Monday, November 25, 2013

Syracuse Recap and Arkansas Preview

Well.....damn.  I sure wasn't expecting that.  Syracuse is a top 10 team, and not just because they're ranked in the top 10 - they're legitimately one of the handful of National Title contenders.  I kind of expected the entire game to look like the first four minutes, but in reality without those first four minutes this game might have had a completely different outcome because the Gophers either outplayed or played right with Syracuse for the majority of the game.  The Orange had to play pretty much the entire 40 minutes, and that's more than I was expecting.

I wish I could get more in depth, but a combination of my uncharacteristic ability to get out of a late meeting, some technology issues, and my kids being completely batshit insane meant that I missed a lot more than I saw.  From what I saw, and that stats, a few points:

  • Rebounding was dead square even at 32-32.  I really, really did not expect that.  As much as it kills my preconceived narrative for this season, and although it's just one game, perhaps the Gophers will be ok in the paint this year.  Eliason suddenly looking like more than "a decent back-up", Joey King, whether he figured it out on his own or if Pitino beat it into his head, has figured out he needs to be in the paint not living on the perimeter and is giving off a real Dusty Rychart vibe, and Oto Osenieks is not 100% incompetent as a big.  Now they get a possibly rejuvenated Mo Walker back.  Curiouser and curiouser.
  • Turnovers.  Gross.  Malik Smith has a Maverick like handle, but who doesn't love a guy who's always looking for a heat check.  Also, only seven guys played all night for the Gophers.  I dig. 
  • Draustin Hollins is Draustin Hollins.  Even when they play a bit off, they're still the best players' on the team and will keep the Gophers in pretty much any game.  Dre Mathieu as the third wheel might be the biggest key for the team this year.  The X-Factor if you're into that kind of stupid thing.
  • Really enjoyed seeing how Pitino coached/game-planned against a legit opponent.  I really liked how the Gophers switched defenses/offenses randomly at times.  Like, when they were in a 2-3 and then all of a sudden on one possession they jumped the ball-handler as he crossed half court.  There were a few of those moments and they were awesome.  I'm not saying you can't be successful by running the same thing over and over again (see tonight's opponent and the 2-3 zone) but I like a little variety in my life.  Which is why I got married at 23 years old.   
 So, despite a a really good effort by the team, success or failure for teh Gophers in this tournament depends on their beating Arkansas tomorrow.  A loss vs. Arkansas means a  trip to the 7th place game, which will almost certainly be against Chaminade, which likely means a 1-2 record with zero wins over D-I teams.  That's no good.  What is good, is that the Gophers should be able to handle the Razorbacks.

If you watched the Gophers vs. Syracuse that's good, because Arkansas is kind of like a mish mash of those two teams.  Like if you took the Gophers and their pressing and uptempo style of play and mixed the DNA with the Syracuse DNA of having a whole bunch of long athletic players and mixed them you'd get Arkansas - but they would be the Danny DeVito version, not the Arnold Schwatzenegger one.  That makes me seem old, doesn't it?  Well that's because I am really old.  Let's just say that Arkansas is kind of like Syracuse and kind of like the Gophers but way worse than either.

I caught a little bit of the Cal/Arkansas game today, and although the Razorbacks will press like crazy and create turnovers that way (and that's how the Gophers lose this one, if they do, tons of turnovers) but when the press is broken or in the half court there defense is absolutely horrendous.  Similarly, if they can create those turnovers and get easy buckets or if they can get out in transition and create easy opportunities that way they can be dangerous, but if you can cut off their early break the half court offense is mostly one-on-one isolation plays and crashing the boards for second chances.

Really, this is a game where if the Gophers play sound fundamentally they should handle Arkansas with little issue.  Of course, you never know, but I'm encouraged and optimistic after tonight.

Minnesota 88, Arkansas 73.

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