Unsurprisingly, Minnesota played much better against Western Kentucky than against Louisville. The Gophers beat the Hilltoppers 76-54 through a combination of tenacious defense and 3-point shooting.
Normalizing to 100 possessions, Minnesota held Western Kentucky to .667 points per possession. Pitino said that he thought it was the best defensive effort since he arrived in Minneapolis. The Gophers forced Western Kentucky out of their offense early, were aggressive, and recovered well on second rotations to close out on open shooters.
The Gophers had 17 steals in the game, led by DeAndre Mathieu with 5. Honey Gopher was all over the court on Tuesday, getting in passing lanes and making Western Kentucky's guards miserable. Minnesota's coaching staff places a premium on steals and deflections (Some member of the coaching staff tracks them in real time to show during stoppages) because they believe that steals are a proxy for effort. Lots of steals and deflections can also lead to the opponent speeding up and getting out of rhythm, which likely happened to Western Kentucky late in the first half.
As can be seen by the chart above, Minnesota led from the beginning of the game and never trailed. The Gophers blew open the game and led by as many as 25 points. This was in large part because of transition opportunities. The table below shows a shot breakdown by type and the respective eFG%.
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Transition attempts accounted for a third of Minnesota's total shots. That's exactly how Pitino would like his team to play. The Gophers used their defense to generate opportunities for the offense, though in the future the eFG% should be higher. Minnesota's eFG% on all shot types was hurt somewhat during garbage time when the team extended its bench and moved out of its offense. The Gophers also missed some bunnies on the break early in the game, which drove down their effectiveness in transition.
The team's eFG% was also not helped by Carlos Morris going full chucker sometime in the second half. I like Morris's aggressiveness, but Pitino is correct that he needs to channel that towards the basket instead of pulling up to take bad long 2s. Morris is not anywhere near a poor man's Dirk Nowitzki and Squirrel is too athletic to settle for inefficient shots.
DeAndre Mathieu is unequivocally the barometer for the success of the team. When he is playing well, as he was on Tuesday, the Gophers are a formidable team. When he's not, the Gophers will struggle. Mathieu finished with 11 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 fouls and 1 turnover (that was actually a teammate's mistake) in 29 minutes. Those two fouls meant that Mathieu was able to be on the court during critical runs. He was 1-3 on 3-point attempts, but it's encouraging to see him confidently take them off picks.
Nate Mason has been impressive through two games. The true freshman (and valedictorian of his high school class, a fact I expect will be brought up every game) has done a great job being efficient at the point guard spot. On Tuesday, he had 10 points (4-5 shooting) that included a very confident heat check from 24 feet. Mason added 5 rebound, a steal, a block, and an assist to round out his stat line. He also missed his only free throw attempt. Small sample size alert, but Mason looks less comfortable taking a 15 foot set shot than he does taking a 24 foot heat check.
Mo Walker was much better in the second half when he realized that he could just make a power move to the basket. I like his post game and he is trying to integrate another move into his arsenal (a fade away hook shot with some pretty footwork), but this is the type of game where I'd like him to just go up strong through contact without wasting any time.
Charles Buggs's jumper looks great, and I have no problem with him going full chucker in his limited minutes.