Monday, January 9, 2012

Gophers something something

This is where I said I'd write something, huh?  Well I don't know, I'm not particularly feeling up to it but I'll give it a go as long as I'm watching this college football championship thingy anyway.  I will preface this by saying I brought WonderbabyTM to the game, and although she was very well behaved (and even made it up on the scoreboard with uncle Snacks) I still had to keep her entertained from time to time so I did miss some plays here and there - and thank god for that.  She also disappointed me by continuously telling me "I want to high five Goldy the Gopher" but that's not relevant right now.

So were do we start?  How about with the defense, which was the absolute biggest problem with that shellacking Purdue put on the Gophers at home (AT HOME!).  Yes, the same Purdue team that just lost 65-45 at Penn State just beat the Gophers 79-66 at Williams Arena in a game that wasn't remotely that close.  I don't even know how to explain just how sad that is, but it was basically a complete defensive breakdown.  The problems defending the three-pointer have been a running narrative of Gopher basketball since Tubby arrived so I'm not going to rehash that here except to say yeah, some of those threes were awfully tough shots (deep, quick trigger, etc.) but they were still made on the Gophers defense so you can't excuse it.  Even worse, however, was the complete inability to stop penetration by Lewis Jackson. 

Now, I do get that somebody that little doesn't make it in the Big 10 without being lightning quick and being able to handle himself in the paint so it's not surprising the Gopher guards struggled to stay in front of him, but I didn't figure he'd get to the paint every single time he felt like it.  And what really bothered me was where the hell was the interior help?  Lew Jack is 5-9 and even though he's one of my favorites in the Big 10 amongst opposing players even I can recognize there is no way in hell he 20 points on 8-11 shooting because he's a FUCKING TERRIBLE SHOOTER.  Every time he got by the guard somebody needed to get in his way and either force him to shoot a pull-up or dish it somewhere else, you can't let him keep getting lay-ups because even girls can make lay-ups.  At the very least if he's going to keep going at the rim somebody needs to put him on his ass at least once.  Not maliciously, not flagrantly, and not by making a dirty play or anything but a good ole-fashioned hard foul.  He's like 140 lbs. he's going to go flying if you just put a body into him hard.  If only the Gophers had a 7-foot senior who could make such a play.

Yeah, that's right.  Ralph Sampson may have just played his most worthless game ever.  Not only was he invisible on defense to the point where a god damn child sized player was making lay-up after lay-up in his paint on his home court, but he was disinterested on the offensive end as well.  He took three shots.  Three god damn shots.  He grabbed all of three rebounds.  He was so worthless Tubby only played him 13 minutes which now qualifies as the only good call Tubby's made all year.  It just baffles me.  Your senior year, a game where you absolutely need a win or your last season in college will almost certainly go down as a failure, and a home game in front of a crowd that knows how badly this win is needed and would readily jump up behind you and you basically don't even leave the locker room.  He gave the team absolutely nothing on either end. 

Which brings us to this team's offensive issues, and despite a decent offensive effort against the Boilers this team is still in a lot of trouble.  Basically it boils down to that they just aren't skilled enough.  Rodney Williams is really the only one on this team with any kind of discernible skill, and it's "jumping."  The rest of the team is basically interchangeable, and not in the "everybody is good and can do it all" kind of way Calipari's old Memphis teams or Huggins' WVU teams when they were good were built.  Everybody is just mediocre at basically everything..

Really, even somebody as nondescript and Brian Cardinal-ish as D.J. Byrd has a skill that nobody on the Gophers can match in his shooting prowess.  He's hitting 44% from three this year, and that five-for-five first half was enough to basically bury the Gophers.  Can you see anybody on this team matching that first half at any point?  I sure as hell can't.  Nobody on this team is a good enough shooter to pull that off.  And that goes for basically everything.  Nobody is a great shooter.  Nobody is a great ballhandler.  Nobody is a great penetrator (although I can see Andre Hollins possibly getting there someday).  Nobody is a great scorer (maybe Coleman in the future?).  Nobody is a great passer or distributor or facilitator or whatever word you want to use, and outside of Williams nobody is a great athlete.  Perhaps the worst part of this is how the three-pointer is such a huge and important weapon in the college game, as Purdue shoved down all our throats, and the Gophers not only don't have an elite shooter, I'm not even sure they have an average one.  Oto Osenieks is the only chance they have but Tubby seems pretty freaking committed to keeping him on the bench.  Much be reverse racism or something, I don't know.

So what to do?  With this season basically lost at this point it's time to take the guys who have shown the aggressiveness and effort to deserve more time along with any flashes of ability because there isn't much here.  Coleman did a nice job last night of being aggressive and trying to score and although he was only 4-13 shooting he did put up 13 shots.  On a team where nearly everyone's first, second, and third instinct is to defer, that's valuable.  Coleman needs to start the rest of the way. 

I think Andre Hollins should be starting as well.  No, it's not an ideal situation because he still has a tendency to get a little bit out of control and his decision making is sub-optimal most of the time he's still the best option for this team's future.  He does lead the team in turnover percentage, but he's not much worse than Ahanmisi or Welch, and with every passing day Ahanmisi proves he's not a Big 10 caliber point guard (nice line last night:  0 pts, 3 asts, 2 tos).  At this point in the season I still haven't figured out Welch.  At times he looks like a brilliant floor leader, and other times he seems overwhelmed by the game (not surprising based on his history at UC-Davis and then JuCo).  In any case, it's clear this team is more than one year away from contending for anything meaningful, so at best Welch is a stop gap.  Giving him a lot of run in the back court will help take some of the pressure off Andre Hollins so I like keeping him in the lineup.

So that gives you Andre Hollins, Welch, and Coleman in the lineup, and obviously Rodney should be there too.  Williams has really taken a step forward since Mbakwe went down and he was forced to play more in the paint, and he was a rare bright spot last night (19 points, 14 rebounds, and maybe most impressively 15 shot attempts).  He's attacking the rim, going after every rebound with gusto, and even attempting to have some semblance of a mid-range game (it's not working that great so far, but I commend him for the effort).  He's easily the team's best player, both in terms of overall potential and current ability, so there's really no reason why he should ever be off the floor.  If he doesn't lead the team in minutes in every game the rest of the year Tubby should be fired immediately.

As far as a big guy in the lineup your guess is as good as mine.  I never in a million years thought I'd say this but this team, and I, really miss Colton Iverson.  You know damn well that he would've done something to at least make Lewis Jackson think twice about coming at the rim again, and even though I would never exactly call him skilled Elliott Elliason makes him look like Hakeem Olajuwon out there.  It turns out he was a capable Big 10 big man, which is exactly what this team doesn't have any of.  So I guess you continue to start Ralph and if it's a game where he decided to show up you give him plenty of run and if not you just go small (and Elliason gets his 10 minutes per game either way).  I don't know.  I give up.

The last guy worth mentioning is Chip Armelin, who I don't want in the starting lineup despite my thinking he's the team's second best player.  I love his energy coming off the bench, plus if you take my starting lineup suggestion there is nobody in that second unit capable of scoring and so you need a guy like Chip with them to get the offense going.  So I like him coming off the bench, but playing a ton of minutes.

So that's what you go with:  Andre Hollins, Welch, Coleman, Williams, and Sampson (by default) with a healthy dose of Armelin.  That group at least gives you a bunch of guys who are going to be aggressive, who are going to try to score rather than just pass the ball around the perimeter until the shot clock runs out.  Hollins, Welch, Coleman, and Armelin can all penetrate, and although there isn't a great shooter in this group it's not like you're exactly leaving a great shooter out of the rotation or anything.  Plus Austin Hollins is probably the best shooter outside of Osenieks on the team and he should be the second guy off the bench, and if you're going against a defense where you need his shooting you can just play him more.  Simple. 

I don't know.  It's a lost season at this point anyway, but concentrating your playing time amongst those guys gives you some chances to be in games as well as giving a couple of guys who are probably your future plenty of chances to improve and develop.  Or whatever.  This all just sucks anyway.

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