Behind the blogging curtain there are often some very entertaining and occasionally even intelligent coversations that occur amongst the TDG writing staff. We share our opinions on a myriad of Gopher topics, make fun of each other and blow up each other's inboxes throughout the day. Often times these conversations and the relationships developed with the staff are more fun than front-facing articles and comment interactions.
The thought then occurred to me that maybe we can move these conversations to the front page. UStreet and I are getting ready for Gopher Basketball and the upcoming season. Why each write separate preview posts when we can write them together? We start off with the returning seniors.
GN - Ready for this, UStreet? This roster has a unique balance of experienced and talented seniors as well as an infusion of talented newcomers. Lets start by talking about the veterans. What kind of seasons do you see ahead for Andre Hollins, Elliott Eliason, Mo Walker and DeAndre Matthieu?
Ust - That's a good veteran core. I'll start with Hollins. Big Dre received some hype from the Mothership, who ranked him the 78th best player in the country. He's the major shooter from the outside and not just in terms of volume. When Hollins is successfully hitting the 3, the entirety of the court opens up for the bigs and for Mathieu's Allen Iverson impression. He is also a better driver than he's given credit for, and has a knack for drawing contact and getting to the line. My primary concern is that he's as healthy as everyone claims. Hollins's jump shot was ugly after his return because he was never at 100%, and he nearly had hip surgery in the off-season. If he is fully recovered, I think he's an All-Big 10 caliber player.
Speaking of Mathieu, I'm very excited about his potential. I alluded to it in my preview of previews, but I really think that the Gophers have the best back-court in the conference. Mathieu is faster than anyone who will defend him and can and will get to the basket with ease. With a full year and an off-season in Pitino's system, I'm confident that Mathieu will have even more of an opportunity to break out. What I want to see this year is more 3s and fewer turnovers. Lil Dre was an almost 50% shooter from behind the arc, but attempted less than 50 3s. Shoot more Dre! In addition to shooting more, Lil Dre needs to turn the ball over less. He led the conference in total turnovers last year, and for the season turned the ball over once every five possessions. That number has to decrease.
Mo Eliason is going to be fun. I'm expecting that they will complement each other throughout the season, but that Walker will emerge as the clear starter by the end. That's not necessarily a big issue because of the amount of substitution that Pitino will do throughout the game. What I'm hoping for is that Eliason picked up another post move in the off-season to complement a surprisingly not terrible 10-12 foot jump shot. EE is an excellent passer and screener on the offensive end, but over four seasons has not been particularly effective as a scoring option. I'm fine with him only scoring 6-8 points if he cleans the glass and reduces the volume of easy shots given up on the defensive end of the floor.
Walker is the opposite. He's a total beast inside, but needs to improve his defense and decision-making. I assume that Pitino will want to go zone more than he did last season, and that means Walker will have to lead the back line. On the offensive end, I don't want him to leave the block ever. I think it's fair to expect Mo to average something like 12 points and 4 rebounds.
With that said, in direct contradiction to my Walker expectation, I want EE and Walker to each take an inexplicable 3 at some point during the season because #YOLO. How about you GN, what are your expectations for the returners?
GN - I'll try to keep it brief but there are two guys I am really excited about and two guys I think will give us about what we saw last year.
Andre Hollins had a bummer of a junior season and I think he returns to being an All-Big Ten caliber player. His total points may still be about what it was a year ago but his overall leadership, willingness to get everyone involved, solid defense and ultimately his three-point shooting ability makes him one of the more complete guards in the Big Ten. I am very excited about the year he is about to have.
His back-court buddy is going to give us pretty much what we got last year. DeAndre Mathieu was a great addition to this team and I love having him run this team. But I think his scoring will be about the same, turnovers will likely be about the same as will his defense. This is not a bad thing, I think he is a dynamic and integral key to this team's success. I just don't anticipate a noticeable improvement from his junior to senior season. Last year he had the benefit of sort of sneaking up on the Big Ten. This year opposing coaches know.
In the post I also think you will see a similar season out of Mo Walker. You suggest a possible 12 pts / 4 reb type of season and desire for him to be the starter. I see 8 and 5 again with some offensive outbursts on some nights. Like Matthieu, this isn't a negative prediction I think Mo is a great asset and I love him on the offensive block.
Elliott Eliason, however I am very high on. Not for scoring but for everything else he does. His rebounding, blocks, defensive presence, passing and toughness is incredibly valuable. I want to see about 8 and 10 out of Eliason this year with 2.5 blocks.
So speaking of our senior centers, you mentioned you hope to see Walker starting. I'm a believer that Eliason should be the starter and here is why. He does so many of the little things well that compliments the rest of our starting lineup and with Hollins/Matthieu on the floor he won't be relied upon for scoring. I'd like to see him starting games and setting the tone defensively in the paint. Then when he gets into foul trouble (and he always gets into foul trouble) we bring in Mo who can provide some post scoring. Mo may also get the benefit of scoring on an opponent's back-up center.
What do you think?
Ust- If I recall correctly, my first post as an official member was 1200 words on why Eliason was the best center in the Big 10. He then promptly started fouling everybody and ceding minutes to Mo. I agree that he begins as the starter, but Walker's offense is going to be tough to keep off the floor. It may be the case that Eliason's "starter" role is similar to Osenieks's last year. Nominally he'll begin the game, but Walker will play the most minutes.
That said, there's a ton to like about EE's game. He's a great offensive rebounder even in a system where offensive rebounds are (correctly) de-emphasized. Last year he was 3rd in offensive rebound percentage and 16th all-time since 1998. He's quite possibly the toughest player on the team, and more than willing to throw down inside the post. Unfortunately, that means he fouls all the time. His per 40 minute stats is around five fouls per 40 minutes, meaning that historically he fouls out every 40 minutes.
Here's why I see Walker starting. I agree with you that he'll feast on opponent's back-ups, but if the Gophers are going to be successful this year he will need to do so against starters. I'm banking a lot on his improvement over the off-season, but last off-season he lost a small child's worth of weight and was a revelation with only one move. Think of what happens if he develops two.
Not to discount Eliason as a starter, but his game matches up extremely well against the second line or against a team that goes small. In addition, nd perhaps counter-intuitively, bringing Eliason off the bench allows him to play late in the game. Instead of picking up cheap fouls early in the game against the opponent's starters, he'll be playing against the much easier to defend second line. Last year, Eliason was fantastic in non-conference playing against weaker competition and fouled dramatically less. Consequently, he'll be around for offense-defense substitutions late, which could be the difference in one to three games this year.