Tuesday, January 20, 2009
The Gophers are a very gaudy 16-2 on the season thus far, and there's no doubt all fans should be very happy with the way things are going. Tubby has made the program relevant already in just two years, and has pulled in a top 25 recruiting class in both of the past two seasons. Beyond that, his game coaching ability reminds me every game how much I hate Dan Monson and Ron Gardenhire, as he seems to be able to come up with an answer to almost everything. The teams' two losses were due to facing a more athletic team in Michigan State, tough to coach against that, and against a team with a disciplined, frustrating defense in Northwestern. What do you get if you combine those two teams? Purdue. Great.
Starting with the defense, Purdue is one of the best defensive teams in the country, ranking fifth in the country, not conference, in overall defensive efficiency (Northwestern is 42nd). They also first in the nation in adjusted field goal percentage, mainly due to their complete and total lockdown on 2 points shots, where they allow opponents to shoot just 38%, ranking second in the country behind just Vanderbilt. They aren't exactly weak guarding the three either, allowing opponents to hit just 32% of their threes. They also block their opponents shot 14% of the time (20th) and turn the opponent over 24% of the time (35th). In other words, pack a lunch.
As far as being more athletic I suppose that's at least a little debatable this year, which is a huge improvement from Monson's days, but no matter what kind of homer glasses you're wearing, the Boilers have the better players, starting with Big Ten POY candidate Robbie Hummel.
Hummel doesn't quite look the part of an elite athlete, but he plays like one. He's an excellent all-around player, and can hurt you in a whole bunch of different ways. He leads the Boilers and the Big Ten in rebounding at 7.9 per game, and also ranks second on the team in scoring at 13.8 per game, and chips in with 2.4 assists and a steal, while shooting 41% from three. He might not quite get the respect he deserves because of his Northwesternian looks and not eye popping numbers, but he will be a major factor Thursday night, even if you don't notice him. He can dominate game without it being obvious, as he doesn't need to take a lot of shots (season high of just 14, Steve Curry's season high is 33). He's very important to the Boilers; in there two Big Ten losses he was hurt, against Penn State he didn't play and against Illinois he only scored seven points. I have no idea how the Gophers will handle him.
I'm not exactly sure how they'll handle Purdue's leading scorer, E'Twaun Moore at 13.9 per game, either. Westbrook can probably handle him since he's shown he can handle bigger guards and Moore stands at 6-4. Although the best plan might be to just let him have the ball and go nuts. This season he can't shoot (41% from the floor, 34% from three) or take care of the ball (1-1 Assist/TO ratio) and put up a 1-12 against Wisconsin and a 2-8 with 7 turnovers against Northwestern. The Gophers don't force turnovers this season quite to the pace they did last year, but they are still in the top 41 teams in the country in doing so. If they can get after Moore, it will go a long way towards helping them to a win.
A major concern going into this game is the Gophers' rebounding woes, and it's amplified in a game against a team like this, who rank second in the Big Ten in rebounding per game. It's not just due to Hummel, either, as they also have misspelled name guy JaJuan Johnson, an athletic jumping bean 6-10 type who more than doubled his scoring from last year (from 5.4 to 12.5 per game) and blocked shots (1.0 to 2.3) and increased his rebounding from 3.1 to 5.7 per game, all while shooting 55% this year (up from 42% last year). I know that's a lot of numbers to throw out at you math challenged retards, but let's just say he was good and has gotten a lot better. I'm actually pretty excited to see how Ralph Sampson handles him, I think they match up fairly well, with Johnson having a bit of an advantage athletically and with his experience. I am not looking forward to how Johnson matches up with Iverson, because he will destroy him and probably steal his girlfriend.
Finally, because I'm getting bored and drunk (on Cranberry & Vodkas - with Lime), I'll talk about the three non-E'Twaun guards; Lewis Jackson, Chris Kramer, and Keaton Grant.
I'll start with Kramer, since you probably know who he is since he's been around for twelve years. I thought I saw where he got hurt this year, but unfortunately it wasn't serious because it would appear he's back. Kramer is basically the new version of Brian Cardinal, but a shorter, slightly less annoying version. You know the type, he gets props for his tough defense and hustle when really all it is is hustle and lack of ability - like Dusty Rychart. Expect him to be irritating.
Lewis Jackson is the main triggerman for the offense, he's started the last 11 games for the Boilers and leads the team in assists with 3.3 per game, and the freshman tied a career high with 6 assists in the Boilers last game against Iowa, not an easy team to get assists against. I'd say more, but in the two Purdue games I've watched this year I don't remember him. I'm assuming Al Nolen can make him cry.
Finally, Keaton Grant who is kind of depressing. Last season, he was a huge part of the Boilers success averaging 11.2 points and leading the team with 66 three pointers made. Then he had knee surgery in the off-season, and has struggled to find his old form. His scoring is down to 8.0, and he's only beat his average from last season twice this year, and more importantly is only shooting 34% from the field this season. In the games I've seen him play this year, he seemed to be a step slower but could still get to the rim; the real problem was he couldn't finish - unlike me with your sister. He did play maybe his best game of the season in their last game against Iowa, with 12 points thanks to four three-pointers, so maybe he's turning it around. And, seeing as how the Gophers are next up, I'm going to assume he's hit his stride.
Overall, we have a team with a shut-down defense and some really good offensive players starting to become the team everyone thought they were going to be after some early season struggles going against a very young team that has had some real success, but may have overachieved and is starting to deal with some serious questions. I know how this ended up in Hoosiers, but there's no Jimmy Chitwood here, no matter how Norman Dale Tubby might be. Purdue 71, Minnesota 60.