Saturday, November 14, 2009

Gophers win, Royce White is still a mystery

Usually when a rare Saturday roles around where I have no plans and no major projects needing to be done, which today is one of such of that, I like to do nothing.  Sit around, play with WonderbabyTM, watch some tv, and generally do nothing. However, with the Gopher basketball opener taking place last night and the whole Royce White deal, it seems I don't have much of a choice but to spend some time typing.

I'm just quickly going to touch on Royce White, since his status seems to be changing by the second. He wasn't on the bench for the game, rumors were flying that he was going to be expelled, and the news actually reported he was expelled. Seemed pretty clear, but now this morning both Tubby and Joel Maturi have said he is still on the team. I had expected he had gotten the boot, and despite my "wins come first" attitude and how vigorously I defended White previously, I thought it was probably the right decision. Now, who knows? I'm going to hold my thoughts on this matter until everything shakes out, but I'll just say if Royce is still on the team by the end of the week he is a very, very, very lucky young man. I just hope he will realize that, although I am not optimistic.

On to the fun part - the game. The team looked very good in their 87-50 win over Tennessee Tech, and the most impressive part was the defense. The numbers by themselves are impressive, holding the Eagles to 28% shooting, turning them over 27 times, and out rebounding them 35-26, and blocking 15 shots. Since the competition wasn't exactly top caliber, I was more interested in how they played rather than the results, and I'm happy to report that they looked good in their rotations and help side defense - absolute keys if they're going to do anything this year. That kind of defensive effort will keep them in a game against anyone. Needless to say, I was very impressed.

A few call-outs:

- Lawrence Westbrook led the team with 22 points on 9-13 shooting, including 4 three pointers, and he looked very good. He's slimmer and faster, and his shot right now is dead on and he knows it, showing supreme confidence once again in his jumper. I feel a little bit silly typing this, but I am getting a feeling that we might be in for a special senior season from Westy. Remember the leap in his game Travarus Bennett took from his junior year to his senior year? Or Eric Harris? I'm getting that feeling. I hope I'm right, because he'll be a big part of how far this team can go.

- Ralph Sampson started his run towards Big Ten POY with a nice night - 9 points and 9 boards on 4-5 shooting. He towered over everybody on Tenn Tech so the rebounds aren't really that impressive, but his offensive game looks far more polished than last season - that new turnaround J is a thing of beauty. With his added muscle as well, he should be able to have some very nice games this year.

- Al Nolen was unguardable last night. Seriously, there was nobody on TTU who could stay in front of him, and he was able to get to the lane at will and then usually find an open teammate for an easy basket, resulting in a team high 7 assists for Nolen last night. He still did his patented "get to the lane and then jump stop and pick up the dribble with no idea what I'm going to do with the ball move" a few times, which is still worrisome. It's one thing to slice up a bottom-tier OVC team, it's something different facing Big Ten defenders. Overall with Nole I was encouraged, but worried at the same time. I'm really looking forward to that Butler game. That's a touch defensive squad reminiscent of a Big Ten team, and will be a nice litmus test not only for the team, but for Nolen in general.

- Rodney Williams is the talk of the game, and for good reason. He was always said to be a ridiculous athlete who had some work to do on his offensive skills, and although that's not completely untrue he has looked far more polished than I and many others were expecting, and was the team's second leading scorer last night with 14 points on 5-8 shooting, including another three pointer. If his outside shooting is for real, a Gopher may still end up winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year, just not the one initially expected.

- If I have to pick one player who didn't play well, and it isn't easy when your team wins by 37, it would be Devoe Joseph. He struggled shooting the ball, made some really poor decisions with the ball, and lost his man on defense a few times. I still think he's going to be a major contributor and a big part of this team for the next three years and everthing, just last night he stuck out as having a poor game. Not a concern.

- Finally, Damian Johnson is ridiculous. Look at this line: 9 pts, 2 rebs, 3 assists, 6 steals, and 5 blocks. Just a great all around game, and I have a feeling we won't see another game with DJ grabbing so few boards. Even if his offense hasn't improved (although it looks like it has), he's still going to be the most valuable Gopher again this year.

Overall a very good win. A game like this can't really tell you how good your team is, but it can warn you if they are flawed in some way. The Gophers got through this one with no red flags - an excellent sign. With or without the currently inactive players, this is going to be an NCAA Tournament team. After the Thanksgiving Tournament, we should have a pretty good idea if they can be more.

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