Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Purdue

Well here we go.  A month's worth of crappy games have gone by with the Gophers managing to avoid a crippling loss, which is something you can't say for most of the rest of the Big Ten, which is good.  Despite the horrific schedule the RPI sits at 69, a reasonable enough number that could easily rise into at-large territory with a good Big Ten season.  To kick off the conference slate the Gophers get nearly a perfect test in a road trip to a flailing Purdue squad.  The Boilers are 8-5 with losses to North Florida (home), Kansas State (neutral), Vandy (road), Notre Dame (neutral), and Gardner Webb (home) with those last three coming in their last three games.  They aren't a very good team, which is great because this is exactly the kind of road game an NCAA quality team wins.  So if the Gophers win, we will know they're at least decent.  If they lose, we already know the NCAA Tournament is out so we can stop stressing.  Win-win.

If Purdue is good at one thing it's controlling the paint with their two monsters, 7-0 junior A.J. Hammons and 7-2 freshman Isaac Hayes.  They rank first and fourth in scoring for Purdue (Hayes 11.5, Hammons 9.9), second and third in rebounding (Hammons 5.3, Hayes 5.2), and block 3.7 shots per game between the two of them (Hammons 2.9, Hayes 0.8).  Purdue ranks 14th in block shot percentage in the country and 27th in offensive rebounding percentage (6-7 freshman Vince Edwards helps out here, he's a beast).  The paint can be a scary place against these guys, but they're weak there too.  They give up a ton more assists than the average team, don't defend the three well at all, and are 245th in field goal percentage against at the rim despite the two monsters, which suggests to me they're very vulnerable to the drive and kick.  Given that the Gophers excel at that part of the game, I like to hear this.

Outside of the two bigs, Purdue has an interesting mix of characters with a lot of depth and balance (only Edwards plays more than 25 minutes per game, and 10 guys play twelve minutes or more).  The scariest is guard Kendall Stephens (aka K3ndall St3ph3ns) who is second the team at 10.6ppg but is pretty much either good or bad.  He's been brutal lately, hitting 2-14 from 3 in the team's last 3 games, but he's also capable of lighting it up (21 against Kansas State and 3 games this year with 5+ threes made).   If the Gophers lose this game I'm pretty sure it'll be his fault.  Two other interesting Purdueites are Edwards and 6-5 junior Raphael Davis, simply because they ad an athletic dimension to this team and either could take over the game for a portion long enough to be a difference maker.  Edwards (10.4ppg) is extremely inconsistent but when he's good, he's very good with two 25+ points scored games this year, and Davis (9.2ppg) is similar, though he relies almost completely on getting to the rim.

Point guard is an issue for Purdue, which probably isn't a great thing going up against a team who creates so many turnovers though their numbers aren't bad this year, merely average.  Their choices are Jon Octeus (7.5ppg, 2.5apg) a 6-4 senior transfer from Colorado State who isn't really a point guard or Bryson Scott (6.2ppg, 1.8apg) a 6-1 sophomore who can't shoot and has played poorly enough to see his playing time reduced so far versus last season despite Purdue losing their two starting guards from last year.  If everything goes according to plan, this will end up the key for the Gophers and they'll force in the neighborhood of 18 turnovers.

Also an important part of the plan will be to limit those two big guys I mentioned above.  Hayes is a monster of muscle who will put out maximum effort and never stop fighting.  Luckily he only plays about 18 minutes per game, but he manages to draw a ton of fouls when he's out there so he could end up doing some damage to the Gophers super deep front court of two players.  Hammons remains an enigma, capable of putting up either a 30 point, 20 rebound masterpiece or a 4 point, 2 rebound outing depending on if he's interested in playing or not that day.  Hopefully Mo Walker comes out and makes his life miserable, because when that happens he'll go into his happy place and be a total non-factor and that would be nice.

Purdue is a bad team, and the Gophers need to win this game.  Like all Big Ten teams, however, they're dangerous and particularly so at home.  There are so man wild cards for the Boilers (Hammons effort, Stephens shooting, Edwards, Davis) that if too many of them are on it could be a long day for the Gophers.  This is a great test to see if this is a tournament type team or not.  I choose to believe that it is.

Minnesota 75, Purdue 65.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Notes on Baseball, and a Little Hoops

It's the middle of winter, I have a billion days off, and there's lots going on that I haven't gotten to.  So here's some of that.

-  First off, the Torii Hunter signing.  Ugh.  Hate it.  Absolutely hate it and it was made for all the wrong reasons.  So all the moms and wives and sisters and casual fans will say "Yay!  I love Torii Hunter I'm so glad he's back let's go to a game!" even though the team sucks.  And they're going to suck this year.  The Twins are not going to contend for anything until 2016 at the earliest, and Hunter will be gone so it's a completely pointless signing.

A bridge to 2016 you say?  No.  He's not good anymore.  He's just not.  He's turned into a terrible fielder (not his fault, he's just old) and you can find a billion links to in depth studies, more than just advanced metrics, that prove it.  He hit the ball alright last year but he's been on a pretty steady downslope.  Sure, it's one year so it's pretty low risk, but that $10 million a year could have gone towards another pitcher (Jason Hammel signed for that) and those at bats need to be going towards any of the billion of question mark outfielders the Twins have.  Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks need as many ABs as possible so we can figure out what they are.  Even Jordan Schafer may have some future value.  Also.....wait......look at this 40-man roster.  Look at the outfielders.  There are no words.  Just horrible.

Ok so Hunter won't steal too many at-bats that he shouldn't, but they still could have used that $10 million better than on a marketing stunt.  The Santana and Hughes signings (hold on) showed that they were still going to spend beyond that $10 million, which was a big concern of mine at the time so maybe this isn't quite as bad as I thought.  Actually, now looking at everything, as a pure baseball move it's just fine.  I just hate the message, and I hate that they signed yet another washed up former Twin because he was a good guy when he was here (just not to the gays).  I guess I'm pretty fed up right now, especially watching the Padres (small market) and White Sox (division rival) go all in, right after Kansas City's go all-inedness paid off with a trip to the World Series.  I don't want to be patient any more.  Let's just move along.

-  More promising was the signing of Ervin Santana to a 4-year, $55 million deal.  I don't love it as much as some others, but Santana has been a pretty solid pitcher in four of the last five seasons, and although that one bad season was a disaster it's looking like more of a fluke than anything.  The $13-$14 million per year may be a bit of an overpay, but it's probably worth it to get a real major league pitcher, especially one who struck out north of 8 batters per 9 innings per last season (a stat which makes me wonder if the Twins had an aneurysm or something and missed the fact that he can actually miss bats).

Santana will be 35 by the end of the contract, which isn't ancient but is a little stomach turning, and who knows what kind of pitcher he'll be by then, but if the plan is to contend for the playoffs in 2016 he should be a key cog.  That's the hope anyway.  Both Santana and Hughes have some risk (hold on) so counting on them to be your front of the rotation guys is a little dicey, but it's a damn sight better than counting on Mike Pelfrey or Kevin Correia.  That may not be saying much, but hey, at least they're spending on potentially quality pitching.  Infinitely better than the Ricky Nolasco signing.

-  The Twins also signed Phil Hughes to an extension, wiping out the last two years of his current deal and extending him three more in what is essentially a 5 year, $58 million deal.  Although there's plenty of upside to the deal, since $11 million per will end up an absolute bargain if he can be the same pitcher he was last season, there are plenty of reasons to be nervous.  Five years is a long time, $58 million is a ton of money for a team like the Twins, and prior to last season Hughes was a complete train wreck.  I don't really understand why they felt the need to move now considering Hughes was under contract for two more seasons at a totally reasonable price.  Why not let him start the year on his existing deal and then, if he looks like the stud he was last season, extend him then instead of taking $58 million worth of risk on one season of proven production?

Then again, there isn't anything in his numbers that suggests last season was a fluke.  His BABIP was actually high, his FIP was almost a full run lower than his ERA, his K/BB ratio was an all-time record, and although his HR ratio probably dipped down below where it should be it should be offset by that high BABIP and his overall numbers should be around the same as last year.  That kind of season is #1 pitcher territory, and based on WAR and the current rate being paid per win (note:  I don't really know how this is calculated) Fangraphs estimates last season Hughes was worth around $30 million.  If he pitches anywhere near that well maybe it's harder to extend him or becomes significantly more expensive.  Hughes certainly cashed in on his great season, it's a matter of time to see who got fleeced.  I'm hoping for Hughes.

-  Another newly added Twin is J.R. Graham, a right-handed pitcher the Twins picked in the Rule 5 draft from the Atlanta Braves.  Graham was a fourth round pick out of college and rose as high as a top 100 prospect according to both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus pre-2013 before arm issues derailed him.  Last season he pitched in 27 games at Double-A (starting 19) and put up 5.55 ERA and 1.47 WHIP which are yuck.  He was a stud at the lower levels before the injuries, so even with the ugly numbers last year he's probably worth taking the chance on.  As a Rule 5 draftee Graham has to stay on the Twins Major League roster all season or be offered back to the Braves.  Seeing as how Graham hasn't pitched above AA and did so poorly last year it's certainly a risk, but it worked for Ryan Pressly a couple of seasons ago.  Expect to see Graham in a lot of blow out, non high leverage innings.  Hopefully he does well.

-  Last baseball thing I want to mention is how great it is to see San Diego just say "Fuck it" and go for it big time.  They've constructed a completely new outfield of Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers, acquired a new catcher in Derek Norris, and landed a young 3B in Will Middlebrooks.  Considering the Padres were a historically horrible offense last year (their team total over/under in Vegas was frequently 2.5) replacing over half the lineup is not a bad idea, and they were able to do it without trading away any of their top 3 blue chip prospects (though they traded pretty much everyone else in the minors away).  They also only had to ship out one of their starters, a team strength, and will go into next season with a mostly intact rotation.  Two other signees, Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow, have flashed a ton of talent but neither has had much success staying healthy - perfect signings to fill that #5 slot, really.

Of course, any time you take this kind of risk you are inviting disaster in countless ways.  Kemp will be tasked with playing center field and by any metric or the eye test his body really isn't up to that any more.  Myers had a really bad sophomore season and the Rays essentially totally gave up on him with questions about his work ethic.  Norris is a big bat but is pretty horrendous defensively, and Middlebrooks has been underwhelming at best in his short career.  I couldn't find anything bad to say about Upton.

This is all pessimism of course, since I'm a Minnesota fan, and I think these are fantastic risks for a team in need of a shot in the arm and I'd love the Twins to pursue a similar course once they think they're close to being a contender.  They also now have an expendable Carlos Quentin, who can still hit the crap out of the ball when healthy - though he hasn't played more than 100 games since 2011 so who knows if he even can be healthy anymore.  If he can get through the first half of the season or so healthy and hitting, expect the Padres to aggressively move him to an American League team since he's basically a born DH.  It's a fun time to be a Padre fan.  I hate them.

-  Moving on to NCAA Hoops, uh, how good is Kentucky?  My goodness they just overwhelm teams.  The scary part is they're really winning with defense, because they have the most talent of anyone, they're incredibly athletic and tall (almost everyone who plays is 6-6 or bigger) and because they're so deep they can give total effort on the defensive end, knowing they won't have to conserve energy because they won't be playing heavy minutes.  And everyone is buying into the concept.  I'm really not interested in another Kentucky championship, but man I'm not sure how they don't end up winning.

Because they're so good defensively and so deep it's hard to see a team just jump up and beat them on a fluky night.  The only two teams I see who could beat them this year are Duke and Louisville.  Duke is nearly as deep and nearly as talented as Kentucky, so I could see them beating Kentucky if the Wildcats don't play their best game.  Louisville is super talented and can almost match Kentucky's athleticism, and they play a style that could work against the Wildcats if they can speed them up (and we might find out on Saturday).  Depressing?  Yes, but I mean, watch these guys.

-  Looks like the Gophers damn near dropped one to Furman tonight before rallying to win by 10.  That's definitely not good, but looking around the Big Ten avoiding the home loss to the crappy opponent seems to be a key this season.  I mean, Michigan lost to NJIT and Eastern Michigan, Michigan State lost to Texas Southern, Indiana lost to Eastern Washington, Northwestern lost to Central Michigan, Nebraska lost to Incarnate Word, Purdue lost to Gardner Webb and North Florida, and Rutgers lost to St. Francis and St. Peter's.  These are all horrible, horrible losses.  These aren't upsets, these are mega-upsets.  Avoiding this loss to Furman keeps the Gophers record intact, along with Wisconsin, Iowa, Maryland, Ohio State, Illinois, and Penn State (depending on how you feel about Charlotte).

I can't really write much about tonight's game because I didn't realize the game was on ESPN3 until late in the second half, but I did manage to catch the last ten minutes or so of game time and Furman could not miss.  Some of it is on the Gopher defense, yes, but the Paladins (for reals) hit a bunch of shots I'm willing to wager they don't usually knock down as well.  Every so often you run into a buzzsaw, not getting chopped down is a good thing.  As long as they don't come out and go down to the wire against Wilmington on Saturday you can pretty much just write this one off to a weird night - a weird night that didn't end up in a loss, a rarity in the B10 this year.

-  Lastly, fantasy football is stupid.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Rube Roundtable, Year 3

Every year around this lull in the year, ZipsofAkron from the much smarter than mine blog From the Barn sends some Gopher related questions out to blogger types.  Most years I remember to answer them.  This is one of those years.  My answers are below.  I will post a link to his blog when he compiles all the answers from us nerds.

1) So, uh, we're down to 9 scholarship players and a Kendal Shell. Your thoughts?

Well, it's better than 8 scholarship players and no Kendal Shell.  With or without Diedhiou, they have enough non-horrible players to come up with a playable rotation, even if it means heavier than you'd like minutes for some guys.  The real problem is going to come if there's foul trouble, and you know there will be foul trouble.  There are going to have to be a couple new walk-ons here soon, if only to have the bodies to weather a worst case type scenario.  And walk-ons are always fun in blowouts.  They think they're people.

2) Last year the Gophers won the NIT. What are your expectations this year?

This has already changed three times for me.  At the beginner of the year I was thinking they definitely need to make the NCAA Tournament for this season to be a success.  Then, after the preseason NIT or whatever I thought this team was way too dumb to end up making the tournament and figured the season was heading for a train wreck.  Now, however, Big Ten teams are dropping games left and right - at home - to terrible teams.  I figure if the Big Ten is as down as it seems, and the Gophers are at least mostly taking care of business, they should be able to get to 10 conference wins and, no matter how terrible terrible terrible terrible terrible the non-conference schedule was I can't see a 10 win Big Ten team getting bounced.  Thus, I believe this should be an NCAA Tournament team.  I reserve the right to change this when they get their doors blown off at Purdue.

3) What do you miss most about Maverick Ahanmisi?

The angst he caused.  The twitter meltdowns.  The clueless threads on Gopherhole (turns out I can still find plenty of those on a myriad of other topics).  By the end of his career he had turned himself into a halfway decent, albeit streaky, spot up outside shooter who deserved a chance against zones to see if he was hot.  Should he ever have been allowed to dribble?  No, of course not.  Did he do a lot of really dumb stuff with the basketball?  Yes, almost constantly.  Could he play defense?  Very little.  Wait, what was the question again?  

4) What about Gopher basketball is going to give you an ulcer this year?

Easy answer is Carlos Morris, but when you go the JuCo route a certain amount of chuckery and undisciplined ball is expected so I'll give him a pass and say Joey King, and I don't really want to say Joey King, but it's Joey King.  He clearly works hard.  He's got a really nice shot fake, he's a much better rebounder than he was, he's even developed himself some semblance of a post up game, a far cry from the perimeter offense only type he was when he first arrived.  That's all great, but he just does some horrible things.  Nobody has ever been worse in the open court, ever, and he still likes to put up a really dumb shot at least once or twice a game.  He also constantly uses that shot fake to get his defender of his feet, but then doesn't do anything with that advantage (that alone is enough to give me an ulcer).  Of course there's nothing he can do when he's overpowered or out-athleticked, but the mere fact that's he's basically the team's only option is ulcer-worthy as well.

5) Maryland and Rutgers are real Big Ten members. How do you feel about this from a hoopsball perspective?

I love conference expansion because I love getting a chance to see new teams and players in person, and given the traditional home non-conference schedule for this program that doesn't happen very often.  I still don't understand why they can't schedule home and homes with like, Colorado or Oklahoma State, or Seton Hall or other mid-tier big conference schools, but I digress.

I like seeing new teams.  I don't care about exposure or tv sets in new markets or blah blah blah, but I'm also not wrapped up in "traditional rivalries are being destroyed" or any of that stuff that always sounds like it's being yelled by an old man in a bath robe who is shaking his fist at a newspaper.  New teams are fun.  Maryland is fun.  Rutgers exists.  

6) Real talk. Are we on the up and up or is this just another foray into unmet expectations and mediocrity?

Every time one administration flops and a new coach comes in there is always plenty of blind optimism, and I'm as guilty as anyone.  So far, that optimism hasn't lasted, and there's another flop and the cycle continues.  I'm hoping this one is for real, because I'm hoping Richard Pitino is for real.  Being mentored by Rick Pitino and Billy Donovan is about as good an education as you could ask for, and Pitino (and his staff, can't forget McHale and Kimani) are tireless workers on the recruiting trail.  Their in game schemes, plays, and game plans are inventive and exciting.  Mo Walker's improvement suggests they may be good at player development, which would make this staff 3-for-3 in what you need from a college coach.  Monson was hamstrung by needing to rebuild a shattered program, Tubby was looking to go out in a cushy job where he could half ass it (my perception), but Pitino should be good to go.  So I guess I think we're on the up and up.  I'm so stupid.

7) In the same vein, what does this program need to do to take the next step? 

College basketball, in my opinion, is ruled by recruiting.  A good game coach (game plan and/or in game) can help elevate a team, but the disparity in talent between the top players and the rest is insurmountable by any coach, so that's the key.  Pitino has the team moving in the right direction in this arena, but the rumors of his leaving every off season to take a "better" job are only going to get louder if he continues to build the program up (or hell, as long as he doesn't burn it to the ground).  In order to continue to build their talent and keep creeping up the recruit ladder they need to keep Pitino.  If he is hired away, it's likely because he's had success here so they need to make a hire who can keep that going, although I'm not sure where you can find someone young and hungry enough to take this job and work that hard who is also somewhat of a known commodity based on household name recognition. So I guess the answer is to give him as many blank checks as needed so he never leaves.  Pretty simple. 

Coming soon:  Some baseball talk.  Maybe a live movie blog.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Big Ten Chuckers, Power Ranking #2

With the next 2-3 weeks really nothing but meaningless games it's doubtful I'll be writing any game previews or recaps.  When somebody goes rogue transfer like Martin I'll hit it and when/if Diedhiou becomes eligible that's post worthy, but there probably won't be a whole lot of Gopher specific stuff until a wrap up/preview before conference play starts.  For now, I'll do more fun stuff, and what's more fun than checking in on our chuckers for Power Ranking #2.  Last week's rank in parenthesis.

1.  TRE DEMPS, Northwestern (1).  Demps remains the master, shooting 7-27 in his last three games with a 1-7 and 1-8 mixed in.  On the season he's now taking 29% of Northwestern's shots when he's in the game with a 37% hit rate on 2s and 29% on 3s.  His 2-1 assist-to-turnover rate is the only thing holding him back from being one of the most perfect chuckers in history.  He's fifth in the conference in missed shots, and only attempts 11 per game. That's impressive.  Bonus points because he usually becomes super good towards the end of close games.  It's quite a super power.

2.  MIKE WILLIAMS, Rutgers (8).  I had no idea who Williams was at the beginning of the year, but he's really growing on me.  Just a freshman, he burst onto the scene shooting 7-29 in his first four career games, and he hasn't gotten much better, shooting just 33% on twos and 24% on threes on the season.  He's taking 25% of his team's shots when he's on the floor on a team with two clear senior leaders (Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack), and he's averaging more shots per game (8.8) than points (7.3) which is pretty fantastic.  From the volume shooting to the inability to make any baskets, Williams is a really strong contender.  And we get three more years. [2-6 on Tuesday.  Don't get shy, Mike.]

3.  TERRAN PETTEWAY, Nebraska (7).  It's time to talk about Petteway.  Fantastic player, obviously.  He's averaging 21 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, and a block per game this year, outstanding numbers.  Make no mistake though - he's a chucker.  He's taking 35% of the Huskers shots when he's on the floor (which ranks 24th in the entire country and 4th among major conference schools) and hitting 47% from two and 36% from three which puts his eFG% under 50%.  He's also turning the ball over nearly 4 times per game, and threw up a game where he shot 5-18 and turned it over 8 times earlier this year.  So yeah, he's a fantastic player, but he's also a big time chucker.  Never forget.

4.  CARLOS MORRIS, Minnesota (4).  Morris has an unfair advantage because I get to watch almost all his games, but he definitely belongs.  A couple of really efficient games have bumped his eFG% up to 46% which is getting a little too close to respectability for my tastes (combined 13-19 shooting in his last two is no good), but his refusal to pass the ball is as strong as ever.  He does average 2.0 assists per game, but that's against 2.4 turnovers and considering he's a wing on a team that ranks 9th in the country with an assist on 66% of their made baskets that's not very impressive.  Plus, just watch  him sometime. [5-9 Monday.  Continues to be efficient.  Not going to drop him much until I see it against a good team, but we could really use more chucking here.]

5.  KENDALL STEPHENS, Purdue (NR).  I said at the beginning of the year that Purdue was set up to have at least one guy on this list, and right now it looks like Stephens is the guy.  I had Bryson Scott on here for both of my first two lists, but he just doesn't shoot enough (though a 1-6 in 12 minutes recently is nice).  Stephens, however, is starting to look like a more than worthy replacement.  His shot percentage is a solid 26%, and though his eFG% is higher than I'd like at 52% he's started to put up much better chucker looking numbers with a 1-9, 2-11, and 2-7 in his last three outings.  Add in that 70% of his attempts are from three and somehow he's shooting an insane 19% from two this year (4-22) and I think he's the Boiler for the job. [5-11 Monday.  Good shot amount in 22 minutes.  Could be a high riser.]

6.  KADEEM JACK, Rutgers (NR).  Jack has always been a high usage player for the Scarlet Knights, and he's kept it up this year (31% shots) but he's added a new wrinkle to his game - he can't make anything.  He missed the first two games of the year but has made up for it with some seriously prolific chucking including an 8-23 performance against Vandy and a ridiculous 3-15 vs. Seton Hall, leading to a 37% shooting percentage and a scoring average more than 2 points lower than last season.  He's never been much for passing (his average of 1.5 assists per game this year is a career high) but his season total of 9 assists vs. 17 turnovers is worth noting.  If his shot doesn't come back he could challenge for the crown.  [3-9 Tuesday with 7 turnovers to boot.  Something could be brewing here.]

7.  BRYANT MCINTOSH, Northwestern (9).  When I put McIntosh on here last time I said I figured he wouldn't last long.  So far, at least, I was wrong. Since my last post (5 games) he's shot 15-48 including a 1-10 game against Georgia Tech, and I just can't ignore that kind of non-production no matter how good he is at passing - and he is, averaging 5 assists per game (against 2.5 TOs) with an assist rate ranking in the top 40 in the country.  He's still taking 23% of his team's shots when he's on the floor, and as long as he keeps up that volume while being unable to actually put the ball in the basket it'll be tough to keep him off this list.  There are plenty of good distributors who are terrible shooters, most of them don't heave the ball at the hoop this often.  And that's why he's a chucker.

8.  KAMERON CHATMAN, Michigan (NR).  Another freshman who just DGAF, the most impressive thing about Chatman is how he's 6-7 and he just hates the paint.  Loathes it.  Treats it like my kids treat the floor when they do that thing where the floor is hot lava.  I say that because I perusing the sweet site, and Chatman has taken 6% of his shots at the rim this year.  I will just tell you that is insanely low.  For reference there is no Gopher under 10%, and no other Wolverine under 15% - it's a really low number, especially for someone who is 6-7.  I also noticed that 100% of his baskets at the rim are assisted, which means he never drives, he just stands around and chucks jumpers, like when he shot 0-6 in their hilariously awesome loss to NJIT.  On the season he's now at 34% on twos and 21% on threes, and if he continues to be allergic to the rim he could be one to watch. [0-2 Tuesday.  [Shot amount is unfortunate, but at least he missed them both.]

9.  BRANDON TAYLOR, Penn State (NR).  Taylor's actually similar to Chatman in that he hates scoring in the paint too (10.5%), but he has fewer excuses.  He's not a skinny freshman like Chatman, he's a 6-6, 225 lb. junior who averages 6.4 rebounds per game, so it's not like he's incapable of playing in the paint, he just doesn't want to.  Now, granted, this can be a valid plan and has worked for many players in the past.  It does not, however, generally work when you're shooting just 29% from three (15-51) especially when you're taking more threes than twos. Nothing new for Taylor since in his three seasons he's averaged 3.5 or more 3 attempts per game each year and failed to ever break better than 32% accuracy.  I really should have had him on the list earlier.

10.  JARROD UTHOFF, Iowa (NR).  Uthoff likes to shoot (25% shot percentage) and he's not particularly horrible at it (40% twos, 39% threes) but his eFG is still just 48% so he qualifies, and he deserves mention on this list because of that horrendous 40% twos for a 6-9 player.  I checked a handful of other teams and the only other guy who combines that kind of volume and ineptitude with that height is Kadeem Jack, number 6 on this list.  Special shout out to his 2-13 game against North Carolina, though in fairness he also grabbed 11 rebounds.  I don't see Uthoff sticking on this list for very long, but I wanted to recognize him while he's not hot. [6-11 Tuesday.  Vs. Alcorn State.  So meh.]

Notable feats in chucking around the country:

1.  CAZMON HAYES, Delaware.  If we are looking for the best chucker in the nation, we might not have to look any further.  Just look at this line:  15.4ppg, 29% field goal percentage, 0.7 assists per game.  Glorious.  He has a 3-18 and a 4-21 shooting on the year.  Also a 6-21.  His best shooting game he went 4-9 and I assume he must have been in foul trouble to only get off 9 shots.  He has five assists the entire season.  He's shooting 9 threes per game despite hitting just 29%.  Even better, last year he only averaged 10 minutes and two shots per game.  Get yours, Caz, get yours.

2.  KYLE WILTJER, Gonzaga.  Wiltjer transferred from Kentucky in order to get out under the shackles of a tightly called and tightly run Calipari offense, and he's certainly had free reign to chuck away since becoming a Zag (35% shot percentage).  Never was that more evident than against Georgia when he put up 26 shots.  It's really hard to shoot 26 times in one game, especially when your team shoots 52.  Some quick math tells me that's half the team's attempts, which I don't think is how most offenses are supposed to be run.  He did make 14 which is not chucker like, but when you take half your team's shots and put up the second most attempts of any player in a game this year (behind DJ Newbill who took 33 in a 2OT game) it's worth noting.

3.  DAMON LYNN, NJIT.  This is a pretty good one, because Lynn had a god awful chucker level game against Marquette not long after the last Chucker Update, shooting 4-20 with five turnovers in a game the Highlanders lost by just five, a game they might have won if Lynn makes a few more shots.  Then came the big upset win over Michigan which was pretty awesome, and Lynn is the hero, hitting 7-16 (6-10 on threes) and coming up huge, nailing that huge, soul crushing, monster three pointer with about two minutes left when Michigan looked like they might be about to retake the game.  Chucker redemption at its finest.

4.  MARCELLUS BARKSDALE, IUPUI.  Though he did put up back-to-back performances worthy of a call out (4-14 and 2-11 shooting), he's mainly just here because I saw his name pop up in my top secret chucker formula and actually said "holy shit" out loud. What a sweet name.  Marcellus Wallace and Avon Barksdale had a baby, and he loves throwing the ball in the basic direction of the hoop.  Also, I love Pulp Fiction (duh) and I just finished season 4 of The Wire so I'm still in that "holy crap you guys The Wire is so good I can't believe I never watched it" mode.  Seriously though, holy crap you guys The Wire is so good I can't believe I never watched it.

5.  PHIL FORTE, Oklahoma State.  Phil has carried on the Forte tradition of being an excellent college basketball player started by Joe and Jason and probably Matt.  He's not here because he's a terrible shooter, because he's generally pretty good.  He is, however, a 3-point bomber with two thirds of his shots coming from behind the arc at a clip of over 8 attempts per game.  He's around a 40% shooter from there in his career so he's a pretty valuable weapon.  However with a weapon like that, occasionally things can go drastically wrong.  Forte fell apart against South Carolina on Saturday, going 1-14 from the field and 1-10 from three as the Cowboys got blasted 75-49.  It was pretty much disaster all around as the team shot sub 25% for the game.  It is hard to win that way.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Fare thee Well, Josh Martin

Well that was fast.  Seven games into his collegiate career freshman power forward Josh Martin, Richard Pitino's first "real" recruit, has decided the University of Minnesota is not for him and has decided to transfer, effective immediately.  This comes as a bit of a surprise considering he was pretty spaztastic about the U after he signed on Twitter, including tweeting at a bunch of other recruits so it seemed kind of like he was a Gopher 4 Life.  On the other hand, his body language wasn't great, and he was playing just five minutes per game.  One could argue that playing five minutes per game in your first seven games for a Big Ten mid-tier team is probably about where a mid-tier recruit should expect to be, but hey, not everyone can handle something like that after being a star in high school.

I thought Martin flashed some good potential (read here) and obviously he was a big time athlete, and I was expecting him to steadily improve and be a big time player his last two years.  Obviously that's out.  If he felt like this wasn't the right fit and wanted more playing time right away, well, unfortunately that's his right and he's entitled to seek out the best situation for him, but the timing sucks for everyone involved.  The Gophers are now down to nine scholarship players and need Gaston Diedhiou to become eligible more than ever, and for Martin he's essentially wasted a half year of eligibility with nothing to show for it.  So why not finish out the year?  I suspect, and I have nothing to base this on other than the timing and my gut feel, that this is a "home sick" kind of situation.  Minneapolis is quite a ways from Seattle, and I can't think of any other reason to make such an abrupt change other than simply "I don't want to be here any more."  I'm guessing the playing time situation  didn't help, but I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up in the Pacific Northwest when his transfer gets figured out.

It sucks, and I had high hopes for him, but we move on.  Assuming Diedhiou gains his eligibility, an assumption which I have to assume at this point or I'll cry, he should be able to fill in for Martin's five minutes per game, or at least that's the hope.  It also opens up another scholarship for Pitino to fill, and with Lofton and McNeil (probably) off the team that's three spots for Spring recruiting which can be a dicey proposition.  I trust Pitino to do well, and I'd bet at least one of those spots gets filled by a transfer.  This is a bummer, but it's not crushing, at least.  Even if Gaston doesn't get to play they should be able to get by with

PG:  Mathieu (35), Mason (5)
SG:  Hollins (30), Mason (10)
SF:  Morris (30), Mason (10)
PF:  King (30), Buggs (10)
C:  Walker (25), Eliason (15)

No problem, right?  Now how about nobody gets in foul trouble?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Gophers 84, Wake Forest 69

Ok so I was wrong.  Wake did get to the line a ton but didn't shoot well once there, the Gophers controlled their rebounding, and the Gophers shot the bell well and got a great night out of Andre Hollins.  Wake was as bad as I thought and the Gophers were just better.  It's nice to see them take care of business against an inferior opponent on the road, not that they'll have to do that again for a month or so.  Anyway, here's ten things.

1.  Can we get this Dre Hollins all the time?  Man is he fun to watch when he gets going like tonight.  It seems like it's been a rough go with him lately, what with his regression to chucker and turnover machine status so far this year, but tonight he had it all working again and it was glorious.  His shot was so on he was NBA Jam On Fire in the second half and he was active the whole game, resulting in 7 boards. He did have 3 turnovers but that's acceptable, even against 0 assists because he's just not a point guard anymore.  It's pretty much Mathieu or Mason getting the ball handling work, and I'm actually more comfortable with either of them than with Dre, so it works for me.  He's a scorer, so go be a scorer.

2.  The press continues to work.  You can't say Pitino hasn't changed this team's style, that's for sure.  They're fast - last night's game ended up at 77 possessions, just shy of the Louisville game and helped speed Wake up to a faster pace than they generally like, which ended up in sloppy possessions and a whole mess of Gopher turnovers once again.  Wake gave the ball away on 23% of their possessions with the Gophers stealing the ball 13 times (18 total TOs), an incredible number which upped their % to 14.7% on the year, 7th highest in the country.  It's worth mentioning that last night's press was more aggressive with trapping than the press usually is, suggesting Pitino knew Wake was a questionable ball handling team and intentionally upped the pressure.  It's a little thing and may seem obvious, but I know other coaches here didn't make little adjustments like that from game to game.  It's nice to see that attention to detail and willingness to tweak things based on opponent.

3.  The Gopher guards do a really nice job against ball screens.  Aaron Craft got a lot of pub last year about how he's the best defender ever and stuff like that, and he was good, but one of the things he was exceptional at was slithering over the top of a ball screen (Shannon Scott too, which is why OSU was so good defensively last year).  If you can slip between the screener and the ball handler, nobody has to hedge or help or switch or rotate, and it becomes a wasted motion by the offense that takes up time but does nothing towards getting the offensive team closer to scoring.  It's a valuable skill, and the Gopher guards are good at it (not Craft or Scott good, but good enough to be mentioned).  Mathieu is on that Scott/Craft level, Hollins can do it every time if his offensive game is clicking (yes, sorry, but his offensive game triggers his defensive level of effort, it's true), and I've seen Mason do it more often than you'd expect a freshman too.  It's not a stat and doesn't show up in the paper or our fantasy league, but it's a really valuable skill and three Gopher guards have it.  Nice.

4.  I'm going to say something nice about Carlos Morris.  There are parts of his undisciplined JuCo wild approach that work because of his athleticism.  Eight steals last night is awesome, and yes, many of them game with him gambling and taking chances (which is fine) and there were times he missed the steal and gave Wake an easy path to the basket or to break the press (which happens) but as long as his gambles are paying off with 8 steals, I'll take it.  I also really like how when he gets a rebound he'll just turn and book it down court.  Mathieu is the only other one who does that.  They just fly and then assess if they should continue to attack or pull back once they cross the timeline rather than let the defense get back and get set right away.  I love it, and I think more Gophers should do it when they get a board (NOT Joey King).  I didn't like Morris's shot selection, six turnovers, or that time he went up for a (ill advised) jumper and chucked the ball straight backwards, but I've been hammering on him and he's not really all bad, he just needs to be controlled a little bit - like a pet alligator.

5.  Beyond just Morris, this team turns into a really dumb team sometimes.  I really hate dumb teams.  As an avid gambler one of my biggest rules is "never bet on a dumb team."  It's one of my strongest rules along with "never take an under on Marcus Paige or Yogi Ferrell" and "don't ever bet on a football team who can't throw".  Sometimes, however, you don't know who is a dumb team, and sometimes smart teams turn into dumb teams, and all this is just me finding a way to say that I'm starting to fear that this Gopher team is dumb.  Dumb teams take stupid shots, make dumb turnovers, foul too much and at stupid times, miss tons of free throws, and give up easy buckets with defensive lapses including but not limited to not getting back in transition which the Gophers did like 117 times last game (I didn't count).  So far this year the Gophers take stupid shots, make dumb turnovers, foul too much and at stupid times, miss tons of free throws, and give up easy buckets with defensive lapses including but not limited to not getting back in transition.  I'm absolutely terrified for the rest of this year.

6.  The Gophers kept going to a pretty simple play, and it kept resulting in 3 points.  It's nothing special, really, but they used it several times and Hollins got two three-pointers out of it and King got one.  Shooter guy starts on one wing and just sprints to the opposite corner or wing, rubbing off a back pick on the near wing and a second pick on the opposite block.  It's basically just two picks, but it worked early for the Gophers and they kept going back to it, rightly so since it worked several times.  They also ran a modified version for Carlos Morris where instead of going to the corner or wing for a jumper he turned it into a curl cut where he's already moving towards the bucket when he receives the ball.  Good modification.  Good play.

7.  Josh Martin is going to be a really good rebounder some day.  His box score looks pretty brutal with just six minutes played and 1 rebound (to go with one missed shot, two turnovers, and two fouls) but I paid attention to Martin last night and I saw some promising things, mainly around rebounding.  Offensive or defensive, he was always in good position and got his hand on 2-3 other rebounds that he couldn't corral because his positioning was perfect.  He also got shoved almost all the way under the basket by some Wake guy on a free throw so we're still a little ways off, but he'll get there.  I'm going to say one year in the future he'll average as many as EIGHT rebounds per game. You heard it here first.

8.  Mo Walker, rim protector?  Walker is never going to be confused for Antoine Broxsie or Jerome Holman when it comes to shot blocking, what with 37 career blocks coming into this season, but suddenly he's a different defender.  The combination of the weight loss, recovery from injury, and the confidence he's gained after a successful season last year have him as active as I've ever seen defensively and it's paying off big time.  I always considered Eliason the defensive presence and Walker the offensive banger, but this year Walker is averaging 1.6 blocks in 20 minutes per game, blocking 9.8% of the opponents shot attempts while he's on the floor.  That's an incredible number that's doubled from last season and is almost 3 times higher than Eliason, and it ranks as the 42nd best percentage in DI (behind only A.J. Hammons, Alex Olah, and Michal Cekovsky in the B10).  I didn't notice this until last night when he was challenging, and blocking, shots but man, what a huge development.

9.  The Gophers look really good in transition, thanks to Mathieu.  Boy is this team fun to watch in transition.  I love when Mathieu just takes off and guys are sprinting to fill lanes.  He's incredibly good at being able to observe the defenders at 100mph and know when to go to the rim, when to pull back, and my favorite is when he'll kind of drift towards the off ball defender, knowing a teammate is screaming up the opposite wing and he can hit him with either pass leading towards the rim or a kick out for an open three attempt.  He struggles against teams who can challenge his quickness, but when he has it going like last night (8 assists) it's a thing of beauty.  I still wish he'd look for his shot a bit more since he is a quality shooter but he's down a full 2 shot attempts per game this year.  Don't worry, that's not a complaint.  Love this guy.

10.  So by my count the Big Ten now leads the challenge 6-2.  That's good!  They only need two more wins to win this thing which would be the sixth straight year of the Big Ten not losing after losing the first ten iterations of this thing.  Normally I'm not one who cares about rooting for your conference and usually I hope any and all rivals face ruthless and humiliating defeats whenever possible, but in this case Big Ten wins help the Gophers.  It bumps up any winning team's RPI, and by extension the whole conference's RPI, and if the B10 does well it helps the national perception of the teams which can only help in March when those nerds go into their sealed room and start talking about NCAA Tournament bids.  So yeah, in general I root for the Big Ten in these games, except for Iowa and I hope a black hole opens up in Madison tonight and swallows Wisconsin, Duke, and all the fans of those teams in attendance into Bolivian.  Who wouldn't want that?

So that's it for meaningful games until the conference slate opens on New Year's Eve at Purdue.  Until then it's a bunch of garbage.  Next up is Western Carolina on Wednesday, and other than Kevin Martin possibly showing up (it's his alma mater and the Wolves are in town, though they play the  Rockets and I don't know the rules like if he has to be there when he's hurt or if he can go to the Gopher game) there's not a whole lot to be excited about.  Really not the Martin thing either because meh.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Wake Forest

This Wake game just sucks.  Really sucks.  It's a total no win, big loss situation.  Wake Forest is not a very good team and they just lost at home to a horrendous Delaware State club so they shouldn't be scary.  That also means a win against them will mean nothing for their March hopes, and a loss will be a big black mark.  They'll be on the road, where they're always shaky, against an ACC opponent with one very strong skill (they're one of the best rebounding teams in the country and tops overall on not allowing offensive rebounds) in a game they can't afford to lose.  Doesn't seem fair.  They're going to be a 5 point favorite in a game where a loss is a major resume killer.  Sucks.  So I guess yeah just win.

The reason the Deacons control the boards mainly lies with the talents of 6-9 junior forward Devin Thomas, who 4th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 36% of all opponent missed shots when he's on the floor, adding up to 10.3 rebounds per game.  He's not a huge scorer (11.7ppg) but he's capable, having put up 19 against Arkansas, the best defensive team Wake has faced this year.  He mainly hangs around the bucket and is shooting 51% this year and he'll be a handful for Eliason and Walker to handle.  He also excels at getting to the line, drawing over 7 fouls per 40 minutes and having taken nearly as many free throws as field goals on the season.  I seriously doubt both, if any, of those two can avoid hacking away so that means we may see a hearty dose of Bakary Konate.  Sink or swim, kid, sink or swim.

The other Demon Deacon who deserves his own call out is Codi McIntyre-Miller, and not just because he spells his first name with an I.  He's a bit of an odd duck as a 6-3 guard who doesn't shoot 3-pointers (just 7 attempts this year), but's still managed to average 11.3 points per game this year though on 39% shooting.  He's the play maker and point guard for the team, though his assist numbers have taken a bit of a tumble this year and his turnovers have jumped up a bit.  The best news of all is that he's taking over 30% of his team's shots when he's on the floor with an eFG% of 39% and you know what that means - CHUCKER ALERT!  Always fun.

Behind those two there's a mishmash of 7 other guys who play 13 or more minutes per game, but none really standout.  Mitchell Wilbekin (6.9ppg, 1.6spg), brother of Scottie, is the other starting guard and a plus defender and the team's top three point threat (44% on about 4 attempts per game).  Cornelius Hudson (7ppg, 4.3rpg) starts on the wing and he's another great rebounder on this team, and Michael Crabtree's brother.  Down low Darius Leonard starts next to Thomas (6.6ppg, 3.4rpg).  He's not scary, though if it goes as expected and Joey King ends up guarding him who knows.  Off the bench Wake gets some scoring pop from 6-10 freshman Konstantinos Mitoglou (8.1ppg and 5.6rpg in just 18.1mpg) and 6-1 junior guard Madison Jones (7.1ppg, 2.9apg), another point guard who doesn't shoot threes.  There's a bunch of other guys here but Danny Manning mixes and matches a lot of guys, trying to find a workable and winning combination.  The seven I touched on here are the ones who should really impact the game.

Overall, Wake is a pretty bad team.  But they have a couple of big advantages:  They are a much better rebounding team than the Gophers and could end up getting a ton of o-boards while allowing Minnesota to grab zero of them, and they get to the line regularly and that's been the Gophers major weakness.  On the flippity flop, the Gophers create a ton of turnovers and Wake has been really sloppy with the ball this year, and even better most of their turnovers are coming via the steal and the Gophers are rocking the thefts this year.  Neither team can shoot though both share the ball well, so that's a push.  The way I see it, if you look at the four factors most highly correlated with winning basketball, there's one push (shooting), one where the Gophers have the edge (turnovers), and two go to Wake (rebounding, free throws). Add in Wake having home court and I struggle to see this going well for Minnesota.  Someone push the panic button.

Wake Forest 64, Minnesota 60.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Gophers finished third in NIT Tip-Off! (out of 4).

First they were in total charge of the St. John's game, until they weren't, and ended up losing.  Then they were in total charge of the Georgia game, until they weren't, but ended up winning.  Overall the event did more to make me pessimistic about the rest of the season than optimistic, but that doesn't mean there weren't some positives.  Up front I will tell you I watched the St. John's game at the bar which is a much less conducive environment to trying to make semi-interesting or fairly entertaining observations, so much of this will refer more to the Georgia game.  It's doubtful it's semi-interesting or fairly entertaining anyway, as per usual.  Anyway, here's ten things.

1.  Free throws are killing me.  I'm talking both sides of the ball here.  After FT shooting nights of 9-16 against St. John's and 12-23 versus Georgia, the Gophers are now shooting a robust 55.2% for the season.  That 55.2% ranks 343rd in the entire NCAA.  There are 351 teams in Division I.  UNLV is the only other major conference team anywhere near the Gophers in terms of being that horrible at free throws which, in case you'rs unsure, are completely unguarded shots by rule.  There's more.  The Gophers rank 318th in opponents FT attempts per FG attempt, which means they are constantly putting their opponents at the free throw line where they get to shoot without any defense.  Usually this kind of profile belongs to an undersized, undermanned team and all the teams near the Gophers here are small schools or crappy teams like Oregon State and Boston College.  The Gophers are giving up a ridiculous amount of free points while failing to take advantage of the same.  Opponents are scoring 27% of their points at the line (rank #309), while the Gophers score 17% of their points from there (290th).  This is a really good way to lose a lot of games you probably shouldn't, and is a major, major red flag.  I'm pretty scared.  Keep an eye on this one.

2.  Nate Mason continues to impress.  He led the team in scoring against the Red Storm with 15 and though he struggled shooting against Georgia he chipped in with 3 assists and 3 rebounds and has clearly emerged as the top player off the bench.  Much of what he does is obvious when you watch him, but I want to point out something that might not stand out - he's an incredible rebounder.  He's averaging 4.3 per game, and considering he's not playing starter's minutes it's even more impressive.  His defensive rebounding rate is 20.8%, meaning he grabs one out of every five missed shots on the defensive end when he's on the court.  That number ranks 216th in the country and I don't mean just for guards, I mean for everyone, and he's a 6-1 guard.  He's probably going to average a triple double his senior year, if he's not already in the NBA.

3.  Richard Pitino's beloved pressure defense is working.  Mostly, at least, as the Gophers rank 31st in the country in defensive efficiency, giving up just .92 points per possession.  They're mainly winning by causing turnovers, ranking 10th in the country and turning over their opponents 27.1% of the time, a ridiculous number that's just behind Rick Pitino and Louisville's 27.5%.  The Gophers are also playing at the pace of 70.2 possessions per game (52nd in the country) which is identical to Louisville, so I think it's safe to say the system is pretty much in place.  How well it ends up working against B10 competition is up in the air as it can lead to easy shots by the opponent as the Gophers rank just 127th in opponents' two point FG percentage, but as long as the turnovers keep coming you can handle a little trade off there.  Georgia certainly did their part by giving the ball away 18 times, as did St. John's on Wednesday.  It's a fun brand of basketball, and even more fun when they win.

4.  Another thing that is fun so far is how well the Gophers are passing the basketball.  With one glaring, notable exception (see below) the Gophers are moving the ball really well and it's fun to watch.  Dre Mathieu is one of the best in the country at getting into the lane because he's so quick, and he's been exceptional this year at hitting open teammates when he does.  Mason has mostly been a pass first kind of guy this year, Dre Hollins is an excellent passer when he wants to be, and both Joey King and Mo Walker are above average passers for big men.  This has led to the Gophers registering an assist on 64.5% of their baskets this year, a number that ranks 21st in the nation and (somehow) 4th in the Big Ten behind Iowa, Purdue (?), and Michigan State.  Of course, there's someone who is trying to destroy all that fun.

5.  Pitino has got to reign in Carlos Morris.  Last year writing about DeAndre Matheiu I said I like my guards a little bit out of control, and I do, but Morris is not a little bit out of control he's just straight up damaging when he's on the court.  Poor defensive rotations, ball stopping, and bad shots are three of the most harmful things you can bring to a team and he's an expert at all three.  His only good game this year was against Franklin Pierce, he's taking one shot attempt per point this year, and has as many turnovers as assists.  It hasn't been good, though I'm not ready to give up because he has serious athletic potential, it just needs to be harnessed.  There was one possession in the Georgia game where the team was moving the ball around the perimeter pretty well until it got to Morris at the top of the key.  His defender was playing off him just enough to dare him shoot so Morris did, but not before holding the ball and just staring at the defensive dude for like 3 seconds, no joke.  Naturally the result of the shot was an airball.  The whole thing was a perfect encapsulation of his season so far.  Let's hope we can look back on this as growing pains by year's end, because Morris is going to get a ton of minutes, and the less damage he can do the better.

6.  Charles Buggs could be a solid contributor.  I don't think there have ever been any questions about his shooting and he's shooting well again this season (5-10 on threes), but for Buggs to really crack the rotation he needed to work on other things.  With the McNeil situation he's going to get a lot more rope, and he's going to get time at the 3 spot which, to me, is more his natural fit if he can play defense.  So far this year he's looked better defensively, though not a standout by any means but he's not getting lost nearly as often.  He's rebounding a little bit better, and most importantly he's slashed his turnovers from a horrendous 27% to an outstanding 10%.  He's even grabbed a couple of steals (literally two) and gone to the line a handful of times.  Buggs was pretty clearly a long term project from the moment he stepped on campus, but he's looked considerably better this year to the point where he might be able to give them 10-15 minutes per game which is going to be badly needed now.  What more could you ask for?

7.  I actually really like Bob Knight as an announcer.  Sure he gets stuck on certain ideas and won't let them go, such as shot fakes and not having Eliason or Walker set picks so far away from the basket, but I really like the coach's perspective he brings to being the color man.  I know plenty of other announcers are former coaches, but they all seem to have at least shifted some towards "being entertaining" from "being informative" (with varying degrees of success) but Knight is still in coach/educator mode.  He's always pointing out positioning on defense or rebounding or discussing plays more in depth than your average guy, and he does it in a deadpan voice that pretty much tells you he's not interested in being your trained monkey there for entertainment.  I also like how he kept referring to Walker and Eliason as "the big kids."  I don't know.  I dig it.

8.  Dre Hollins has turned into a turnover machine.  And I don't like it one bit.  Twelve turnovers in the two tournament games bring his season total to 18 against 19 assists.  His assist rate is actually up this year compared to last after plummeting from his sophomore season, which is to be expected with Mathieu on board and taking up most of the point guard minutes, but his turnover rate has absolutely sky rocketed to 27%, worse even than his wild freshman year.  The only players in the conference who play major minutes with a worse turnover rate are ball handlers new to the league (Lourawls Nairn (34%), freshman), Tai Webster (30%, his second year), Bishop Daniels (28%, juco transfer)) or big men with questionable handles (A.J. Hammons (28%), Mo Walker (29%), Ross Travis (28%)).  I mean, that's a really crappy number.  Take that turnover number and add in 41% shooting from the floor and that's an awful lot of wasted possessions.  He's in chucker territory.  Please stop doing that.

9.  I finally made sriracha fried rice and it was awesome.  I've had it at a couple of Thai places and it's like, the best thing ever, so I finally decided to give it a shot and I'm damn glad I did.  It's one of the most delicious things ever.  It's great too, because for the veggies you can just use whatever you have.  One time I had green pepper so I used it, another time (yes I made it twice this weekend) we were out of pepper so I used about a quarter bag of frozen peas and it worked out just fine.  Here's the recipe.  You're welcome.

2 c. cooked rice (I just used minute rice)
2 celery stalks, chopped or slivered
1 carrot, peeled and chopped or slivered
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/4 bag frozen peas
1/4 t dried ginger (if you have fresh it's probably better, I didn't)
1 t toasted sesame oil
2 T soy sauce
2 T sriracha
1-2 garlic cloves
some green onions, chopped with the white and green separated

1. Heat a skillet or wok on medium high until hot, pour in some olive oil and garlic and saute for 30 seconds
2. add the veggies except the green part of the green onion and saute for about 3 minutes
3.  add the rice and ginger and saute about 3 minutes, rice should start to change color a little
4.  add the soy sauce, sesame oil, and sriracha and mix until everything is combined
5.  remove from heat and eat.

So good.

10.  This Wake game is the last one that's going to matter for a while.  I'm not really sure if Wake Forest is any good (tune in tomorrow) but it's the last threat to the Gophers for about a month, and the last game that will could potentially have any positive impact on the Gophers' future NCAA Tournament resume.  The next six games after the Deacons are just brutal.  The best teams according to kenpom are teams like Western Carolina, Seattle, and UNC-Wilmington who aren't even contenders in their own conferences and who rank in the mid-200s.  The NCAA selection committee doesn't use kenpom at all (I don't think) but I'm pretty sure there's some sort of correlation when it comes to RPI and none of these clown shoes teams are going to help.  One huge advantage Tubby's staff had over Pitino's is they had figured out how to make a schedule full of non-threatening games which still kept their SOS and RPI in good shape.  i don't think this schedule is going to do that.  Which means the Big 10 season is going to be even more important than in previous years, which terrifies me.  Beat Wake.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Game Preview: Gophers vs. St. Johns

Before getting to the Red Storm we might as well get the unpleasantness out of the way:  Daquein McNeil has been arrested for domestic assault and is being held without bail.  I haven't seen any details beyond that and the Gophers have suspended him indefinitely pending an investigation.  In the current climate things certainly don't look good for McNeil, but hopefully the team and school will do their due diligence rather than succumb to the current environment and move on him rashly.  I have no current opinion, nor should anyone else, because we don't know anything (though if what I heard on the radio is true oof) other than Carlos Morris is probably going to get more playing time (more shots!) and we can expect some more of Chuck Buggs, which can only (hopefully) be a good thing.

As for St. Johns, they've had some issues of their own this offseason and as a result are not a very deep team, essentially playing just six guys (more than 10 mpg, anyway).  Two top recruits, both expected to make a major impact, were ruled academically ineligible which seems weird and something I would never expect from Steve Lavin.  The two were expected to be the team's starting PF (Keith Thomas from JuCo) and add depth in the paint (Adonis Delarosa, 7-2 freshman), so the Red Storm have ended up really guard oriented.  Well, guard oriented surrounding an absolute beast in the middle in Chris Obekpa.

Obekpa isn't a scoring machine at just 8.7ppg and shooting a dismal 35% especially for someone who is 6-10 and 240 lbs., but that's not his role.  His role is rim protector grab all the rebounds guy and he does it well, averaging 10.3 rebs and 4.7 blocks per game this year.  Sure, they've only played NJIT, LIU-Brooklyn, and Franklin Pierce, but he basically put up the same stats on a per possession basis last season.  He's actually ranked 1st and 3rd the last two years in block percentage (% of opponents shots he blocks when on the floor) nationally and is currently seventh so far this season.  He's for real, and watching Mo try to go at him will be fun.

The reason Obekpa doesn't have to worry about scoring is because St. Johns has a trio of dynamic scorers in De'Angelo Harrison, Rysheed Jordan, and Sir'Dominic Pointer who all average double figures for the season (18.3, 17.3, and 13,0).

Harrison is the star, and he's a classic chucker who has never shot over 40% for a season (so far this year, his senior year, he's shooting a career high 42%) but has still averaged 16.8, 17.8, 17.5, and 18.3 points per game his four years at St. Johns.  He can get crazy hot and put up a ton of points (36 vs. Villanova two years ago, 25 or more five times last year), or he can shoot SJU right out of a game (1-12 vs. Georgetown in a loss last year).  The biggest key to this game is probably if good De'Angelo or bad De'Angelo shows up.

Jordan is the point guard, and though he's not much of an outside shot (28% career from 3 in two seasons) he does  a little bit of everything for the team, averaging 5.3 rebs and 4.3 assists per game this year to go along with his scoring.  He also really loves to shoot, and actually has a higher shot percentage than Harrison (30.8% vs. 27.6%).  He's converting at a high rate this season with a 52% field goal percentage, a marked increase from 42% a year ago.  Whether or not he can keep that high efficiency rate against better competition is a key for Lavin's team this season.

With two guards who dominate the shots you may be wondering how Pointer can average 13.0 points per game, although that should be pretty obvious - he's efficient.  He's shooting 54% from the floor on 9 shots per game, and at 6-6 (the second biggest player to get minutes) with a disdain for the 3-pointer (less than 1 attempt per game in his career) I'm going to assume he's the power forward.  Another wrinkle is though he's no Obekpa he's an awfully good shot blocker himself, averaging 2.0 per game this year with a block rate in the top 110 nationally.  How the Gophers navigate the paint is going to be a big part of the game result.

The other contributors are 6-2 Phil Greene (9.3ppg) and 6-3 Jamal Branch (6.0ppg, 3.3rpg, 3.0apg), and I suppose we're likely to see Christian Jones more than his average 8 minutes per game simply because he's 6-7 and St. John's is going to need more than two paint guys against the Gophers.

Keys to the game:

  1. De'Angelo Harrison.  He could absolutely win this game almost single handedly if the Gophers let him.  He can score on the drive, from three, or with his mid-range jumper.  The best way the Gophers should handle him is keep him on the perimeter, ideally shooting long 2s.  When I've seen him play in the past he can get awfully comfortable chucking jumpers.  Make this as attractive an option as possible for him.
  2. Gophers in the paint.  Obekpa is a beast and Pointer is no slouch, but if the Gophers settle for jump shots all game it's not going to be much better than Harrison bombing away.  The need to get Walker touches posting up and they need to still attack the rim with penetrating guards, either scoring or dishing.  St. John's is going to block some shots for sure, but that can't change the game plan.
  3. Athletes.  In what seems like constant St. John's fashion, the Red Storm are loaded with athletes and play a stifling defense but are kind of a mess on offense.  They're terrible shooters who don't share the basketball, but they don't turn it over either.  They like to run and this should be a fast paced game, so transition defense and not screwing up easy scoring opportunities is going to be paramount.

St. John's has home court advantage, but the Gophers have had some success in MSG if you recall, and I don't believe a giant arena like that holds anywhere near the home court advantage of a traditional college gym.  I think the biggest difference will be the shoddy early schedule St. John's has played.  Franklin Pierce is D2 (and we saw what the Gophers did there), and NJIT and Brooklyn are two of the worst teams in all of Division I.  The Gophers may have played a couple cupcakes, but they've spanked a so-so WKU team and played Louisville fairly well.  Gophers run St. John's to death:

Minnesota 80, St. John's 67.  And take the over.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

B10 Chucker Power Rankings, Week 1

Big Ten Chucker Power Rankings after (roughly) Week 1.  This was tough, because a lot of the high volume shooters are also very efficient so far because most of these teams are playing cupcakes right now, and a lot of the guys I tabbed in my preseason preview as ones to watch are either not shooting as much as they should or are making too many shots.  This list looks very different than the preseason list, and I suspect a lot different than the final list as well.  That being said, we need a starting point so here we go.  Preseason Rank in parenthesis.

1.  Tre Demps, Northwestern (1).  No change at the top, as Demps has put up an 0-7 shooting night and a 4-13 shooting night, putting him at a robust 23% eFG% while taking 27% of his team's shots when he's on the floor.  The man is a machine.  Just think if he turned the ball over too.  Alas, he takes care of it with just one TO so far this year and one of the best turnover rates in the country.  I guess you can't have everything.

2.  Bryn Forbes, Michigan State (NR).  Skyrocketing in from nowhere is Forbes, who I totally missed in my preview because I forgot about him transferring in from Cleveland State.  He was known as a shooter but his accuracy seems to have deserted him.  He opened in grand style by shooting 1-8 (1-6 from three) vs. Navy and then followed that up with a 3-9 (3-8 from three) against Duke, managing to avoid picking up a single assist in the process.  Forbes is tied for 7th in the conference in missed field goals despite coming off the bench.  You just can't teach that.

3.  Bryson Scott, Purdue (4).  It wouldn't hurt him to shoot more often with just 9 shot attempts through two games, but at the same time that's 27% of his team's shots while he's on the floor so I guess you can't ask for too much more.  No complaints whatsoever about his inefficiency though, as he's made just 3 of those shot attempts while turning the ball over five times versus just one assist.  Stellar.  I put Forbes ahead of him because of the volume shooting which is the #1 characteristic of chucking, but Scott has real potential if he'd just get more aggressive.

4.  Carlos Morris, Minnesota (NR).  Probably should have seen this coming since he's a JuCo who was going to be handed a starting role and a bunch of minutes.  He's taking 26.5% of the shots when he's on the court and is shooting just 6-19, chipping in with 3 assists versus 2 turnovers.  Plus, and you can't quantify this unfortunately, but watching him play both games this year (plus the exhibition) and seeing him get lost defensively over and over again is just bonus points.

5.  John Johnson, Penn State (2).  He's not shooting as much as I'd like with just 11 attempts through two games and a sub 20% shot percentage, but on the bright side he still can't hit the broad side of a barn if he fell out of a boat.  He's made just 3 of those 11 attempts for a 27% shooting percentage, and you just can't argue with brickability like that.  He needs to get himself over that 20% of shots barrier, or he's going to have to start dropping.

6.  Melo Trimble, Maryland (NR).  I'm always impressed by chucking point guards who turn it over as much as they assist their teammates (3 to 4 for him), not to mention averaging just 2.0 assists per game in 25 minutes when you're a point guard.  Add in taking 26% of your team's shots while you're on the floor despite going just 6-17 this year and you've got yourself a nice little chucker.  Could settle down since he's a freshman and all, but that's an impressive debut.

7.  Terran Petteway, Nebraska (10).  Even though Pettaway has been effective, averaging 24 points per game on 47% shooting, he simply has to be here for volume reasons.  Petteway is taking 43% of Nebraska's shots when he's on the floor, a number that is simply unheard of.  It puts him seventh on the leaderboard this season and he's one of only four players from a major conference (1 of 2 if you don't consider the American or Mountain West major) to be north of 40% shot percentage.  That 43% would be an all-time record (dating back 2004, for anyone in any conference.  His 1.0 assist per game average vs. 2.0 turnovers doesn't hurt, either.  I mean, his chucker score per game ins a full 50% higher than the #2 guy.  That means something.

8.  Mike Williams, Rutgers (NR).  I don't know who this guy is but I stumbled across him and he's taken a staggering 30.2% of his team's shots when he's on the floor (if you remember from the preview it's rare to cross 30% in a major conference) and has hit just five out of fifteen attempts.  I'm also very encouraged by his 1-7 game against Fairleigh Dickinson.  Could be a real sleeper.

9.  Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern (NR).  Say you're some nerd freshman, what do you do when the basketball season first starts up?  If you're McIntosh you just say bombs away and fire that ball in the direction of the hoop.  He shot 5-11 in first game (pretty good) but put up a 2-10 in game 2, and through two games leads the Wildcats, a team with Tre Demps, in shot attempts.  He's only taken five of his 21 attempts from three so far, so he's either a long two machine or a reckless driver - either way I like it.  He's down the list because he has a really good assist to turnover ratio (to good to be a real chucker) so I suspect he'll fall of this list soon, but I wanted to give some recognition because that's some impressive work.

10.  Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice, MSU (8).  I treated them as one in the preview because I wasn't sure which would emerge as the chucker (if any) and I'm still not sure because they're both showing half the chucker traits, but neither is all the way there.  Trice is shooting a ton, 30% shot percentage, but he's also making most of them and has a great assist to turnover ratio.  Valentine can't shoot at all this year so far, but he needs to shoot a bit more to take over this spot as his own.  Odds are this spot become's Valentine's on his own sooner rather than later, but I don't want to dismiss Trice just yet simply because he's jacking up so many shots.

Other notable feats of chucking around the nation:

1.  Zay Jackson, SE Louisiana.  The six-foot junior guard set a high bar in the first game of the year, scoring 16 points on 6-24 shooting (3-13 from three) with 4 assists and 8 (8!) turnovers.  According to my highly proprietary formula (no, I'm not only basing these lists on that formula) Jackson's score of 102.5 is the highest of the season by a wide margin.  If anybody can beat this, well, wow.  Jackson followed that up with a 2-8 with 9 (9?) turnover performance so he's really one to keep an eye on.

2.  Rashad Vaughn, UNLV.  There were plenty of more egregious games than what Vaughn did his first week, but hey, if I took all the worst games it would pretty much just be guys nobody has heard of and that's no fun.  Neither game is all that horrendous by itself, but back-to-backs of 8-18 and 7-19 shooting with two turnovers versus three total assists is setting a nice baseline.  He also ranks 8th in the nation at percentage of his teams shots taken when he's on the floor at 43%.  At some point this year he's going to put up an epic stinker.  It's coming.

3.  Joseph Young, Oregon.  Read this conference preview.  Or just scroll down to the Most Frustrating Player part.  Or just trust me when I tell you that a near perfect chucking storm has been created around Young, with a guy who averaged 13 shots per game last season suddenly finding himself in a situation where the team has been completely gutted by graduations, transfers, and dudes kicked off the team and he has no choice but to shoot constantly, and he's going to love it.  He's basically the Kobe Bryant of the Pacific Northwest and it showed on Monday when he shot 7-23 including 1-12 from three (1-12!) with five turnovers (and 4 assists).  We'll probably see his name here a few times this year.

4.  Wesley Person, Jr, Troy.  Oh my god it makes me so happy there's a Wes Person Junior, and even better he made this list.  He probably shouldn't quite make the list considering his most chuckery game this year (of 2) was a 5-14 shooting performance where he also made 10 free throws and scored 25 points, but hey, it's Wes Person's kid, he needs to be on here. Also he's shooting a cool 32% on the year, 21 of his 28 attempts this year are from three, and his last game he had 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, and 0 blocks in 37 minutes.  I'd say he qualifies.

5.  Wayne Sparrow, UMBC.  This one's great because it's who the Gophers play Saturday night, so maybe we're in for a chucker treat.  He put up a fantastic line in their game against Loyola Maryland on Wednesday:  4-19 shooting (2-10 from 3) with 4 turnovers vs. 1 assist.  That's quality work.  He only took 8 shots in their opener and only averaged 4 shots per game last season so this one was quite an aberration.  Fluke game, or birth of a brand new all-star chucker?  Hopefully we find out Saturday, and hopefully it's the latter.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gophers 76, Western Kentucky 54

And that folks is the best visiting team you'll see in the Barn this year prior to conference season.

1.  In case there was any question who the most valuable Gopher is, tonight should have cemented it.  No question it's the Honey Gopher, DeAndre Mathieu.  He was lackluster against UMD and so was the team, he was in foul trouble and struggled against Louisville and so did the team, and tonight he was awesome and so was the team.  He completely sets the tone on both sides of the ball.  His defense, both on and off ball, is just outstanding, and obviously watching him run the break is freaking enjoyable as all hell.  Tonight he even looked for his own shot from the perimeter and though he only hit one of three from behind the arc that's still a positive.  Don't forget he hit 49% from there last year in limited attempts.  If he can get to the point where opponents have to respect his deep jumper it should open up more opportunities to drive past them, and once he's on the drive he seems to have mastered the score or dish skill set.  Love this guy.  Plus I'm about 90% sure my dad called him DeAndre Mathews tonight, which just makes it all the better.

2.  Mo Walker was a completely different player in each half.  I give credit to my brother Snacks for pointing this out first, but Mo Walker, and whoever told him to, made a significant change at half time and it paid major dividends.  In the first half he was still in the mode he was against Louisville, where he'd get the ball on the block and make some fancy moves and shot fakes and stuff like that and it just wasn't falling.  At half time someone must have mentioned he was playing the Hilltoppers and not the Cardinals, because after the break when he got the ball on the block he just put his head down and overpowered his man for easy buckets.  He finished with 14 points and had an overall excellent game, but when he came out and scored with ease from the block on the first two Gopher possessions of the second half it really sent a message.  I still struggle at times thinking of him as a legitimate offensive weapon for some reason, but he's going to be a major force for this team as their only legit low post threat.  Love him too.

3.  The guy who sits in front of me has a giant head.  Seriously.  This guy must be close to 6-8 and his head is some kind of planetoid.  I'm not a tall guy, but I'm not a short guy either and the Williams Arena seats are set up so there shouldn't be a problem, but behind him I have to do that thing where depending on where the ball is I have to shift my head to see around his giant melon.  Honestly there's just no way this guy could walk into a normal store and buy a hat, they'd definitely have to special ordered.  It's the size of my TV.  I feel like if he head butted a car the car would blow up.  I'm going to have to do something about this.  Probably just complain all the time.  That still counts as something.
This is who I sit behind, without the sword.  Probably
4.  Though the offense was mostly humming pretty well, there were also some pretty bad possessions.  There was one really bad stretch, no surprise Mathieu wasn't on the floor, where a whole bunch of one-on-one ball was going on, leading to really bad long 2s early in the shot clock.  This went on for like three or four possessions and was just not good.  Carlos Morris is just a wild card with so much chucker in him yearning for freedom it's going to drive me crazy this year, and Dre Hollins really needs to ditch the step back 18-footer.  It worked out because after a TV timeout they ran some cool plays like three possessions in a row, including a neato one with a double screen with both a roller and a popper, where after the popper gets the ball if he doesn't have a shot he does a handoff and then immediately sets a ball screen that led to an open jumper for Morris and they scored on I think three straight possessions, but it's worth watching.  There were times last year Pitino let this kind of crap go on for too long without a timeout or any kind of change, so hopefully he's more on top of it this season.  He was tonight.

5.  Joey King's shot fake is still a thing of beauty.  He's easily the most polarizing player on the team in my own brain, at least until Morris takes over, but you have to give him credit for that shot fake of his.  He consistently gets his man in the air, but usually then can't really take advantage of it which kind of sums him up.  And man his ball-handling.  At one point WKU did their token press but someone managed to force King to be in charge of the ball and he desperately looked around for help, then tried to hand it off to a guard but it ended up on the floor and I can't remember who got it but I remember yelling "Joey no!" which I think I did eighty hundred times last year.  He does some really nice things, like the shot fake, and some really bad things as well.  Drives me crazy, but I think I'm glad they have him.

6.  Nate Mason rules.  Boy this kid does not look like a freshman out there.  He was the first player I saw when we got there late tonight (Mac's was slow.  Go there and get the blackened buffalo wings.  So good) and I was like, whoa he's bigger than I thought and then he drilled two threes.  He's confident in his game, he's already a plus defender, he can play either guard spot, and he looks like one of the better shooters on the team.  Ok so he has no lift on his three-point shot which could cause problems but neither do Dirk Nowitzki or Glen Rice which yeah as was pointed out to me they're way taller than him but whatever he'll be fine.  Josh Martin and Bakary Konate have the athleticism but still look really raw, but Mason is already a polished player.  Great get by Pitino, he's going to be special.

7.  This team is really fast.  I mean really fast.  It all starts with Mathieu of course who is one of the fastest players in the country, but at this point pretty much everyone on the team can get up and down quickly.  Hollins, Mason, Martin, Konate, Morris, and McNeil can all get out and run and excel in the open court.  Even Eliason and Walker have gotten themselves to the point where they don't hold the team up.  King does ok for himself too.  This is a very different team than we're used to, both because of personnel and coaching style, and they're going to be fun to watch and should score plenty of points.  It's going to be all about the defense to decide how good this team can be.  Hopefully the million cupcakes on the schedule can help them get that all straightened out, because the press seemed mostly ineffective last season except for a few spots.  The athleticism and speed this year will help.  I'm really interested to see what they do here.

8.  The mini-ball toss is no longer fair.  What was that?  I'm in row 15 so it's not like any of the cheerleaders can get a mini-ball to me anyway, but tonight when they did the ball toss they only threw to the student section.  You know what?  I want a ball.  My son wants a ball.  My daughter wants a ball.  At least let us dream it's possible.  The students don't need a ball anyway, and they already get to play all the fun games on the court like the run around and get dizzy and try to make a lay-up thing.  If you really want to help out the students throw them money or pizza or beer or something.  If they get a ball they'll probably just turn it into a bong anyway.  

9.  The WKU chuckers did not disappoint.  I would have liked to see a little more volume shooting, but I said the Hilltoppers had 3 chuckers and the three combined to shoot 5-21, 3-12 from three, and turned it over 14 times against 8 assists.  14 turnovers!  25% shooting!  They really came through.  It's too bad it was spread out among three players though.  Can you imagine they voltron formed one mega chucker and put up that line?  Simply outstanding.  Really if it wasn't for those two bench guys (and who doesn't enjoy a guy named Snipes sniping a handful of three-pointers) this game could have been a 40-point blowout because these three guys were awful.  And nobody else really did anything either.  Ladies and gentlemen, the best home non-conference opponent the Gophers will play this year!

10.  On to New York.  There are two horrible games coming up this week which I don't expect to write about at all, and then comes the one good stretch before conference play when the Gophers head to New York to play St. Johns and then either Georgia or Gonzaga, followed by a trip to Winston-Salem to play Wake Forest in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.  That should be a fun time, and since the Gophers basically own Madison Square Garden the tournament should be theirs for the taking.  Enjoy that stretch, since following that it's six straight games basically covering the entire month of December that are all terrible and the Gophers will be favored by 20+ in all of them.  Actually, they'll be favored by 20+ in maybe none of them because I think they're all in too terrible of conferences to even have lines offered.  Speaking of gambling, click on the banner above this post if you want to start a wagering account. is a new site that's pretty slick and has really good bonuses.  It probably sounds like they're paying me to say this but they're not.  They did pay me to put that banner up though, but I'm not shilling here (god forbid I'd be a Schilling), I'm serious.

Overall, a pretty good win.  Western Kentucky isn't anything special, but they weren't supposed to be some pushover either.  The Gophers were favored by twelve and won by 22.  That's a nice outing.  Now just nobody get hurt before the NYC trip.  Beat Zaga.