I attended the open scrimmage on Friday night, sort of, and these are some impressions I came away with. Keeping in mind it's an officiated scrimmage so it's kind of tough to get a true read on everything, I had to leave at halftime because WonderbabyTM (who is now 5 if you can believe that) hates fun, and I had to manage potty breaks, popcorn, and Mello Yello so take these for what it's worth.
- The seniors look extremely confident, as seniors tend to before a breakout year. As such I feel confident predicting a true breakout year for Austin Hollins. He's never been a shrinking violet or anything (that's a thing, right?) but he was carrying himself with a little bit of swagger out there, and I love it. Going to be a big year. As for Maverick, he is carrying himself with a lot more confidence as well. I have no idea what that might mean, but I'm guessing it's either going to be real good, a total disaster, or mean very little change at all. I'm out on a limb here.
- Mo Walker looks like a completely different person. I'm serious, he looks completely different. He looks like a normal human being instead of a fat one, like when Jack Black lost all that weight for a little while and still wasn't funny. I tried to watch him to see if there was a difference in his agility or athletic ability, and although I was pretty distracted I didn't notice anything different at all which sucks. I always thought Mo had a good amount of potential, mainly because he was a very good passing big man as a freshman which generally bodes well for overall skills, but whether it was the knee injury or just how he always was the lack of athletic ability is a major anchor, as it were. Hopefully something changes, because otherwise gross.
- On that note, power forward is going to be a serious, serious problem. I can already tell Joey King is going to drive me absolutely crazy. He rarely steps inside the three point line on offense, doesn't appear to have either the strength, instincts, or drive to be a great rebounder, and I don't think he's big or strong enough to play defense in the Big Ten. Maybe worse, against the press tonight twice he helped break it and then committed the major fundamental mistake of picking up his dribble right after he crossed half court, leading to a another trapping situation, and a turnover one of the times. That kind of shit isn't going to fly. I'm very nervous for the Joey King era.
- Believe it or not, the PF who looked the best tonight was Oto-matic. I won't say he seemed confident because he didn't, but he didn't look like a shell of a person like he did most of last season. I actually saw him make a 3-pointer which I think is more than he made all last season, and I saw him get an offensive rebound which may have been the only one a Gopher got tonight (seriously rebounding and inside play is going to be a major, major deal). I'm not saying he looked great, just that he looked the best of all the PF candidates. So scary.
- The other PF candidates, Wally Ellenson and Charles Buggs were less than inspiring. Ellenson is crazy athletic and not remotely shy about trying to score or flying around, all of which are promising, while Buggs, well, Buggs isn't what I hoped Buggs would be. I thought he could be the long, range-y, semi-athletic big guy with a good perimeter shot in the mold of KG, Hakim Warrick, and JaJuan Johnson. Yeah my bad. He still has plenty of time to turn into something like that, but he's not there yet. No, he is not.
- Dre Hollins was pretty much in coast mode, which I'm cool with considering he's the best player on the team (OR IS HE?!?!?!?!). Nothing wrong with letting everyone else get involved in a thing like this where it doesn't count. When he did decide to take over a couple of times, he scored. So we cool.
- It was sweet to see a little bit of offensive innovation, if by innovation you mean things pretty much every other team was doing besides the Gophers. If you think back to the Tubby Smith era, you'll remember that the Gophers ran 3 plays: Flex, 3-man weave 30 feet from the hoop, and pass the ball sluggishly around the perimeter until the shot clock runs out. I was a fan of none of these plays, for the record. Anyway, I noticed three things: they actually ran a pick-and-roll, while running said pick-and-roll there was another screen to free a shooter at the same time (2 plays in one!!), and the 3-man weave happened but it was far closer in and looked more like the dribble drive thing Calipari loves so much. If nothing else, seeing these plays made me weep with joy until WonderbabyTM asked me if I was crying and I was like "no it's really dusty in here" and then she was like "no it's not" and then I was like "shut up, you can't even spell."
- Those who are aware of my crippling obsession over Rico Tucker have pointed out to me that Dre Mathieu sounds an awful lot like him and fully expect me to fall in love all over again like it's just that easy to go from guy to guy. Well I did so shut up, no slut shaming allowed on this blog. He's just like Rico Tucker if Rico was slightly less athletic but had played two years of Juco with a coach who knew how to reign him in and teach him to play in control instead of playing for a coach who had no idea what to do with an all-world talent who needed to be harnessed.
Mathieu is super fast, but he uses it as a weapon rather than looking like my kid trying to play Mario Kart on 150cc. He kind of reminded me of Phil Pressey, formerly of Missouri, but where Pressey was always looking to use his penetration skills (like me with your mom) to set up somebody else (which is good) Mathieu is generally looking to score (also good). He strikes me as a nearly perfect 6th man to help jump start the offense. Of course if he keeps scoring a billion points all the time it's going to be tough to keep him out of the starting lineup. Or my dreams.
- The other newcomers probably deserve to be talked about just so I can give my spot on impressions. Malik Smith shot about a million three pointers and missed all of them, but that's ok I guess because he's a shooter or something. Obviously I'm not dumb enough to judge a shooter on one scrimmage so we'll just see what we see I guess. I noticed nothing else about him. Daquein still doesn't have a second A in his name and I saw him hit a three-pointer and that was pretty much it. In retrospect this note is pretty much worthless, but seeing as I don't believe in retrospect it's staying.
- The press was interesting to me. It kind of looked like a good ole fashioned diamond press, but the off guy of the three at the front never left his man to guard the most obvious pass recipient - the guy who passed it in from out of bounds. I watch a ton of college hoops, obvs, but have never really paid a ton of attention to the Xs and Os of the press so I don't know if this is a thing now or what, but I'm not familiar with it. And like an old man with a Tivo I'm uncomfortable with things I don't understand. Now, in a way it's kind of genius because in theory most teams make their shitty ball handling power forward throw it in, so if you just trap the PG and make that dude bring it up and trap him when he picks up his dribble right after crossing half court (Joey King -> hi) it could work out well. I'm very interested to see how this goes.
- Overall the team seemed much more uptempo, did a lot more trapping of many varieties on defense, and was more varied on offense. Again, I know it's a stupid scrimmage but they looked pretty good. I would say that they're going to get killed on the boards and by teams who are talented in the front court because they quite literally only have one guy who can play post defense or rebound, but because of the way the team is constructed they'll probably pull off at least one upset because they have so many guys who can score on the perimeter and shoot the 3. Some game they'll go like 14-24 from three and knock off Michigan or something. It should be fun. And horribly maddening.