As should have been obvious from my preview, I thought the Gophers were dead against Virginia Tech. I thought Tech's athletic guards who drive and kick the Gophers to death, while their defense would shut down a Gopher team without an offensive identity thanks to their two big men being down with injuries. Clearly, and joyfully, I was mistaken.
This version of this year's version of the Gopher hoops team was unrecognizable in a lot of ways. First of all, swarming defense with an intensity I can't recall seeing at any point this year (not that it was without flaws, which I'll get to). The defense forced Va Tech into 12-36 shooting on 2-pointers (the Hokies hit 46% on the season), came up with 9 steals (the most anyone has had against Tech this season), and managed to block five shots despite missing their two biggest shot blockers. I don't think this necessarily means the team defense has turned a corner since the Hokies hit 50% of their three-point tries outside Green's semi-heave at the end, but it's a start. It didn't hurt that Tech, one of the better team's in the country on assists per basket made, seemed a little selfish and passed up numerous opportunities to kick once they started penetrating in favor of shooting questionable jump shots, but I'm not going to let that worry me. The intensity and effort was there in a way that was missing in Orlando, and that's the first step towards fixing things. Whether this was a "Win One for Trevor" one moment in time remains to be seen, but I'm encouraged.
Individual player thoughts:
- Rodney Williams looks sooooooo much more comfortable in the paint than he ever did on the perimeter. I suppose that shouldn't come as much of a surprise, but it was all the more striking last night because he finally had the opportunity to do some posting up and took to it like that stupid little girl in Interview with a Vampire took to killing. Each time he got the ball on the perimeter last night he looked a mite petrified, as many power forwards do, even going so far as to pass up an 18-foot jumper. When they got him the ball in the paint, however, he immediately went for the score like your sister's prom date. It's clear now, and really has been for some time, that he's got a power forward's game (right down to the sub-50% free throw percentage) in a small forward's body. That can work, and has before, in college but I think the NBA dreams might be fading a bit. Still, he's impressed me in this game and the team was able to go to him down low for a couple of big plays down the stretch. If he (and the team and the coach) can all embrace this new role things might be pretty fun.
- I'm still not 100% on the Julian Welch train, but I think I'm getting closer. His lateral quickness on defense is miserably slow, but he can make up for some of that by having that E. Honda hand quickness. And, more importantly, I'm starting to realize that while he looks slow on offense he sort of has that Evan Turner type thing going on where he doesn't look like he's quick or fast but ends up getting to wherever he's trying to get without issue. His demeanor is also comforting as he always just seems to be in complete control at all times and a cool customer who won't panic or make major mistakes, as seen by his four clutch FTs last night. Interesting, you could say he and Ralph have the same demeanor and I find one comforting and one enraging. I guess I want my ball-handlers cool, calm, and collected and my big men to be raging balls of anger and rage and death who are just as likely to rip your face off with an axe handle as dunk on your stupid face. Interesting.
- What can you say about Chip Armelin? I mean really, he's a unique player in Tubby's tenure here because he's the only player I can remember who was supremely confident he could make any shot at any time, outside of Hoffarber but Blake really could make any shot at any time. Don't get me wrong, I love Chip, but I think he's a guy you either love or hate. He's going to single handedly win a game for this team this year, and probably shoot them out of one or two as well, but you take the good with the bad. Every team should have a guy like Chipper, and I'm damn glad he's here.
- Tubby opted to go with a smaller lineup most of the game, so Andre Ingram will have to wait at least one more game for his big breakthrough. He only got 8 minutes against Va Tech and made his only shot (which for the life of me I can't remember). It's slightly disheartening that he didn't grab a single rebound in those 8 minutes, but not nearly as disheartening in having it confirmed that he is indeed a junior and not a freshman as ESPN lists him. I was pretty sure he was a Juco guy, but then I saw the freshman thing on ESPN and figured I was just dumb, and got excited at his potential. Now it turns out I really am dumb, but in a sort of different way than I thought.
-He definitely has potential as an athletic scorer type (where have we heard that before), but Joe Coleman's defense at this stage of his career is going to give me a heart attack at some point. In general he's like a less-disciplined Chip Armelin (yeah, that's right) where he just kind of runs around like a toddler who a red bull. In just seven minutes last night he put up two shots (both misses), grabbed two rebounds and got a steal. I'm having all kinds of trouble wrapping my head around this kid right now. I just don't know. He's like Snape, you just aren't sure if he's a good guy or a bad guy.
- Oto Osenieks took two good three-pointers last night in his two minutes of play, missed them both, then was yanked by the quick Tubby hook and never saw the floor again. Yep, nothing like taken the guy who is purported to be your best shooter and damn near only shooter and sabotaging his confidence. I'm pretty sure Nurse Ratched was more forgiving with her charges.
- The Hollins cousins played a total of 60 minutes between the two of them and I can't tell you a single thing about either of them last night. The boxscore says they scored a total of 10 points on 4-16 shooting, but had 5 assists vs. just 1 turnover. So really they didn't stand out in any way, good or bad. Not a big deal last night because Chip and Welch were the story in the back court, but those two are basically the future of this team so let's get it together, boys.
- I saved the best for last, because Elliott Eliason impressed the hell out of me last night. He was a completely different player. I think knowing he was the only big guy the team had last night, and knowing that even if he made mistakes he would have to worry about Nurse Ratched sitting him on the bench, he was able to stop worrying about mistakes and just play. He was aggressive, he was confident, he played in the flow of the game, the guy basically transformed from Kevin Loge to Eric Montross (college version). I don't want to go overboard and be accused of wanting to bare his children or anything, but I never thought he'd be capable of playing like this. I thought his best case scenario was going to be Jeff Hagen, but he showed more potential last night than Hagen did in his four years. Yes I'm probably way overreacting to one game. Let me have this. I need it.
So yeah, that was a pretty impressive win, especially considering I didn't think they were even going to keep this one within single digits. I'm still worried that this basically came about because of channeling the emotion of losing Trevor, but we won't find out for about a month now. The next five games should all be cake walks, so barring a major letdown the Gophers will be sitting at 12-1 when they start conference play by traveling to Champaign to take on the Illini. Hold on to your butts.