It wasn't pretty but once again it was a win. Gopher basketball is 5-0 after erasing a 10 point half-time deficit in the Old Spice Classic and beating DePaul 86-85. There were some real positives in this afternoon's game as well as a number of issues with fundamentals. First the good.
Trevor Mbakwe was awesome. 16 points, 12 rebounds with seven of those being offensive is his typical game. But what the one play he made in the final minute is the one play that nobody is willing to make on this team. With 13 seconds left, DePaul's possession and only leading by a point; Mbakwe stepped in and took a perfect charge as DePaul's best player, Cleveland Melvin, was driving for the go-ahead basket. He rotated in plenty of time and in spite of having four fouls he stood his ground to end the Blue Demon possession and effectively ending the game.
Rodney Williams had his best game of the year and I'm not saying that just because he led the team in scoring. He made seven of his nine shots and was always composed and took the ball to the rim when it was the right time. He didn't force any shots (maybe one ill-advised jumper) and he got himself to the line. Five rebounds, five assists and two steals made for a nice all-around game. Defensively he still had his issues both on the ball and especially on the help-side but if he can make a solid offensive contribution then you can live with some of his defensive deficiencies.
Julian Welch and Chip Armelin both played very good second halves. While Andre Hollins struggled and Maverick Ahanmisi was turning the ball over, Armelin and Welch played with a different level of confidence. Chip was playing the best defense of any Gopher on the floor and pushing the ball in transition. Welch was playing with confidence at the point and finally seemed to find a little bit of shooting. He did miss two critical free throws with 13 seconds remaining but other than that me maybe played his best half as a Gopher.
I am pleased that we are undefeated with a wins over a couple of fairly talented teams, but there are a few fundamental issues with this team that is going to keep them from having the type of success that many of us were hoping for.
Defending screens of any nature is painful to watch. It is like they have never seen this new offensive strategy that involves one guy getting in the way of the defender to create a mismatch or defensive confusion. Particularly on-the-ball screens are unguardable by the Gopher defense. Switch if you have to, but then actually switch. Or fight through it but then the guy guarding the screener has to get out of the way. But we can't get caught in la-la-land where guys get wide open threes or the screener cuts to the basked unaccounted for.
The next fundamental that is killing us is we are elongating our passes. Against the DePaul press we would throw long, ill-advised passes where the receiver would be moving away from the ball to make the pass even longer. These are easier to pick and led to a large number of our 17 turnovers.
Offensively I actually think this team is better than last year, with the exception of not having anyone who can shoot. A year ago we only had one shooter but he was dangerous and the defense had to account for him. I do think we are moving the ball quickly and with purpose. We are more often getting the ball to guys in a position where they can do something with it. And we are playing aggressive, pushing the ball in transition. The other offensive problem is we do not have anyone we can rely on from the perimeter. Today it was Williams, Welch and Armelin who did well for us. Last game it was Austin Hollins and Joe Coleman. Against Fairfield it was Andre Hollins and Mav. Somebody please step up and be consistent from one game to the next, especially at the point.
But if our defense doesn't get better it won't matter how well we move the ball or rebound. We have got to play better defensively because sometimes it is just too easy for the opposing offense. I do fear that if we don't play better tomorrow we will not come out o top over Indiana State.