Friday, February 20, 2009
Well I can't say I'm surprised. Hell, I damn near called the score exactly. But it's still a let down, and it's still disappointing.
Looking just at raw numbers, you'd be tempted to say that the Gophers were unlucky and caught a poor shooting team on a hot shooting night, and based on their season 3pt percentage of 32% compared to last night's 46%, that would look right. However watching the game gave a different story, and that was horrible, horrible defense.
The Wolverines made 13 three-pointers, and damn near all of them were wide open. Whether in transition, swinging the ball around the perimeter, or a penetrate and kick, Michigan could get a wide open there pointer any time they wanted. An absolute lethargic, lazy, pathetic defensive effort in every single way - with the exception of Damian Johnson doing a very good job on Manny Harris. Every other player hurt. Nobody could stop Kelvin Grady from getting into the lane. KELVIN GRADY! They let DeShawn Sims do whatever he wanted, which, thankfully, was mostly shoot jumpers. Michigan got countless open layups and dunks in transition due to lazy defenses not getting back. And they let a little white guy who does nothing but shoot threes shoot open threes whenever he wanted. They only managed to turn the Wolverines over 8 times in the entire game (5 by Harris), and they are in no way a strong team with the ball. Just pathetic.
The offense might have even been worse. After a promising start, which saw them get the ball inside against the 1-3-1, penetrating it's seams, getting open shots, and finding Ralph in the lane, it all fell apart. Michigan switched to a man-to-man, and suddenly the Gophers had no idea what to do anymore. They abandoned penetration and trying to find the big men in the lane, and fell back into the old swing it around the perimeter until the shock clock winds down and then have to force a stupid shot. At one point Westbrook had taken it into the lane and scored on three straight possessions, but, just as miraculously as that appeared, it disappeared just as quickly.
The worst part is, the offense was working when they attacked. For the game, the team ended up shooting 24% from three, but 58% from two. This team's strength clearly does not lie beyond the arc, so their reliance on it is mind-boggling. I have no idea if it's coaching or simply players unable to do what they are asked/told, but they need to concentrate on getting the ball inside one way or another. I'm starting to think this team might be as stupid as last year's, and I didn't think that was possible.
As far as the season outlook goes, normally losing four road games in a row to possible NCAA tournament teams in conference wouldn't necessarily be cause for alarm. The alarm should be ringing loud and clear due to the way they are playing.
Al Nolen has gone far past regressing, and needs a new word invented for him (Voshon Lenarding, maybe?) Westbrook shows flashes from time-to-time of the fire he seemed to once have, but might be the laziest player on the floor at others. Hoffarber does one thing right now, and isn't doing it well. Earlier in the season it looked like he might have developed a little more to his game in terms of putting the ball on the floor, but that's gone *poof* lately. Devoe Joseph has developed into a legitimate scorer, but still struggles with his ball-handling and decision making. If there was better all-around guard play that would be a great compliment, but as it stands there is really nobody you can trust with the ball - and thus the offense stagnates. The guard play that was the team's strength earlier in the season seems to have gone the way of Delmon Young's power.
There is still hope. The team has four games left, and three of them are very winnable at home. A 3-1 record to close out the season puts them at 10-8 in the big ten and gives them 22 wins. That would almost certainly put them in the tournament. Going 2-2 makes it dicey, and you would probably need a win in the Big Ten tournament to get in.
They need to give the defensive effort they gave against Illinois, and concentrate on getting more offensive opportunities for the big guys (no, that doesn't include Travis Busch who still sucks and shouldn't see the floor). Sampson, Iverson, Johnson, and Carter are all playing well. Last night the four combined for 8-11 shooting, 16 of the teams 28 rebounds, and blocked six shots. The problem? They only got 11 shots, while the perimeter guys took 41. Read that again. You just can't win that way.
The team has the players and the coaching to absolutely go 3-1 and get into the NCAA tournament. But something needs to change. Effort is #1, changing the offensive flow/philosophy is #2. I hate to say it, but these things sound a lot like coaching issues - although the players still deserve the biggest portion of the blame for what's happening. Of course, this last loss could be my fault for using the wrong picture in my preview, as well.