You are probably too late to get in on #WallStreetBets action. But what kind of action can we get on Gopher hoops this year?
If you were buying this team in early November, you are seeing some great returns on this team. Once predicted to finish around 12th in the Big Ten, now sitting squarely in the middle, having beat 4 of the top 5 teams in the standings. This Gopher hoops team is already surpassing analyst predictions by a wide margin.
To be honest, I cannot remember a Gopher season where my thoughts on this particular team have changed so much throughout the season. I was optimistic in the preseason, I really was. Then I watched them in the non-conference part of the schedule and was really unimpressed, thinking they stood very little chance in most of their Big Ten games. Then they not only survived, but thrived in their brutal 9-game stretch. And I thought, maybe this team is coming together and is going to be pretty good! And now they are in the midst of a 1-4 stretch, looking quite bad in their most recent two games.
So what do we make of this team? I don’t really know, but here is what I’m buying and selling at this moment.
Liam Robbins - The Drake transfer started the season looking very much like a tall center who was really going to struggle against Big Ten competition. His first four games he averaged 8.5 points per game and was fouling at an alarming rate. Since then, starting with the Boston College game, he’s averaging 15 and has earned a number of awards for dominant weekly performances. Is he Luka Garza? No, but he’s quickly establishing himself as the focal point of the Gopher offense and one of the better centers in the Big Ten. Don’t be surprised if he ends up 3rd team All-Big Ten at the end of the season. I’m buying Robbins.
Associate Head Coach Ed Conroy - Following up the Robbins praise, I give a lot of credit for his development to Coach Conroy. Really, since he joined the staff, I have been very impressed with his big man development. Daniel Oturu’s development from his FR to SO year was remarkable, and got him drafted. I’m very curious to see how Sam Freeman and Martice Mitchell progress under Conroy.
NCAA Tournament - This team is still in great position to make the NCAA Tournament. Sure, they have played poorly in 3 of their last 4 halves, but their resume is very strong at this point. And as I point out seemingly every year, it isn’t just about if we play poorly. Other teams who are currently not in as strong of a position as we are would have to play better. More specifically, the Gophers are currently considered a solid 7-seed. According to BracketMatrix, there are 20 other at-large teams that are currently IN but still sit behind the Gophers. So if we struggle to finish out the season, 21 teams currently below us would have to play better. If we continue to struggle, we will certainly tumble towards the bubble. But to fall all the way off, it would take a pretty impressive collapse. Which is possible, don’t get me wrong, but I’m still bullish on them getting in.
Jamal Mashburn Jr. - I’m really starting to like this freshman and he seems to be getting more comfortable on the floor. Is he playing at an an elite level? No, but I’m buying low on this one.
Brandon Johnson - exactly what this team needed at PF this year. Even if you ignore the Iowa game where Johnson was playing out of his mind, he has been incredibly valuable in the Big Ten season.
Gabe Kalscheur - Kalscheur’s 3-point percentage gets a lot of discussion. Our comment sections, message boards and every TV broadcast talks about his putrid shooting percentage from three. But it is nice to see that it has improved from 16% to now 23%. But Kalscheur does so much for this team besides the potential of making a lot of threes. He is really quite good at getting to the paint and scoring (or at least making a good decision with the ball). His defense, particularly on the ball, is elite. Seriously one of the best perimeter defenders in the Big Ten. So he’s not making threes, despite showing in the past that he can. But he adds value to this team, even when his shot isn’t falling.
Tre Williams - I was very close to putting Williams in the Sell section. But then he started at Purdue and I thought he played better than he has most of the season. To be honest, I really had high expectations for Williams coming into this season, but he has really not shown much improvement from his freshman season. He makes good decisions, his defense is solid and he’s capable of making threes. I definitely am a fan of Williams starting.
Richard Pitino - much like how my feelings on this particular team has changed dramatically in the last couple months, so too have my feelings on Pitino. I have warmed up my coaching candidate posts more than once over his career on the Gopher bench, and he always manages to do enough to stick around. From one perspective, this might be his best coaching job in his 8 years. From another, the consistent inconsistency is maddening. I’m still holding, but how this season finishes is going to be pretty significant for the future of the program.
Marcus Carr at Home - The leader of this team has been dynamic and a lot of fun to watch...at home.
Both Gach - Since the start of the Big Ten season he has essentially been on the opposite trajectory of Robbins, having done very little in the Big Ten. Certainly contributed in the Iowa loss and the Ohio State win. But for being the team’s 3rd leading scorer, he has far too many single digit scoring games (7 of last 9 games) and scoring 2 or less in 4 conference games. He has the tools to do much more on offense and could be a real contributor. And we haven’t talked much about just how poorly he plays defense. In the Big Ten, Gach has been an non-factor.
Isaiah Ihnen - Much like Williams, I really expected Ihnen to dramatically improve this year. Instead he has worst offender for taking bad shots, seems to have zero interest in getting to the rim and is a disaster on defense.
The Gopher Offense - To be honest, this is often a criticism when teams aren’t winning and frequently this particular criticism is unwarranted. But this year, I am really not pleased with the Gopher offense. Obviously, the lack of being able to shoot threes is really holding this offense back. But the confounding part is the fact that this team is dead last in 3-pt FG% (by a lot) and leads the league in attempts. Point number one here is that maybe we are taking too many threes. WAY TOO MANY threes. Perhaps if this team took fewer rushed or quick threes, they would find better opportunities later in a possession. Secondly, there is way too much dribbling and a severe lack of ball reversals. The end result is an offense that becomes rather easy to guard, despite having some pretty talented offensive players. This offense plays to it’s weaknesses, ignores its strengths and makes this awfully easy on opposing defenses.
Marcus Carr on the Road - It’s been ugly.
What did I miss? What are you guying or selling with this team?