Minnesota defeated North Carolina A&T on Friday 86-67 at Williams Arena. With the win, the Gophers improved to 10-2 on the season. In addition, Richard Pitino now has 100 wins at Minnesota. Jordan Murphy led all scorers with 30 points.
We did not run this article on Saturday because beating North Carolina A&T was a foregone conclusion. The Gophers had a size advantage at every position and a fairly substantial talent advantage. That meant even when the Gophers were down 10 points early, there was never any real cause for concern that an upset was in the making. Whenever it was required, the Gophers could throw the ball inside and get a basket, and most of the time get a basket off a miss. Minnesota had an offensive rebound percentage of 45%, which would be insane against a team with any inside presence to speak of whatsoever.
Given that, let’s talk about the elephant in the room for the Gophers as they enter Big Ten play. (You’ll excuse us if we feel the same way about Mount St. Mary’s that we did about North Carolina A&T). Minnesota is having an extended stretch run of putrid shooting from outside. Over the last five games, Minnesota is shooting 16-73 or 22% from behind the three point line. Gabe Kalsheur and Dupree McBrayer, the two likely shooters, have accounted for much of that slump. McBrayer’s shooting woes have been constant since the second game of the season, and while there is an obvious and completely justifiable reason for why McBrayer has not been excellent on the court, this continued run is looking more like that the norm than an aberration. Kalscheur continues to get and take good shots, but is dealing with a similarly hellish slump.
Why does this matter? Richard Pitino’s offense, be it man or zone, is deeply in need of at least one consistent outside threat. In a man to man situation, defenders are purposely sagging off shooters to prevent dribble penetration. Weak side defenders often double in the post or step to drivers because there is little fear of giving up a corner three. Ball reversals, a staple of the motion sets, get bogged down because defenders do not take the threat of a three point shoot seriously and so have plenty of time to recover. In match up zones, defenses are packing the paint to prevent dribble penetration. Minnesota often is slow to react on hitting flashes into the high low, and I remain confused why Amir Coffey is not planted at the nail, but the primary difficulty in breaking down the zone is the failure to hit shots. Note that this doesn’t mean that the Gophers are incapable of defeating zones. Even in the Ohio State game, the Gophers are able to get open looks. The problem is the inability to execute.
If the Gophers, specifically McBrayer and Kalscheur can return to their expected form, Minnesota’s inside game will become deadly. Jordan Murphy is practically unguardable one on one in the college game, and Daniel Oturu has continued to make improvement on the offensive end. We await the return of Eric Curry, but rest assured that Curry having freedom to work will be a boon to his game.
Isaiah Washington had another putrid shooting night, but also had nine assists and three turnovers. In the latest bit of body language reading, an inexact science to say the least, Washington spent most of the second half smiling and being a strong floor leader. It’s unclear to me if Washington can ever be a score first point guard, but he is quite a talented pass first point guard when he chooses.
Amir Coffey was played sparingly in the second half because of a hip pointer issue. I will gladly take a hip pointer issue for the rest of my life if I’m able to dunk like Coffey does at the 3:43 mark.