Your 2010 Honda Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament Champs are the Golden Gophers of Minnesota.
"They earned it beating Western Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia. A good chance all three of the teams they beat to win this thing all go to the NCAA Tournament." John Sciambi, ESPN play-by-play announcer, following the Gopher victory.
This was a really nice set of wins. After beating a couple solid mid-majors we followed that up with three nice wins in Puerto Rico. The first was obviously another mid-major of the same ilk as Siena and Wofford. But we then beat a couple very good ACC and Big East teams. North Carolina is trying to rebound from an NIT season last year and West Virginia is trying to find their identity after losing a couple great players following their Final Four run a year ago.
The West Virginia game was a slugfest and for a long stretch in the second half each possession resulted in free throws. For quite a while the game ground to a screeching halt. Part of that was due to physical play and part was due to inconsistent officiating.
The first several minutes was all
West Virginia Casey Mitchell. Regardless of who was guarding him, he was unstoppable. He scored 16 of West Virginia's first 20 points and ended the first half with 18. Mitchell ended with 27 points, the only Mountaineer in double-figures.
Minnesota was led by Al Nolen tonight. Nolen controlled the tempo on both ends of the floor and when it was needed most he was able to get to the lane and get to the free throw line where he hit 11 of 12. Nolen led the Gophers with 17 points. Hoffarber's 12 points, all in the second half, were huge. Mbakwe missed a double-double tonight but his dominance in the paint was crucial. Ralph Sampson had his worst game of the year with only 2 points but Colton Iverson stepped up with 15 points and 8 rebounds.
The point is that this team has shown in Puerto Rico and in the first two games that this is a team effort each and every night on the floor. We don't have a Casey Mitchel who will score 31 and 27 in consecutive games, what we have is a team who shoots well, rebounds well, defends well and plays together. This team is fun to watch.
So winning this tournament was nice, but what does it all mean?
1 -First of all this was great for our Tournament resume. I think we are all convinced that this team is going to be in the NCAA's but these wins go a long way towards seeding.
2 - We can play with anybody. I don't believe that we are not a top 10 team but we can beat one. As stated this team plays well together and does the things necessary to win. We don't have an All-American but we are talented and we are deep.
3 - We beat a couple good teams and we've done it with arguably our best player not in uniform. I don't believe Devoe Joseph is our best player, but one could make that case. Clearly he adds depth that our backcourt is currently missing and he certainly gives us a legit scoring threat that we are missing. On nights when Hoffarber isn't hitting we need a guy like Joseph who can pick up the slack. During the last few minutes it would have been really nice to have Joseph on the floor instead of Chip Armelin.
4 - The Big Ten is good, but so are we. We don't have much to look forward to in the non-conference season but the Big Ten season is going to be a LOT of fun.