This was a really nice game for the Golden Gophers. Minnesota dictated tempo and exerted their will on offense pounding the ball inside on their way to a 95-77 win over Western Kentucky.
Minnesota shot an unbelievably high FG% tonight, connecting on 62.5% of their FG attempts. That is really impressive but it was largely due to easy basket after easy basket. The Gophers came out in the second half with the intention of pounding the ball inside or penetrating the lane and dishing for a lot of dunks for Ralph Sampson III and Trevor Mbakwe. Heading into the game I was never worried about our offense being able to score, but we surpassed my expectations. The Hilltopper defense did little to nothing to make things difficult on the Gopher offense.
Defensively Minnesota was very solid switching up between man and a match-up zone. This kept Western Kentucky off balance and the zone kept their athletic forwards from taking advantage of our larger but slower big men. I was concerned that Steffphan Pettigrew, Sergio Kerush and Juan Pattillo would be scoring at will and racking up fouls on our front line. But Tubby was one step ahead putting us in a zone and our athletic wings made life difficult for the Hilltopper perimeter players to get open looks at threes. The Gopher defense held WKU to just 37.5% shooting for the night.
Blake Hoffarber shot poorly from behind the arc making just 2 of 7. But he did everything else. He racked up 9 assists and grabbed 4 rebounds. Blake was even making some 2-pnt field goals. On one occasion he actually pump faked from three, took a dribble inside the arc and knocked down a long two. He is moving much better this year without the ball and his ball handling is drastically improved.
Trevor Mbakwe has his third double-double in three games as a Gopher. 18 points and 10 rebounds is a great night. This guy is exactly what the Gophers needed, just imagine what he would have done for this team last year.
Ralph Sampson III scored 22 points on 9 of 13 shooting. He grabbed 8 rebounds and blocked 7 shots to go along with those point. Sampson isn't dominating possessions per se but he is making his presence known in every game this year.
Rodney Williams had his best game of the year. The sophomore shot 70% from the floor and scored 17! He was confident offensively and really got his points in the flow of the offense. We will need him to play with this confidence tomorrow night.
Slowing the Tar Heels is going to be tough for what is typically a good defensive team. I see two match-ups defensively as being absolutely critical. The first is Rodney Williams on Harrison Barnes. Williams isn't known as a shut-down forward but he'll need to get out on Barnes to not allow him open looks at three and then he needs a good slide step to make sure Barnes doesn't get a straight line to the basket on penetration. Most importantly he needs to find Barnes in transition to not allow easy baskets. The other key match-up is Al Nolen on Larry Drew II. The Tar Heel point guard really makes their transition offense go. Nolen needs to be quick to transition from offense to defense and slow down Drew ASAP. I don't think he needs to shut down Drew, he'll score some points and he'll move the ball. But if Nolen can just make him change directions one or two times that will allow our defenders to get find their man and get set defensively.
On offense I really don't know how our offense is going to score. North Carolina is stout inside and that will make our pound the rock strategy difficult. Tyler Zeller and John Henson will not be pushovers for Sampson, Iverson and Mbakwe. The other way we score is in transition but we are facing an athletic team that didn't invent transition offense but they perfected it. I will be very curious to see how we score in this game.
This should be a fun game and a very nice barometer in the early part of the season.
A quick look at the other games
North Carolina-107 over Hofstra-63 - BOX SCORE
Harrison Barnes is a
very good great freshman, wow. The true freshman is the preseason ACC player of the year and a preseason first team all-american. This was before he every played a college basketball game. Remember when I was holding out hope that Tubby would convince him to come to Minnesota? Anyway, Barnes scored 22 to lead the Tar Heals over the Pride. This one was over early and UNC cruised to a
Vanderbilt-59 over Nebraska-49 - BOX SCORE
Vandy was lead by John Jenkins and his 22 points. Jenkins shot an impressive 7/8 inside the arc and just 1/5 outside of it. I was unable watch this game but looking at the box score begs the question, was this match-up of good defensive team or was it just a display of bad offense. Nebraska did not make at three pointer all game going 0-10 and obviously finished the game with fewer than 50 points. Neither team really lit up the scoreboard but Vandy was able to come back from a 2-point half-time deficit and win by double digits. Brad Tinsley had a very Al Nolen-esque game with 7 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.
West Virginia-84 over Davidson-70 - BOX SCORE
The Mountaineers had five players in double figures and were led by Darryl Bryant's 22 points. The 6-2 Junior, known as "Truck" averaged 9.3 points per game last year as the starting point guard. This team can score on you with several different guys. Truck was the guy who got it done against Davidson when Kevin Jones was struggling from the field shooting just 4 of 11. This game was full of fouls as the teams combined for 67 fouls! Davidson lost four players to reaching the foul limit and West Virginia fouled out three guys. At one point Huggins was "red as he screamed nose-to-nose with a ref, who patiently let the coach make his profane point without another T."