Luckily, thanks to DirectTV's Regional Sports package, I get the Mountain Sports Network, the only place to watch last nights Gopher victory over the CSU Rams. Actually, the lucky ones are those who weren't able to watch the game, because it was ugly.
I anticipated the game being a struggle. Since the schedule came out, I'd had this game pegged as a loss, and it easily could have been. It came down to a missed three by CSU's Andre McFarland as time expired - a wide open three pointer from the corner, I might add. But you know what? To go on the road against a non horrible team with some pretty good players and a good coach and come out with win is a great step for this team, no matter how ugly it was. I am very pleased with the outcome of last night's game, however many ugly spots there may have been.
1. Pressure defense. The Gophers press and overall pressure was excellent, and the Rams seemingly had no idea how to deal with it, turning the ball over 20 times, including six by last year's leading scorer Marcus Walker, who was held to just seven points on 2-11 shooting, mainly due to the Minnesota defense. Another factor was he was hit by a car the night before the game, as the MTN Network announcers made sure to mention every five seconds. Tubby pulled the press off with about four mintues to go or so, which baffles me.
2. Blake Hoffarber. Not just for his outside shooting (5-8 on threes), but for his aggressiveness as well. It didn't work out all the time, but Blake was once again putting the ball on the floor and trying to get to the rim. He is developing into a very good offensive player, particulary when he gets involved inside and out. Slight negative here is that he was at 20 points with about sixteen minutes left in the game, and finished with the same 20 points.
3. Al Nolen. Particularly when he drove the ball. He, like pretty much the entire team, has a tendency to settle for the long three pointer at times rather than trying to get to the rim, but last night when he got inside he was unstoppable.
4. Devoe Joseph. Once again he played limited minutes for some reason, only getting in for a total of 9 but putting up five points, two rebounds and an assist while not missing a shot in that time. I can't figure out why he's not getting more time, as I haven't seen anything that makes me think he needs to develop further or why he shouldn't be a first wave off the bench kind of guy. The only excuse I can come up with is that the Gophers are already deep on the perimeter, and they are, but that doesn't explain the ten minutes Kevin Payton got last night.
5. Offensive rebounding. They managed to grab 17 offensive rebounds, which really kept them in the game on a mediocre shooting night.
1. Stagnant offense. The offensive philosophy seemed to come in waves, for a while they were happy to just shoot the ball from three with littel ball movement, then they would work in inside through the pass or the dribble, and then fall back in love with chucking it up. The offense was much more effective when they utilized the inside game, but they didn't do it enough. I'm not entirely certain Damian Johnson needs to be putting up 3 three-point attempts, although it was good to have him back in all other ways.
2. Free Throws. They didn't get to the line much (only 13 attempts) which is not surprising when you consider the entire team turned into Rick Rickert for a large chunk of the game, and even worse they only made 7, with Al Nolen going 2-5. The team is going to have to greatly improve their foul shot shooting to have much more success this year.
3. New guys minutes. This is very much not what I expected for the season, as other than Paul Carter's 22 minutes, none of the other new guys played much. Sampson got 10 minutes (he was banged up, however), Iverson 11, Joseph 9, and Bostick just 1. I'm hoping Tubby is just trying to ease them in to college basketball, but the 1 minute for Bostick is very alarming. It screams to me that Tubby has decided he isn't counting on him making much of an impact this year, and that sucks, considering it seemed likely when he was signed he would end up being the team's top scoring option.
4. Travis Busch. He clearly has a place on this team, and although I expect his minutes to switch to Iverson and Sampson as the season goes on I'm sure he will always get his handful of playing time. The problem as I see it is he doesn't know his role. There is no reason he should have taken six shots last night, as his role on offense should be garbage baskets and offensive rebounds. There is no reason for him to shoot a three-pointer, ever. There is not reason for him to come off a screen 17 feet from the hoop and catch-and-shoot. It's not what he needs to be doing, and hopefully Tubby can reign him in. There's gotta be some game film of Zack Puchtel out there he can watch, right?
All in all, I'm very happy with the result, and I think the Rams were the perfect team for the Gophers to face as their first road test; bad enough to be beatable, good enough to actually test them. They certainly didn't play perfectly, and some flaws were very much in evidence, but they got the win, and at this point, that's the most important thing. The rest will come.