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The Point Guard Conundrum and What Can We Learn From the 2010-11 Gopher Backcourt

The backcourt, specifically point guard, was a significant issue for the 2010-11 Gopher Hoops squad. We started the season with a senior known as a fabulous defender at the point who was on pace to finish his career at or very near the top of the Gopher record book in steals and assists. Al Nolen was the one who got the Gophers into their offense whether that was pushing the ball on a turnover or missed shot, or setting up the half-court offense and often being the one guy who could use penetration to create offense for teammates. We also started the season with a combo guard who carried the Gopher offensive load down the stretch in the 2009-10 season who was expected to be the perimeter scoring threat that opponents had to account for. Devoe Joseph was the one guy capable of creating his own offense, was usually the guy taking the last shot when necessary and if needed was capable of playing the point.

But Nolen he went down to injury and Joseph left town, soon thereafter any hopes of a post season soon followed. If there is any silver lining to the season that was, it is that Tubby learned a valuable lesson about getting stuck without a point guard or viable scoring options. We entered the season thin at the position and eventually we were caught with out pants down.

Not having a reliable option at point to run the offense was a significant part of the problem and we'll take a look at that later. The secondary problem to not having a reliable backup plan was not having any scorers on the perimeter. Nolen was not a scorer but he was one capable of setting up others to score and he was capable of getting past his defender and into the lane. Devoe Joseph transferring hurt our perimeter scoring as much, if not more than losing Nolen's points. This from Myron Medcalf's interview with Tubby...

"Obviously, we need to score better. Without Devoe [Joseph] and without Al [Nolen}, you really don’t have the facilitators. Devoe was a guy who could score and facilitate. Al was a guy who could facilitate but he was really starting to score. He had scored in double figures in four straight games until he broke his foot. We only averaged about 64, 65 points a game. We want to score more, so if that means playing faster … [Getting] better offensive players, that’s the first thing."

So Tubby is bringing in some perimeter help. Julian Welch, Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman all are guys who fit the mold of guards who can play faster and bring more skilled offensive talent than we currently have on the roster. All three are athletic guards, all three have been described as scorers and combined they'll give us some depth and "skill diversity" in the backcourt.

I fully expect that we will see more pressing than we did this past season and the result of that should be more transitions scoring. Points off turnovers was a significant piece of our scoring load in prior seasons but with the loss of guys like Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson to graduation and then the loss of Nolen to injury we became far to pedestrian to keep up with Big Ten teams in the full court. Not to mention that our bench was that much shorter and we didn't have the stamina to employ this defensive tactic to generate some offense.

The three new guards should give us speed and some scoring ability. What they do not provide is an answer at point guard. Welch and Hollins have both been told they'll be our primary options at point, but neither are true point guards who have years of experience running offenses. Welch spent part of this past season on his JUCO team running point until this coach decided his scoring from the off guard was more valuable. Hollins spent his senior season running the point and he did manage to win the Tennessee Mr. Basketball award but prior to this year he was primarily a shooting guard.

I know that many of us want to believe that either Welch or Hollins (or both) is going to be the answer at point. But I just have no reason to believe that it is going to happen. I think they'll be capable but not at their best when running the point in what has traditionally been a 1-guard offense. Welch moved back to SG in the middle of their season last year and Hollins was playing point for the first time against high school opponents, not seasoned Big Ten guards. I believe that both are "capable" but that doesn't mean point is where they are best suited to maximize their talent and help the Golden Gophers win. A good example of this is Devoe Joseph who was also "capable" of running the point but that is not where he is best and we were better off when he was able to play the role of a scoring guard.

So what is Tubby going to do? We have more talent in the backcourt, we have more depth but we still don't have a solid starting point guard. Well...

"We’re thinking about going to a two-guard offense instead. But it’s hard to do in the middle of the season. You don’t have to enter the ball to the wing, you just pass it to [a player such as] Rodney [Williams] up top, play a high-post type offense. We’re going to dabble in some of that as well to take some of the pressure off the point guard."

I like it. I like it alot. This is coaching and finding ways to best utilize and maximize your talent.

Having both Andre Hollins and Welch on the floor together as duo-points who can score or duo-scoring guards who can handle the ball gives us options. If our opponent has a dyno defensive guard who is assigned to our point, then let the other guy bring the ball up. I'm looking forward to watching them play off each other and I like what this does for the rest of our lineup. There will be different ways that we get into this offense and obviously different set plays we'll run off it but I like that at a very simplistic level this puts some of our more talented players in the best position to succeed.

Ralph Sampson is not a gifted back-to-the-basket center, but he does have a nice jumpshot from inside the arc. Our 2-guard offense allows him to roam in the high post where defenders will have to guard him or he'll hit that 16 ft jumper. And then they come to guard him, he can dump the ball into Mbakwe in the post. And since we have a 2-guard offense with Sampson in the post, Mbakwe should have a lot more room to operate in the post. Our two points will be up high, making helpside defense to the post very difficult to pull off. And we'll have one shooter (Rodney Williams and/or Oto Osenicks) on the wing or along the baseline. The defender of this baseline shooter will have to decide if he wants to guard the shooter or help in the post.

Something like this to get the ball to Mbakwe in the post where he can score or kick it wide to Hollins for an open three.

This is very simplistic but on the surface I like this a lot. Pulling a post out higher will reduce penetration lanes from the top of they key but it will open up baseline penetration (HELLO Rodney Williams!) and as mentioned it should also really open up the post and backside shooting opportunities.

Is this going to mean 80 points per game next year? No. Are we going to be the most efficient scoring team in the Big Ten? No. But I do believe this offense gives us a chance to score because we are putting our best players in their best position to succeed AND (this is important) we are putting defenses in position where they have to often make a decision. Stay on my guy or leave him open to go help someone else. Assuming Tubby actually goes forward with installing a 2-guard offense. Assuming we improve our team shooting with an offseason of shooting. And assuming we learn to execute I think we'll see a more polished offense next year.