led the team with 7 rebounds and had 8 points and 2 steals.
* Rodney Williams converted a couple of nice back-door alleyoops. He was the only Gopher, however, that didn't record a steal in the game. I still think he's learning the flow and speed of college basketball.
* Despite the lopsided win, there was some cause for concern. The Gophers had 35 rebounds. Iowa had 35 too. While Minnesota dominated in most facets of the game, this wasn't one of them.
* Minnesota's cold-shooting at the free-throw line continued. They were 8-13 for a 61 percent clip.
* While the full-court pressure was too much for Iowa to handle, I think it's safe to assume that the Gophers will not be able to bully an opposing back-court in upcoming games at Purdue, at home against Ohio State and at Michigan State. Because the Gophers were scoring so much in transition, we didn't get a chance to see them operate all that often in the half-court sets.
* Bring back Spencer Tollackson ... as a Big Ten Network announcer. He wasn't great but he is much better than Tim Doyle.
* For a period of time during the second half, I was thinking this destruction of the Hawkeyes was akin to the football Hawkeyes' destruction of Tim Brewster's Gophers at the Metrodome to end the 2008 season.