In lieu of another yawner of a Weekend Review, instead I'm going to take give my thoughts on the Gopher hoops squad after their trip through the dirty white north over the weekend, where they went 3-0 against the likes of the University of British-Columbia (80-62), Trinity Western (80-68), and the University of Victoria (101-67). There was plenty of other action this weekend, what with college football getting started, but since Gopher basketball is the #1 focus of this blog and the thing I'm most interested in, it's now the thing you are most interested in as well.
Even with the new baby and all, I was able to catch the second half of the first game, the entire second game, and most of the first half of the third game, so I didn't see everything, but enough to give me an idea of what's up.
First the overall impressions:
Offense: Very sloppy in general, and seemed to consist almost entirely of either fast breaks (usually resulting in turnovers) or dumping the ball in to the block - a good idea based on the Gophers huge size advantage over all three Canadian teams. Running the high/low should be a good strategy this year with the good size the Gophers will have inside, so it was nice to see it get some run, but I would have liked to see a little more motion and/or flex, since whenever the team ran those last year they ended up not getting a good shot far too often. Some of the same thing happened on this trip, only with Devoe Joseph playing the L-Dub role. Overall the Gophers scored a lot of points due to their talent, not their offensive schemes. That worries me. As do 28, 22, and 17 turnovers in the three games.
Defense: Terrible. Absolutely awful. They were beaten on drives, weren't getting out to the perimeter to contest shots, gave up open looks due to poor defensive rotation, and gave up way too many offensive rebounds to undersized teams. They were bailed out often by blocked shots due to their superior athleticism, and the numbers look good (allowed just 27% and 38% shooting the first two games), but that was more a function of poor shooting by the Canadian teams - not good defense. Both UBC and Trinity missed a ton of open looks, and when Victoria made those open looks in game 3, they jumped out to 24-16 first quarter lead. Maybe it's a function of so many new players this year, but the defense ranged from below average at best to atrocious at worst.
Now, player-by-player. First, the returnees:
Blake Hoffarber: Blake is Blake, and once again his shot is going to be a big difference in how far the team can go this year. He's still the smartest player on the team, and probably the best point guard on the team if you don't count athleticism or dribbling, and still a great rebounder for his size and jumpability, but his shot is where he is going to make his contribution. He went 2-8, 4-8, and 5-10 in the three games, so it looks like his shot is in good shape right now. I still maintain and will always maintain that Blake can take any shot at any time from any where and I won't complain. By far the best shooter in Gopher history, and maybe the best in the nation right now (suck it Diebler). If he doesn't end up winning the college 3-point contest this year (assuming the Gophers aren't in the Final Four) I'll be shocked. Like, Vinny sleeping with Snooki shocked.
Colt Iverson: Still unpolished, and still best described as a banger, I'm not really sure what to make of him. As we saw last year, he can be surprisingly effective on the low block despite looking like a baby giraffe trying to walk at times, but against an equally strong but more athletic player he's screwed. Still, there's no doubt he has a place on this team, even if it's just doing the dirty work under the rim, and will surprise once in a while with an offensive outburst. I won't exactly say I'm a fan, but I'm glad he'll be around.
Devoe Joseph: Unquestionably the best offensive player on this team, he scored 18, 15, and 19 in the three games, and was able to score from deep, get his own shot and hit from mid-range, or get to the rim to score. He's still a scorer and not a PG, but looked like he could fill in admirably when needed, as we saw last year. In Tubby's system he won't be able to flourish the way he would in a more wide open offense, but he should get plenty of opportunities to shine, and should be the #1 option on most possessions. All Big-Ten potential, if not this year, certainly next.
Al Nolen: Well it doesn't look like we're going to see him develop a jumper out of nowhere the way Eric Harris did back in the day, since he didn't seem to be looking for the 3-ball at all (I saw him shoot only one, which he made), but he still has great court vision, both on offense and defense, and seemed to have a better idea of what he was going to do with the ball when he drove, since he's still unguardable off the bounce. I never saw him pick up his dribble in the lane with no idea what to do with it, his signature play the last three years, and each time he got into the lane he either dished it off or was able to put up a nice looking floater. If he can turn into a legit offensive weapon, and he looked good this weekend, it will go a long way to taking the Gophers from good to very good.
Ralph Sampson: Missed the second game with a tweaked ankle and was clearly slowed by it in the third, but in the first game you could see how confident he was with the ball. Part of it I'm sure was the height advantage he had, but he got the ball and went to work each time, showing a nice jumper, a nice jump hook, and a move that looked curiously like the dream shake. And that 18-footer he kept taking and missing last year? He nailed it the two times I saw him take it. Still seemed a bit soft under the boards, but blocked some shots and overall looks like a more confident, more skilled version of himself from last year. Watch yourselves, Big Ten centers.
Rodney Williams: Easily the most disappointing player on the trip for me, I saw no evidence of the kind of improvement I'm looking for from him in year 2. On offense he spent his time roaming baseline to baseline, looking for an alley-oop or a spot up three, never cutting to the hoop or, when he had the ball, driving into the lane. On defense he was lazy a lot of time, relying on his athleticism to recover and block shots after getting beat, a strategy that worked on the trip but won't once he gets into conference play. I'm not giving up on him, far from it, but I didn't see what I wanted to, and that bums me out. He did end up scoring 12 in the third game, so maybe he ended up showing something, but six of those points came off threes and four came off dunks, so I just don't know.
Now, the new guys:
Maverick Ahanmisi: I can't exactly put my finger on anything in particular, other than the 15 footer he took from straight away that hit all backboard, but Maverick seems to fulfill our worst fears - I'm not sure he's an actual D-I player. It's not so much that his turnovers (3, 1, and 4), were out of line with what the rest of the team was doing, but just watching him you get the sense that on a low level high school team where he is the man he knows how to play, but watching him try to fit with the team this weekend was like watching Flounder at the Omegas' party - it's just not going to happen. Maybe it was just nerves, and maybe it's just because it was early, but like Princess Leia said when in the mouth of the space slug, "I have a bad feeling about this."
Elliott Eliason: Unlike Maverick, who is unsafe every time he flies, I like Eliason's vibe. He's too small (strengthwise) to do much this year, and he's not very athletic, and honestly everything about him tells me his upside is Kyle Sanden and I should hope he even gets there, but there's something I like here. He's smart, and he does some nice things with the ball, so if he does fill out there could end up being a legit sleeper somewhere here. Like, maybe a Jon Leuer. Maybe.
Austin Hollins: I'm officially on the Hollins bandwagon. What I had read on him lead me to believe he was too thin to really be a major contributor, but after watching him play either I can't read or everyone is a liar. He looks thing but not like, Jermaine Stanford thin, and there's no doubt he can play. He has a very nice looking jumper, which we knew, but beyond that he wasn't just a jump shooter, he was willing to put the ball on the floor and head to the hoop. He also was one of the few guys who looked like he cared about playing defense. Very impressed. Looking forward to watching him this year.
Trevor Mbakwe: I love Mbakwe as well. When I was referring to him as Reign Man II this offseason it was more wishful thinking than anything else, I had no idea if he was athletic or more of a banger. Turns out my wish comes true, because he's very athletic and very smooth. He's not Shawn Kemp of course, because nobody is, but he looked very good on the perimeter both defensively and putting the ball on the floor and driving by a bigger, slower defender. About the only negative I saw was he didn't really look for a jump shot at all, which leads me to believe he doesn't really have one, but his offensive game inside, rebounding, and defense inside and out mean he's got a very good chance to end up as the Gophers' best player this season. Except of course for Ralph.
Maurice Walker: Mo is big. Really big. Not like, Oliver Miller big, but Draymond Green or Tractor Traylor big. Not that anything is wrong with that - Traylor was a lotto pick (LOL) and Green is a very good player, but I'm not sure Walker has the athletic ability those guys have/had. He had very good games, and has great hands with a nice touch around the rim and excellent foot work, but I'm not sure, at least right away, he is going to have the ability to be a big scorer, and may have to rely on o-boards and put backs. This isn't a knock, and he certainly could and probably will develop a more robust offensive game, but I think his offensive contributions this year will be minimal. His contributions on the boards and the defensive end, however, could be the difference between one NCAA game and three.
Overall: At the risk of stating the painfully obvious, I'm a big believer that the more a team can play together, the better they can be, so this will help during the season for sure. I also look at the fact that they were pushed against Trinity and Victoria not as a negative against the team, but as a positive way for them to grow (like when the Saved by the Bell gang discovered that roach in the boys bathroom). There is no doubt there is plenty that needs to be worked on, but they're off to a good start. Plus, college hoops in September. Who could complain?