A win is a win, right? The Gophers looked absolutely dominant for a while, but naturally that couldn't last. As Snacks said, when the Gophers were up 6 with 25 seconds left I kept wondering how they were going to blow it, whereas if Purdue was up 6 with 25 seconds left I would have already left the building conceding a loss. The life of a Gopher (and Minnesota sports in general) fan is not a pretty one. Anyway I don't really give a crap that they nearly blew the game and won by just 3, they won. Good enough for me.
Once again, here are 10 things I liked and didn't like:
1. Defense in the first 30 minutes. Now, to be fair, for the first 30 minutes Painter's team looked suspiciously like an old Tubby team (may be a bit of a cheap shot but honestly that's what it looked like), but the Gophers did an excellent job of limiting Purdue, a big reason they opened up nearly a 20 point lead. They kept Purdue out of the paint and turned them into a jump shooting team, which is not a strength of the Boilers. Their offense mainly consisted of swinging the ball around the perimeter and, even when the managed to get it to the man at the free throw line the ball generally came right back out again quickly. A.J. Hammons got a couple of touches down low and was reasonably effective, but the Gophers limited those as well. The zone did what it was supposed to do for 30 minutes, and that was great.
2. Defense in the last ten minutes. At the 9:50 mark, in mid-possession, Painter took a time out. I don't know what he said or how he said it, but from that point on the Boilers did nothing but attack attack attack. They picked up the pace after both misses and makes, and when they did have to settle into the half court there was no more perimeter work, it was all dribble drives - and it worked. Purdue outscored the Gophers 34-20 from that point, and dam near ended up stealing the game. From 9:50 - 2:50, before things got a bit more desperate on their end, they only took 2 three-pointers, preferring to get into the lane, as they should. The Gophers' interior defense is always going to be a concern, and it was again big time at the end of this game.
3. Draustin Hollins got their swerve back. This one is obvious to anybody who either watched the game or glanced at the box score, but one game after both Hollins brothers played the worst game of their career they were back in a big way. Dre scored 17 and had 5 assists, and Austin scored 18 to go with 9 rebounds. Maybe more importantly, both showed the same confidence they had in the past so they aren't suffering any ill effects from being utterly horrible against Michigan. Not that I necessarily expected them to, but then again remember Nick Anderson. It's not exactly a secret that the Gophers need these two in order to win games, so hopefully they got all the horribleness out of their system in that one game.
4. Daquean McNeil looked goodish? Due to Honey Gopher and Malik Smith picking up two fouls each in the first half, causing Pitino to put out some goofy lineups (hopefully we never see McNeil, Ahanmisi, King, Walker, and Smith ever again). It also meant freshman McNeil was pressed into service and ended up playing 13 minutes in a Big Ten game which is pretty scary. He had his bad moments, such as the three pointer he air mailed by at least 3 feet, but in general he looked pretty in control with a decent looking jumper and an ability to score in the paint that looked better than I expected. I've been a bit nervous about McNeil, given that he was an FIU recruit who is suddenly on a Big Ten team, but I definitely liked what I saw. I don't expect him to surpass Ahanmisi on the depth chart simply because Mav is a senior, but it wouldn't shock me either.
5. The Fargo-Moorhead Acro Team was awesome as usual. Seriously, just the best half time show anywhere ever. You dopes who prefer Quick Change or those dumb dogs or any of that other crap are seriously, epically stupid. And I hate you.
6. A.J. Hammons is an absolute monster. But you know how many shot attempts he had? Three. I'm feeling generous so I'll give some of the credit for that to Elliott Eliason's defense and the Gopher defensive scheme, but man was he criminally underutilized. There were a couple of times Hammons was in and Eliason was on the bench, meaning Joey King or Oto or Mo were guarding Hammons, and Purdue didn't make any kind of effort to make sure he got a touch. If I'm Purdue he needs to be getting on touch on nearly every possession, but he's actually seventh on the team in percentage of shots taken when he's on the court. If Purdue wants to have any success this season, that needs to change. They probably still won't be able have any success, but that would at least be a start.
7. Offensive creativity seemed to be lacking. Just one game after I wrote about how impressed I was with some of the plays Pitino was drawing up for this team, they seemed to regress a bit. Granted the Gophers scored 82 points so it was working just fine so this isn't really a major complaint, but I really get a kick out of cool looking offensive plays and I didn't see any against Purdue. The only wrinkle I noticed is when the Gophers run a pick and roll, which seems to be nearly every time down (again, not a complaint necessarily) the picker comes off a down screen before heading up to set his pick. Maybe this is common, but I've never noticed it before. I've never watched as closely as I am now, but seemed note worthy.
8. That was some of the worst refereeing I've ever seen down the stretch. I am not one to complain about refs. I recognize the human element, that no ref is out to screw one particular team, and even most bad calls have an element where you could see why the call was missed, but those guys were just brutal today. The stretch where Eliason (what is this, and Eliason blog all of a sudden) got mugged going to the rim by two guys and had no call and the ball given to Purdue followed by an absolute clean block by Eliason (see) that was called a foul because, according to the refs signal, he moved his arms down even though he clearly didn't was horrendous. Unfortunately with Ed Hightower's retirement I don't know the name of any refs anymore, but if I did the guy I'd hate the most would be that little bald guy from today's game. That guy was horrible.
9. Random trapping is good. I'm a big fan of pressure defense. I like a full court press and I love high pressure in the half court, simply because guards are so important and if you keep the pressure up it makes it harder for a team to run their offense (this may be part of the reason why Hammons only had 3 shots). I like trapping even more, and throughout most of the non-conference schedule the Gophers were a pressure team who didn't trap often. Against Purdue they busted out a random half court trap a handful of times, and although I don't remember specifically if it caused any turnovers I'm a big fan of mixing it up. It'll work in a big spot at some point.
10. I still don't really know what to think of this Gophers team. Let me get this straight, they barely lose in a game where Draustin Hollins plays horribly, but then they barely win a game where Draustin Hollins plays about as well as you could ever expect. I suspect the team is more of who we saw against Michigan and the last ten minuets against Purdue, but I like to think they're closer to who we saw against Syracuse and first 30 against Purdue. I really just don't know. It's hard to trust a jump shooting team. I fully believe they're going to win a game they have no business winning when 2-3 guys are running hot, and I know they're going to lose a game they shouldn't when nobody can shoot. Was that the Michigan game? I don't know. Was today the day when everybody was running hot and they still only beat Purdue at home by 3? I don't know. I can't remember the last time I was this unsure about a team's outlook. Oh I've been wrong plenty of times, but I usually at least have an opinion. Not this year, but I know I'm enjoying the hell out of this.
I'm gonna watch Road House now.