Great win. Fun win. Quickly on to the ten things I liked and didn't like:
1. What kind of 5-9 guy takes the ball right at a 7-footer and scores (twice!)? What more can we say about DeAndre Mathieu at this point? Guy is incredible. Try to imagine a guy 15 inches taller than you with enough athletic ability to be a major college major sport athlete, then try to imagine doing literally anything with him trying to stop you, yet Honey Gopher took it right at Frank Kaminsky twice at the rim and scored. Add in his ballhandling, passing ability, the best mid range jumper on the team, and his defense and I'm not so sure we should be talking about Andre Hollins as the best player on this team. There just are no words left for Mathieu. I think I've written positively about him after every single game. It's incredible that he was late JuCo signee. He's just so good.
2. Please baby santa jesus let Andre Hollins be ok. Yes that was a great win without him, and it didn't have the feel of a "uh oh our best player is hurt everybody raise your game" kind of emotional win, just a straight out outplayed a good team win. That makes me think that even worst case scenario, which I think I have already mentally prepared myself for, the Gophers will at least be ok. That being said, obviously this team will be in much better shape for any kind of March run with Dre on the court so please please please let him be ok. The timing is a bit of a break (I probably shouldn't use this word) because they just went through the toughest part of the schedule and have a relatively easier stretch coming, not to mention only one game in the next nine days so hopefully the rest will help. He's getting an MRI today, so hope for some good news [EDIT: I just read that the MRI came back negative. Whew. Hopefully he can rest up and only miss a game or two].
3. It would be impossible to talk about this game without mentioning Mo Walker. Wow, I never saw that coming. With Elliot Eliason in early foul trouble and most ineffective, Walker absolutely dominated the paint. He fought for post up position and when he got the ball he attacked the rim, especially whenever he had a smaller player on him, and off the ball he was all over the offensive glass. We got a glimpse of this against Ohio State when he had that miracle 60 seconds or whatever, but he put a full game together against Wisconsin and it was glorious. I'm not quite ready to say he's arrived - his footwork is still only so so and he has a tendency to wait to long to actually go up for the shot - but he's at least on the bus and on the way. Do you realize he had the second most shot attempts on the team in that game? No idea where that aggressiveness has suddenly come from, but I'm a big fan.
4. Speaking of big men, Nigel Hayes is going to be a nightmare. As good as Walker was, I came away more impressed with Hayes than anyone else outside Honey Gopher last night. That's about as polished a post game as I can remember seeing in a freshman in quite some time, and he's already nailing the mid range jump shot, and since he's a Badger you know that will eventually evolve into a 3-point shot a la Jon Leuer and countless others. He needs some defensive work as most freshman do, and he'll eventually become more aggressive, but he's already got the offensive game to be a force. Hopefully Bo Ryan does that thing where he makes him fall in love with the three pointer and stay off the block. That would really be ideal for everyone other than the Badgers and Badger fans and screw them.
5. I could not be more impressed with this team's offense. The Gophers scored 1.40 points per possession and once again crushed it on two point shots, shooting 59%. I've talked before about how I love a creative offense, but Pitino has gone completely away from that and with the team buying in it's working. It's basically become pick and rolls with the goal dribble penetration, and picks in the lane to help the big guys established good position on the block. They have pretty much become an attack the rim type team and a more patient team, and I'm in favor. I love how against bad teams they spread the floor and shot a bunch of threes, to where I believe they were at about 40% of all attempts were three pointers. Now in Big Ten play that number is just 33%, 7th in the conference. The Gophers only took 7 three pointers last night, and seeing as how they aren't a great shooting team using that shot when it's there rather than making it a main offensive weapon seems like a good way to go.
6. Related, the defense was....ok. Not to great, allowed 1.17 points per possession, but considering Wisconsin's season number is 1.20 I suppose we'll take it. I actually had trouble figuring out what exactly the Gophers were running, and at one point I thought it might have been a match-up zone. The more I watched, the more I realized it was a simple man-to-man but with extreme sagging into the lane away from the ball. That's good as far as taking away dribble penetration, which has killed the Gophers, but you're playing with fire against a good three point shooting team with basically at least four shooters on the floor at all times. Luckily the defensive energy was high and the Gophers were able to close out effectively when needed and the rotations were solid. It helped that the Badgers missed a few open looks, but all in all a decent defensive performance against a very, very good offensive team.
7. Malik Smith is a really valuable player. He's just steady, a rare quality for a chucker and it might even remove him from chucker status altogether. Do you know he has the best turnover rate on the team and one of the better ones for a guard in the conference? Sure he takes some shots that really can only be described as "kind of dumb" and sure when he tries to drive the lane it can sometimes look like the way fourth graders drive the lane (although that was working for him last night) but he seems to be a calming influence, and kind of a leader out there which I really wasn't expecting. He's learned how to fit into an offense where he isn't the #1 option, and has really dialed back his three point attempts. He even tries on defense. I thought I'd like him for his chuckeration, but I just like him as an overall piece of the team instead.
8. Joey King simply has to be better in the post. He's just fine as a spot up shooter and fits the stretch four role Pitino loves well in that regard, but a couple of times against Wisconsin he found himself on the block guarded by Ben Brust or Josh Gasser and when he got the ball he was unable to score and did so horribly. It's actually an improvement that he didn't travel. This needs to be his #1 offseason project. For all his faults, Oto Osenieks has become the clear best option at PF, although if he's ever the trigger man on a pick-and-roll again (which he was once last night, with predictable results) the entire team should be immediately benched for allowing that to happen.
9. Maybe the weirdest part of all this, is I never worried. Really. Usually a double digit second half lead has me wondering just how the Gophers are going to screw everything up. Usually an offense that's humming a long beautifully has me waiting for the six minute scoreless stretch that is bound to come up. And yeah I know that happened against Michigan and against Michigan State, but yesterday had a different feel. This team is fun to watch and they're confident, and they just seem to know what they're doing. Maybe that's faint praise, but watching this team is night and day from last season.
10. As of right now, the Gophers would be in the "Should be in" category of a Bubble Watch. As it stands right now, the Gophers would be pretty comfortably in the NCAA Tournament. An RPI of 21 (per ESPN) with the #4 Strength of Schedule, 3 wins over Top 20 RPI teams, and zero losses outside the Top 100 is pretty much a slam dunk case. That is why this next stretch is so important - we've seen Gopher teams rack up impressive computer numbers early, but we haven't seen one take care of business down the stretch in quite some time. The Gophers will be favored in six of the next seven games (@Nebraska, Northwestern, @Purdue, Indiana, @Northwestern, Illinois) with only a game in Madison to break up a relatively comfortable swing. 5-2 in this stretch would basically guarantee an NCAA bid, while 4-3 would still have them in good shape since they close with Penn State at home. This Gopher team has a chance to give Gopher fans a comfortable Selection Sunday, but that's something many Gopher teams have had an opportunity to provide, hopefully this is the one that actually comes through.
Up next is Nebraska in Lincoln, which is actually a pretty tough game. I will try to have a preview up at some point before tip-off.