Thursday, February 27, 2014

New Mexico, Day 2

Oh my god you guys I am so full I can barely drink all this beer.  For dinner we went to this little Mexican dive called El Patio and wow was it good.  I got the tacos and ordered a bowl of the green chile stew since that's like the #1 specialty of New Mexico and it did not disappoint.  Green chiles, pork, pinto beans, and potatoes in a broth that was insanely flavorful.  So, so, so good.  You really need to travel to New Mexico to try it.  If you don't you're kind of a failure as a human.

-  Some weird things I saw in New Mexico today:
  1. An entire aisle of pinatas in Walmart
  2. An electronics/movies store with a complete section dedicated to VHS
  3. A flyer taped to a pole advertising "Mechanical Bull for Rent" with a phone number
  4. A vending machine for nothing but beef jerky
All of that was awesome.  Not awesome is the cell service in this town.  You will just lose service for like an hour or two randomly, then all of a sudden your phone will blow up with texts and you'll think you're all popular but it turns out those texts are from a two hour period.  My co-worker thinks it's because of all the military bases around here and they have cell phone jammers.  I'm not sure if that's true or how much he actually believes it, but we're running with it.  So hey, there are a lot of military bases in Albuquerque that send out cell phone jamming frequencies.  Be warned when you come here to get that sweet green chile stew.

-  Basically everybody I told I was going to New Mexico made a Breaking Bad joke, which makes sense since Breaking Bad is better than anything else you watch and what else are you going to joke about when New Mexico comes up?  One of my co-workers asked our shuttle driver about the Breaking Bad houses and I actually thought he might be all annoyed but he was super proud of the show being shot there and told us how it was such a big thing for the city.  So he told us where a bunch of them were.  Tonight we checked out Jesse and Jane's place.

Sup, bitch?
-  I finally watched Dawger's favorite movie Snatch and $nake's favorite movie Super Troopers last week.  I enjoyed them both, but I suspect both get better upon multiple viewings.  Snatch because you aren't missing half the joke's trying to figure out what the previous line was, and Super Troopers because it's just one of those movies that gets funnier over time.  I'd recommend them both to people, but I'm pretty sure I'm the last one to see either of them.

-  Somebody recently asked me for my opinion of Wichita State, sorry I can't remember who because I generally don't pay attention when people talk, and I think they're definitely a good team no doubt, but it's obviously tough to figure out how good.  30-0 is 30-0, and I tend to think they're better than that St. Joe's team (Jameer Nelson/Delonte West) from a while back who went undefeated through the A-10, and they made the Elite 8 (might have been Sweet 16, not 100% and don't want to bother to look it up).  Saying I think Wichita State is better than that team, and they already have a handful of guys with Final Four experience, it saying quite a bit.

But Snacks made a great point to me today.  Let's say the latest bracketology on ESPN is at least a close approximation of what actually gets pulled in the tournament and Wichita State is a one seed.  In the second round then they'd face either Stanford or Kansas State (or similar team), both of whom would be the best team the Shockers have faced since DECEMBER 14, and the second or third best team they've seen the entire season depending on your opinion of BYU.  And then the next round, and the next round, and the next round and all the way through they'll be facing teams so much better than anything they've seen with much more pressure and less time to prepare.  Wichita's strength of schedule is awful and their non-conference wasn't anything special either.  Man that is a ton of pressure.  I don't think I can take them any further than the Sweet 16.  Not like New Mexico, who is clear Final Four material.

-  Just went down to the bar to get a double Maker's because I'm too full for beer.  These two dopes get on the elevator with me and start laughing about how they're so wasted and they need to email each others' boss to cover their ass.  Guess what?  They don't remember they have to hit the button for the floor.  I'm on the top floor because I'm awesome and then they realize they never hit their buttons so they hit the five and seven and ended up spending like, 30 extra seconds in the elevator.  Way to go, amateurs.

-  One of the main reasons I'm out here is to look at this entertainment store called Hastings and maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan we need to get one in Minnesota.  It's like a Best Buy/Barnes and Noble/Shinders/Spencer's/Toys R Us all in one.  It's awesome.  Plus they buy and sell used stuff and even rent movies for 49 cents a day.  I could probably spend all day in one.  I have to find a way to make this happen.

-  You know that thing called the Peter Principle which says that as people excel in their roles they keep getting promoted until all of a sudden you have a bunch of people in roles they aren't qualified for?  Just google it I don't want to explain.  Well it generally applies to the working world but it exists in college basketball too.  I mean to do a whole big post on this (I'm currently reading Dean Oliver's Basketball on Paper which is excellent and you should read it so my advanced stats brain is like a hamster on blue meth) but exhibit A is the terrible Glenn Robinson III.  He was amazingly efficient last year playing his role and using a small amount of possessions for the Wolverines.  This year he's using way more possessions but every single metric and is still a terrible rebounder.  His raw numbers are in line with what he did last year, but he's really regressed if you look deeper.  Definitely not ready for/capable of the more increased role. 

I actually thought this same thing would apply to Austin Hollins, but really it doesn't.  His overall offensive rating is down a bit, but not all that much, and his rebounding numbers are far better this season.  Everything else is right around the same but with assist rate a tick down and turnover rate a tick up.  And here's a fun fact I never realized, he's shooting a career high 55% on two-pointers this year, which is a career high and a huge improvement from last year (48%).  Yeah he's struggling from three but that's amplified because the team lacks quality shooters, and he's actually taking fewer of them this year (percentage wise).  Really, I guess, for those that keep saying he's having a horrible year or is a disappointing senior shouldn't play so much (gopherhole -> hi!), you're wrong.

- One thing I forgot to mention about the Pit is how the people don't get up for you.  Like they'll stand on damn near every possession (no joke) but if you get up to go to the bathroom or go get a souvenir or food or anything during a timeout they don't stand up to let you out.  Every other arena I've ever been to the people get up to give you room to walk, but at the Pit they just do that thing where they turn their legs to the side and it sucks for everyone.  And this wasn't just one group of people, it was everywhere.  It struck me as very odd, especially because these people seemed to live for standing up.

-  I think that'll do it.  So tired and full of delicious green chile stew.   I kind of want some more.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

There's a New Mexico now?

This was a long day.  I flew to New Mexico today, which included a 4-hour layover in Denver.  I finally get to my room, and see the Gophers are actually leading at halftime and have scored 50 points, which was weird.  Then I look and see Charles Buggs had 11 of them.  Even weirder.  I tried to watch some of the game on the btn2go thing but the internet here sucks.  Then I had tickets to the New Mexico/Utah State game at The Pit and we had to leave, and since the Pit is underground there's no cell service really and last I saw the Gophers were up 6 with 2:30 or so left, a perfect place to blow a game.  Not until after we left did I get to find out they actually won.  Shocker.

Thoughts on the game, looking only at the box score since I barely saw any of it:

-  Obviously the Buggs thing is like WTF.  More important than the 13 points is he didn't turn it over.  This Buggs thing is something I'm going to have to go back and watch the first half.  I also see Oto didn't see the floor, and I have no clue if this was expected or an injury or if he was just straight benched (twitter tells me it was a knee injury), but it sounds like Buggs looked great so that's pretty odd but excellent news.

-  Obviously it's great to see the much maligned Austin Hollins have a breakout game (and not just because he's on my Big 10 Fantasy team and we're in the playoffs).  8-10 from the floor overall and 4-6 from three are great, and maybe even better was the 7-7 from the line.  The offense must have been clicking like crazy looking at their shooting numbers of 61%/58%/83%.  The 1.32 points per possession have to be a season high for this team, and with assists on 63% of their made buckets it must have looked awfully good.  Bummed to have missed it.

-  The defense, of course, was brutal again, allowing 1.24 points per possession.  Iowa is at 1.21 for the season, so even playing a great offense like the Hawkeyes the Gophers still managed to make them look better than normal.  Turnovers were ugly again as well at 19.4% of possessions, but you know what?  In the end, it only really matters if you outscore your opponent, and the Gophers did, so I'm happy.  I haven't stopped to think what this means for their NCAA hopes, but it most certainly is a nice boost.

-  So anyway I got to see The Pit today and it was awesome.  It goes straight down from street level to where the playing surface is actually way underground, thus the nickname.  It's about as loud as I've ever heard any place.  The Barn can certainly get there at its peak, but the New Mexico fans are just loud the entire game.  If things are going well, they're loud.  If things are going poorly, they're louder.  The only place I can remember watching a game that kept that constant level of noise was Iowa State's Hilton Coliseum and that was back when I went when they were playing #1 Kansas, this was just against Utah State.  The seats are really packed low to the ground and it has a really low ceiling so it just amplifies the noise.  The other noticeable thing was everybody, I mean everybdoy, was in Lobo gear.  Every old person, every kid, and I think every little girl was in a Lobo cheerleader outfit.  It was pretty neat.  The only place I remember seeing it like that was when I went to a game at Utah State.  Really, really cool place to see a game and I'm glad I got to go in my lifetime.

-  As for the team, New Mexico won by 9 and I was impressed by them.  They won 67-58 despite shooting just 11-21 from the free throw line and they're going to be tough in March.  They have this inside combo of Cameron Bairstow (6-9, 250 lbs) and Alex Kirk (7-0, 245 lbs) who just dominate their offense.  Both can step out and hit a mid-range jumper and both are really good passers from the high post and they just play really well together.  They are also both exceptionally good at screening off their man when a guard drives.  Like if they're being fronted in the post and a guard drives baseline they'll just box their man out to give the guard an easy lay-up.  Really underrated skill.   Oh, and they also have Kendall Williams who averages 17pts and 5 assists per game, plus a bunch of shooters to surround those guys with.  They can't defend the three for shit and Preston Medlin went 4-5 tonight because those bigs don't come out far enough on a pick and roll, but I'm a Lobo fan.  Probably because it was so fun and they actually aren't very good but whatevs.

-  So yeah I had a four hour layover at the Denver airport today.  You know what they have in Denver?  A shit load of really great beer.  My favorites were the Upslope Brown Ale and the Oskar Blues Imperial Red, but really they were all good.  They were also really strong, so yada yada yada, I slept the entire flight into Albuquerque.

-  There was this one lady having lunch with her friend and they were sitting next to me at the airport bar and I couldn't help but notice how much I wanted to murder her.  First she wanted to order one of their fancy cocktails, but didn't want any alcohol.  So the server said they could use coke or something and she turned that down and then something else and she turned that down until finally they agreed on Sprite.  Then she wanted a small.  They only come in one size, but she haggled and begged and harassed until she got a smaller one.  Then she ordered the veggie burger with nothing on it and wanted a plain bun instead of a pretzel bun, which she asked her friend, "what's a pretzel bun."  Everything about her enraged me.  Then when she got up to leave, of course she had brought a pillow for the plane.  Oof.  Good luck with all that some guy probably.

-  Shabazz Muhammad had 20 points tonight?  I told you dorks he was awesome.

-  Since the hotel is so close to the University of New Mexico they had a free shuttle to go to the game.  The guy started talking basketball with me and mentioned how The Mountain West had the son of the first NBA dunk contest winner.  I said, "Yeah Larry Nance right?"  And he said "yes" and then I said, "he just blew out his knee didn't he" and the guy was like "wow you much really watch a lot of college basketball" and I was both embarrassed and proud.  But it made him like me so on the way back from the game I was able to get him to stop at a store for me so I could grab a six pack (went with Bud Light Platinum - don't judge me I've had a lot of heavy beer today and don't have a bottle opener - not all that bad, actually) so that was cool.  Pretty sure they aren't supposed to do that or at least that's what I'm telling myself so I feel cool. 

-  Dinner tonight sucked.  We got back to the hotel so late and it was such a long day I just went with room service.  Decided to go with the New York strip encrusted with red chile since that's supposed to be a New Mexico specialty, and also because their best known for their Mexican and I'm pretty sure we'll be eating a lot of that the next two days and I don't want to overload because of my tum tum.  Anyway it was horrible.  Fatty steak, over cooked, and the chile sauce was pretty tasteless with very little spice.  The herbed fingerling potatoes were mushy and I think the only herb they used was butter, and the spinach was just blech.  I know I shouldn't expect much at a hotel, but I didn't expect total crap.  Looking forward to crushing some good meals the next two days - you know I'll tell you about it.

-  One thing that never ceases to baffle me is how guys who were terrible shooters/scorers in college can suddenly thrive in the NBA.  Kendall Marshall is averaging 10.1ppg this year for the Lakers and shooting 47% from three.  He never broke 9ppg or 40% shooting in his two years at North Carolina.  It's not like he's been around forever either, it's just his second year in the NBA.  Michael Carter-Williams is averaging 17ppg for the Sixers this year, and he was a terrible scorer for Syracuse.  I guess he's actually a terrible shooter still as his percentages still suck, but it's just weird to see him scoring that much.  I just saw Kendall Marshall on ESPN doing a fancy swoopy woopy lay-up thing and there's no way he could have pulled that off at UNC and that's why I wrote this part.  Thank you for asking. 

-   I really need some sort of locking device on my computer that keeps me from playing online craps.  Anyway, I'm pretty wiped out from the long day so I'm done here now.  Hopefully I get really drunk at least once in the next two days and write some stupid crap.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Illinois 62, Minnesota 49

Ok, whatever, I'm over it. I'm surprising myself here by actually writing about this game, but I guess I'm so numb to disappointment as a Gopher fan that like, no big whoop.  So here are 10 things I liked and didn't like about the Illinois game.

1.  First off, the defense was fine.  There are plenty of ugly stretches you can blame on the Gophers' defense this year, but last night wasn't one of them.  Kendrck Nunn torched them and the Illini hit 8 of 13 threes, and giving up 1.09 points per possession isn't ideal, but then again giving up 1.09 ppp to a team that hit 62% of it's threes isn't bad.  Minnesota held Illinois to 34% on 2-pointers and created a turnover on a respectable 19% of the Illini's possessions.  And, contrary to brain dead Shon Morris's contention, most of those threes were tough shots.  One or two might have come from a defensive breakdown (I remember one by Mo in the corner) but in general Illinois was hitting tough shots from deep.  Sucks.

2.  The Gopher offense was horrendous.  Obvious enough to anybody watching, but Illinois played the same style defense the Gophers did, sagging in the paint to take away the drive and daring the Gophers to shoot.  And boy did they fall for it.  They hit a very nice 58% from 2, but took 25 freaking three pointers, hitting just four, and turned the ball over 26% of the time leading to a disastrous 0.86 points per possession which will never, ever win a game.  This was one of the ugliest games I can remember watching in quite a while.

3.  The whole team was embarrassingly flat last night and just totally out of it.  How many balls went through hands?  How many passes were off the mark?  How many loose balls did the Gophers come up with?  Most importantly, how the hell do you get called twice for not stepping all the way out of bounds to throw the ball in after a made Illini bucket?  Twice!  It rarely happens at all.  The refs generally give a generous amount of leeway on that play, but the two called on the Gophers last night were so egregious the refs had no choice but to call them.  I'm not even sure Eliason had one foot out of bounds on the one they called on him, let alone two.  Just an embarrassing game in every respect.

4.  Has Andre Hollins lost his point guard skills?  I know DeAndre Mathieu is definitely the #1 point guard with Hollins the shooting guard, but wasn't the plan for Hollins to be the PG when Matheiu is on the bench?  His assist numbers are drastically down, and last night he became Malik Smith, putting up 13 shots with 11 of them coming from three.  Maybe it's an ankle issue, but he's looked fine the last two games, at least in that respect.  The Gophers have two players who can create their own shot and create shots for others, and when one of them becomes a stand still jump shooter there are going to be problems.

5.  Maybe we should do away with the autosit in the first half with two fouls.  It's clear at this point that Mathieu is the team's most important player and per my previous point the offense stagnates when he's not on the floor, so maybe playing an entire 12 minutes stretch without him isn't the best thing to do.  The Gophers led 14-3 when he went out with his second foul.  There is nothing worse to me than sticking to dumb, rigid rules.  It was clear the Gophers needed Mathieu back in before Illinois crawled all the way back, but because "the book" says to sit 'em the first half if he has two fouls he never got back off the bench.  Stupid.

6. Mo Walker is becoming unstoppable.  Last night 5-7 shooting for 10 points, and one of the prettiest moves I can remember seeing from any Gopher post man in quite some time.  Against Maverick Morgan he was able to use his size and strength to just bull his way to the rim, and against Egwu he used great footwork, footwork I didn't know he had, to get his shots.  Walker needs to become a focal point, if not the focal point, of this offense going forward, and I don't mean as the screener on pick-and-rolls.  The PF picking Walker's man on one block to spring him going across the lane and establishing position on the other block needs to be a staple for this team for the next two years.

7.  I started the year hating Joey King, but I seem to find myself writing positive things about him every time I write lately.  His offensive game continues to blossom week-by-week as he understands more and more that the team needs him to be a power forward and not just a three point specialist.  He's added a little bit of a post game, which I wrote about last time, and in this game he did a really nice job passing the ball out of the high post, even totaling what I assume is a career high 4 assists.  The one thing he does that is killing me is when he pump fakes at the three point line and gets his man to leave his feet - and then does nothing or just passes it off.  Freaking put the ball on the ground and move, man!  Even if it's just to side step and shoot a three do something!  You've gained an advantage, don't squander it.

8. King's counterpart, however, was pretty much ignored and invisible.  If you watched last night the Gophers ran several pick and rolls with Oto as the screener, and none of them came close to working on any level because Illinois didn't care what Oto did.  Every time he'd pop out to the wing, but Illinois's defense would just double the ball handler and force him the other way.  Oto would do the right thing and cut baseline to the opposite corner, but it was such an aggressive double team I think they managed to find him exactly once for a possible shot, which ended up either a turnover or a missed shot I don't remember.  Might have been nice to actually roll towards the basket and see if that opened something up elsewhere, because the way they ran this with Oto it was worthless.

9.  Daquein McNeil is going to be really good.  If nothing else he's going to be a heady, smart guard and a plus defender.  I don't think he's ever going to be a really dynamic scorer or distributor, but he should develop into the kind of off guard who can knock down the open shot, drive if it's there, and limit his mistakes.  Take that along with his tremendous defense already, which should just get better, and he's got real potential.  We've seen him play good defense in spurts, and he did a great job against Drew Crawford in the Northwestern game, but now he's getting more consistent with it.  I noticed last night that he does a thing Aaron Craft is really good at in that he can sneak between his man and a ball screen, reducing the need for any kind of hedge while at the same time avoiding going under the screen and giving up a possible open jumper.  It's a valuable skill, and McNeil already seems to have it.

10.  Now we can relax.  There certainly isn't a bright side to this loss, but if you stretch far enough to can at least talk yourself into thinking you'll enjoy the games more now that you can watch the rest of the games stress free.  There's now zero reason to expect the Gophers to make the NCAA Tournament this year, and the really sad thing is it's not their performance against the top tier teams that's keeping them out, but a combined 2-4 against Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, and Illinois.  With a very difficult schedule the rest of the way just sit back and enjoy the ride, and enjoy speculating on what teams we might get to see at the Barn in the NIT/CBI/CIT.

It's going to be nice for me to not worry too much about it the next couple of weeks because I'm going to be on a bit of a whirlwind.  Next week I will be in New Mexico for the entire week (hopefully I'll get up to some drunk posting like old times), then I'm back for half a week and off to Florida for vacation for a week and a half.  So it'll be nice to not be obsessing over the Gophers.  Expect posts from New Mexico for sure, and probably one or two at least from Florida, just don't expect them to be 100% Gopher stuff.  Kind of liberating.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Illinois

Huge sigh of relief.  I've been terrified of that Northwestern game ever since it morphed into a must win thanks to that three game losing streak.  I know I usually like to do the 10 things post after the game and get all nerdy and stuff, but there was a little bit of a Sunday Fun Day going on and with the game not being until five I didn't really super pay attention.  I know Jershon Cobb hit everything, Drew Crawford hit nothing, the Gophers and their turnovers are going to be the death of me, and DeAndre Mathieu is maybe the greatest Gopher of all time.

Up next is Illinois, another must win game.  The good news is that Illinois is terrible.  They've gone 3-10 in the Big Ten, and they started out 2-0 which, if my math is right, means they're 1-10 in the last eleven games.  They did beat UNLV and Missouri in non-conference play and were even ranked in the Top 25 at one point, but a once promising season has gone completely off the rails and I really see no need for the Gophers to do anything to allow any life to seep back into the Illini.  Kill them and kill them now.

Illinois's biggest problem is on offense, where they rank 11th in the Big Ten and 201st in the country in offensive efficiency.  Their problem, and this seems like an Illinois tradition at this point, is that they do nothing but shoot jumpers.  They take only 28% of their field goal attempts at the rim, a full 10% lower than the national average.  And they don't even replace these attempts with valuable 3-point attempts, but with 2-point jumpers (10% more than the national average here too).  This is a poor strategy no matter what, but it's even worse when you can't shoot.  They rank dead last in the conference in 3-point shooting (28%) and 2-point shooting (41%) and being that bad at both is pretty impressive.  Since they never drive to the paint they also rarely get to the line (335th in the country) so sometimes it gets awfully difficult for the Illini to find points.

If they're going to score, it's most likely going to come from 6-4 senior guard Rayvonte Rice, their leading scorer (16.6 per game) and one of a few players who might occasionally drive to the rim.  He's probably their best three point shooter (33% on 5 attempts per game) but he's also very tough inside (5.9 rpg) and can use his strength and driving to get to the line (four games with 10+ FTAs this season, including 2 of the last 4), and is a big reason the Illini can play four guards as often as they do.  He can score in bunches and has eclipsed twenty points four times in Big Ten play including 3 of the last 6 games.  Most of his damage comes against teams who struggle to contain guard penetration, so it's imperative the Gophers keep him contained out to the perimeter. 

Running the offense will be "point guard" Tracy Abrams who is continuing the Illini tradition of never having a good point guard (the curse of Chester Frazier) averaging just 3 assists per game (his assist percentage is ok, in fairness) and he's just a terrible shooter at 35% on twos and 27% on threes.  He's actually their second leading scorer at 11.2 per game, but did most of his damage outside conference play and has hit double figures in just 7 Big Ten games, and one of the last four.

The other two guards will likely be a couple of highly regarded freshmen in 6-2 shooting guard Kendrick Nunn and 6-6 wing Malcolm Hill, both of whom were ranking in the 60s as incoming freshmen by ESPN.  Neither has put up monster stats this year, but Nunn is started to get more involved having played 30+ minutes in each of the last three games and scoring 19 against Penn State.  Nunn had a rep as a shooter coming in, and although he's only hitting 33% this year you just never know with these highly ranked freshmen - they could nothing all year and then just explode, but hopefully he got that out of his system against Penn State.  Hill starts, but generally gives up most of his minutes to senior sixth man Joseph Bertrand.

The super athletic Bertrand kind of scares me because if the Gophers do that thing where they let guards drive into the paint over and over again he could have a monster game.  He's usually much better in a free flowing game, so hopefully the Gophers can play that lock down defense they break out from time to time.  I expect them to play zone given the Illini's difficulty throwing the ball into the basket, so expect Bertrand to try to exploit the gaps.  If the Gophers lose, Bertrand will have a big part in it.

In the front court Illinois goes with 6-11 league leader in Ns in his name Nnanna Egwu as their lone foward quite often.  Egwu is the super athletic jump around guy who blocks a lot of shots (2.2 per game) and can grab some rebounds (5.9 per game) but is pretty limited on offense (6.7 ppg on 41% shooting which is horrendous for someone 6-11).  Their two back up bigs are 6-7 senior Jon Ekey and 6-10 freshman Maverick Morgan.  Ekey is your float around the perimeter three point shooter guy (35% on 5 attempts per game), but for a three point specialist he's in the middle of a horrendous slump (5-21 last 6 games).  If Bertrand and Rice can find the gaps in the zone he's the one they'll be looking for spotting up behind the arc.  Morgan averages only about 8 minutes per game, but he'll likely see the floor a bit considering the Gophers will generally always have either Mo Walker or Elliot Eliason in the game, Egwu can't play all 40 minutes, and there is no way in hell Ekey can guard either of them.

Despite their record and everything I've written so far Illinois really isn't a pushover.  They're a terrible shooting team, yes, and they didn't break 40 points in their last game and have only scored over 70 points once in their last 11, but they also play good defense.  Not great, but good.  I expect the Gophers to keep Illinois to around 60 points, despite all the holes in the Gopher defense I don't think Illini can exploit them to score much more than that.  So the question is, can the Gophers score more than that?  I think yes.

Minnesota 74, Illinois 60.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Gopher Hoops 2014 Recruiting Update

With all the hoopla surrounding not getting any of Minnesota's Big 3 for 2014 plus the season in full swing, recruiting for 2014 seems to have taken a back seat.  The Gophers, however, still have a scholarship for 2014, and may end up with more than just the one given college basketball players proclivity for transferring out and what not [EDIT: and right on cue, news breaks that Wally Ellenson is leaving the team to concentrate on track.  Good move for the kid, and won't change anything for the Gophers other than giving them another open scholarship for next season. I'm happy].  Currently there are four names to pay attention to, and I'm going to touch on each of them briefly.

6-6 SF Djuan Piper, Washington.  Piper is the #188 player in the class according to 247sports (the #43 small forward) and the #26 SF by ESPN.  Piper sounds like he's basically narrowed his list to just the Gophers and his hometown Huskies, and visited Minnesota to attend the Indiana game.  He had nothing but glowing things to say about his visit, calling the game "probably the craziest game I've ever attended" which can only be a positive.  Piper is your typical hyper athletic wing who excels in a wide open transition game, and his size and ability point to him having the potential to be a defensive stopper in college.  He still has plans to visit Washington, Gonzaga, and Texas A&M and by many accounts the Huskies are going to be tough to beat for his services, but based on his reaction to the visit here he is actually at 60% to be a Gopher on 247sports crystal ball.

6-5 SF Kobe Eubanks, Florida.  Eubanks is the #191 player in the class at 247 (#45 SF) and the #23 shooting guard by ESPN (SF, SG whatever, he's a wing).  Eubanks is a pure scorer, both driving to the rim and with an excellent outside shot.   From what I've read Piper is the better all around prospect and may have more overall potential, but Eubanks is already the kind of player who can score at the college level and I'd be thrilled to get either of them.  Eubanks recruitment sounds like it is wide open right now with Pitt in the lead, so the Gophers have their work cut out for them but they're solidly in the mix.  Interesting how there are a handful of Shaquille's in college ball, and now we have a Kobe.  We can't be too many years from an influx of Lebrons.

6-9 PF Abdoulaye Gueye, Alabama.  Gueye is ranked #284 overall by 247sports and the #76 PF, and I can't find him at ESPN and they kind of suck with recruiting info anyway.  I can't find a scouting report on him but based on what I recall reading in the past he's a bit of a project, but a solid athlete with good size who could be a good fit in Pitino's system eventually.  He visited Minnesota at the same time Piper was here and took in the Indiana game so that can only help.  247's crystal ball has him at 80% Gophers with UAB the main competition and Auburn and involved as well.  To be honest, Gueye would be a consolation prize among the four guys I'm talking about.

7-2 Anas Osama Mahmoud, Florida.  Mahmound ranks as the #162 player in the class by 247, and the #14 center, while ESPN puts him as their 69th overall player in the class and #9 center.  Mahmoud is a recent import from Egypt, and he's absolutely burst onto the recruiting scene late here with teams like Louisville and Florida involved.  Simply put, he's kind of a big deal.  Despite being 7-2 he only weights 190 or 205, depending on which site you look at, but by all accounts despite being newish to basketball he's extremely skilled with great defensive instincts, a decent perimeter game, and good passing ability.  He would be a huge get. Louisville already has three big men signed for 2014, including their own 7-2 import from I think the Netherlands, so there are some theories out there that the elder Pitino is steering Mahmoud to his son.  No clue on that one, but Mahmoud is visiting the U this week so hopefully the younger Pitino can lock him down (also just visited Georgia Tech).  This would be a huge, huge get for the Gophers.  Pun not intended but I kind of like so we're gonna run with it.

Those are really the only four names circulating, so the Gophers should probably get at least one of them or hope a grad transfer or something decides the Gophers are cool, otherwise I guess we're banking a scholarship.  For my money, I'd rank them Mahmoud, Piper, Eubanks, Gueye, and I'd love to get two and then just figure it out from there. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Badgers

Life has changed quite a bit for the Badgers since the Gophers waxed that ass.  If you recall the Badgers started the season 16-0, and with wins over St. Louis, St. John's, Florida, Virginia, Marquette, and Iowa were looking like a dominant force.  Since then, however, the Badgers have gone just 3-5 and in doing so have shown their major weakness:  defense.  Seems strange to say that about a Wisconsin team, and the numbers (44th overall in defensive efficiency) look merely like a down year for a Bo Ryan team and not a disaster, but if you focus on conference play only they rank 6th in the Big Ten.  A Wisconsin team just the 6th best defensive team in the Big Ten?  Strange, but true.

Now most of what I wrote in the preview for the last game still stands, but since then Big Ten guards have really exposed that defense.  Yogi Ferrell scored 25, Caris Levert went off for 20, Dre Mathieu had 18, and Drew Crawford 30.  Rayvonte Rice had 24 when they beat the Illini and Keith Appling was out with an injury in Wisconsin's big win over Michigan State.  Driving guards can have huge success against the Badgers, so it will be key that both Dres drive the lane as much as possible, both in the halfcourt as well as whenever transition opportunities arise. Of course we also can't forget that the Badgers don't really have much of an interior defensive presence, a big reason why driving the lane works so well, and Mo Walker destroyed them last game so that should be a focal point as well.  The points will be there, if the Gophers take them.

And they'll need to score plenty, because Wisconsin is still an offensive machine, and a decent sized part of why the Gophers beat the Badgers last time was Wisconsin missed a ton of open shots, hitting just 5-20 from 3.  Given that they shoot a robust 37% on the season, it's doubtful the Gophers will get that lucky again.  The Badgers aren't just good at shooting threes, they also take a ton of them (40% of attempts, 43rd in NCAA), and nearly everybody can make them.  Of their top 8 minutes guys only Nigel Hayes doesn't shoot it, with the other 7 guys all having attempted at least 30 three-pointers this season.  They have five guys with 50+ attempts (Gophers have 3, for reference) and they all shoot well.  Dekker hits 33%, Brust and Traveon Jackson both 38%, Gasser 43% and Kaminsky 41%.  The Badgers have cooled down since conference play started, hitting just 34%, but they're still scary.

I suppose I could try to write more but there isn't really much of a point.  The Gophers flat out aren't going to be able to stop Wisconsin, and the Badgers shouldn't be able to stop Minnesota either.  One team will grab a couple extra loose balls, one team will make an extra stop, or one team will miss a few open shots the other doesn't.  It's going to be a close one, but Kohl gives a little extra edge to Stupidsconsin.

Badgers 78, Gophers 76

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Gophers 66, Indiana 60

I wouldn't call this a great win, but it's a good one and one they absolutely had to have to keep the NCAA dream alive.  As with most wins, there was plenty of good to come out of it.  Here are the 10 things I liked and didn't like about the game:

1.  It may be time to mostly scrap the zone.  I know it's Pitino's preferred defensive style, but it simply isn't working.  Indiana is a team that struggles against zone defenses most of the time, but they were able to shred the Gophers in the first half.  To Pitino's credit he went man-to-man for the second half, and the Gophers played great defense which basically won them the game.  This team has the athletes to play killer man-to-man against anybody, and big enough centers to handle anyone in the Big 10 one-on-one, or at least not get killed.  However in a zone the guards are too short, they don't really have a true rim protector, and power forward is a basically an empty space when it comes to rebounding.  Hopefully we'll see man-to-man going forward, with a mix of zone thrown in here and there simply to change up looks and hopefully throw the opponent's offense out of whack.  This kind of sounds like a negative I guess, but what I'm trying to say is that this team has played some awesome man-to-man a few times this year, and they can do it against anybody.  I'm hopeful we see more of it.

2.  DeAndre Matheiu's jump stop/euro step/slide through and body control are simply amazing.  I don't know exactly what you'd call it because it's not a true euro step, but you know what I'm talking about.  It's that thing where he drives, does a jump stop and then kind of slithers to the rim with his two steps, and that combined with his ability to create space between him and the help defense by initiating just enough contact and then make lay-ups from bizarre angles is nothing short of magnificent.  Yeah, I said magnificent.  There have been a lot of Gopher players I've loved throughout all my years of watching (and plenty I've hated as well) but I'm having an awfully hard time thinking of anybody as flat out enjoyable as the Honey Gopher.  Rodney Williams had his highlight dunks and Blake Hoffarber was fun as hell when he was hot, and I was always a fan of guys who could play inside and outside like Sam Jacobson and Michael Bauer.  The all-timers like Bobby Jackson and Willie Burton were pretty consistently great, and it's fun seeing guys who get so much better from year to year like Eric Harris and Damian Johnson, but I really, really enjoy watching Mathieu right now. 

3.  It is absolutely criminal how Tom Crean does nothing to get Noah Vonleh the ball.  I mean this guy is an absolute beast.  As my buddy $nake said at the game, he already looks like Antonio McDyess.  Add in a nice shooting touch, some good handles (that little shake and bake he did in the second half was like whoa), and some decent creativity around the rim and he should be getting the ball on the block almost every possession for that team.  Instead all the offense he gets he has to create himself because Crean's idea of coaching seems to be "Hey Yogi go run around and then either shoot or throw it to somebody at random but mostly shoot."  One of the biggest possessions of the game for Indiana at the end and his team clearly had zero idea what to do yet he waits until 7 seconds left on the shot clock to finally call a timeout?  Then he diagrams up.......nothing.  Seriously, the guy is absolutely terrible.

4. For all the bitching and kvetching about the new rules, I've barely noticed the change.  Teams pretty much adapted quickly, and for the most part everything is hunky dory.  What really made me remember there are new rules however, is the lack of enforcement of the new rules in this game.  I can't remember seeing a game this physical with little to nothing called all season, and I didn't mind it.  Just 28 fouls called in the entire game between the two teams, and without bothering to look it up I'm going to guess that's the fewest in any Gopher game this season.  There could have been a lot more called, but what's his face, the bald guy, and the other one decided to let the boys play.  I really don't care if a game is called tightly or loosely (though I prefer loosely) as long as it's called evenly on both ends of the court, and this one was.  Good times, ref guys.

5.  I have nothing left to say about Mo Walker.  Nothing.  His transformation into a legitimate Big Ten big man with possible all-Big 10 potential next season is nothing short of remarkable.  Another big game (14 points, 8 rebs) against a quality opposing big man.  He showed some flashes of skill when he was a freshman but was saddled with all that extra weight, and then shortly after that he had basically no mobility recovering from that knee injury.  Now, with the pounds gone and a healthy knee he looks downright unstoppable at times.  If he takes the time in the offseason and makes that jumper we saw against Purdue a reliable weapon and develops one or two go to moves in the post he could be a legitimate destructive forced next season.  Of course, all this has come at the expense of Eliason, who has started to look tentative out there and is a shell of what he was to open the season.  Would be pretty stellar to get both of these guys running hot at the same time.

6.  For the second straight game Pitino dropped the ball on calling a timeout down the stretch.  Last game, against Purdue, I thought a timeout should have been taken to set up a play when it was clear the Matheiu pick and rolls weren't working.  This game, they really needed a timeout taken when Dre Hollins was trapped along his own baseline by 3 guys, one of which was the aforementioned gigantic athletic Noah Vonleh, considering there were 40 seconds left and they were only up 4.  Hollins had no help (I think 3 Gophers were on the wrong side of the floor), he had already picked up his dribble, and he was trapped between the baseline and three Hoosiers - basically the absolute worst possible situation.  It's bad enough that Hollins didn't call a timeout, but the fact that Pitino didn't call one - remember, the coach can call one at any time when his team has the ball - is just terrible.  I don't know if you chalk this one up to coach's inexperience or what, but predictably Vonleh got the steal and the bucket, and it could have cost the Gophers the game.  In most phases Coach Pitino has impressed me, but his late game management needs work.

7.  Joey King is impressing me a little tiny bit on offense.  I still cringe a little bit when he posts up and still say "Joey no!" more often that I'd like, but I can't deny he's getting better.  I'm not really sure about his footwork in the post, and he only seems to have the one move where he fakes a turnaround and then tries to go up and under a little bit, but that's more moves than he had at the start of the season.  My biggest concern with King was everything I had heard about him was he was basically going to be nothing but a perimeter guy, so the fact that he's playing in the post and appears to be working on that facet of his game is a great sign.  His defense is still going to give me a stroke, and one of Indiana's first baskets came when they were coming down in a three on two situation and instead of getting in proper defensive position King peeled off to pick up his man leading to an open lay up for the Hoosiers, but I am far more of a King fan now than I was before. 

8.  The Gopher guards showed some good patience.  Indiana was really aggressive after a pick in some cases, basically turning a hard hedge into a full on trap of the Gopher with the ball.  The guards generally kept their heads and were able to move the ball to a safer location, which led to Indiana scrambling and resulted in some open shots.  Twice I recall whoever had the ball not only avoiding getting trapped, but keeping the ball and passing lanes open long enough for the roller to get into the lane and then hitting said roller for a wide open dunk.  It was great patience and vision by the guards, and of course absolutely shitty defense by Indiana as nobody rotated to pick up the roller which is defense 101, but just because Crean is a dumpster fire of a coach is no reason to not be impressed by how the Gophers handled pressure.

9.  There was a guy there in a custom made Hosea Crittendon jersey.  I have so many questions.  Did he buy this back in 1995 and is still wearing it nearly 20 years later?  How much does it cost to get a custom made Gopher jersey?  How much back in '95?  Why a white one instead of the more classic gold?  Does he own more custom made jerseys of semi-obscure Gophers like Antoine Broxsie, Wade Hokenson, or Sunshine Esselink?  Does he wear it like, to the grocery store or on casual Friday at work?  Do other people recognize it and high five him at the gas station?  I need answers.

10.  Big road trip coming up next.   The Gophers head to Wisconsin and Northwestern now, and both of these games are important.  The Gophers, in my estimation, need to get to 9 wins in conference play in order to feel safe about an NCAA bid going into the Big Ten Tournament.  I consider there to be three absolute must wins: @Northwestern, vs. Illinois, and vs. Penn State.  That gets them to 8, which means they need to steal another game, and beating Wisconsin in Madison might actually be the easiest one to steal.  If the road trip ends up 0-2, well, we can go ahead and stop stressing out about this season, because she's over.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Purdue 77, Minnesota 74

Blah blah balh let's just get to the 10 things I liked and mostly didn't like.

1.  First off, as most triple overtimes games are this one was heart breaking.  The bad part is it wasn't heart breaking in a "they battled their asses off just couldn't get the win" way or a "man they really did everything they could it just wasn't enough" way.  It was heart breaking in a "Purdue did everything they could to not win and they're really terrible and the Gophers are just more terrible" way.  The worst part is that at no time from the last five minutes through the three overtimes did I expect the Gophers to win.  We've been conditioned to expect terrible Februaries, and it's looking like the team has been as well.  I hoped that would all change with the new coach, and hopefully it still will.  Just maybe not this year.

2.  Rebounding. God damn rebounding.  It's going to be everyone's point about this game and you know how the public is generally wrong about everything?  Well they're right this time and god dammit. Purdue grabbed 23 offensive rebounds, which means they got the ball back on 46% of their missed shots - that's a ridiculous number.  Lest you think we can just pin this on the big men, Ronnie and Terone Johnson combined for 8 offensive boards on their own, which tells me the guards for the Gophers aren't doing any work when the ball goes up.  We know the Gophers have rebounding issues, and we know Purdue is a great offensive rebounding team (moved from #2 in the Big 10 to #1 after last night) but god that was just disgusting to watch.

3.  The zone defense was just swiss cheese.  Nothing but holes, baby.  The hope was to pack in the zone and let Purdue throw up brick after brick from the outside, but they played smart last night.  The Gopher zone was a little more extended than I would have liked, and it left the middle wide open time after time after time.  After some initial struggles, probably because they were confused that they kept getting the ball with nobody on them in a strong position, Sterling Carter and Terone Johnson played the zone like a fiddle, scoring when it was available and finding and open teammate when it wasn't.  It was basically a clinic on how to score against a zone when you're terrible.

4.  Of course the switch to man didn't go much better.  Then it just became Ronnie Johnson penetrating off a screen and finding an open teammate, or if not him then Carter.  The Gopher interior defense kept having to help, and the secondary help was never there in time.  Make no mistake, this game was there for the taking.  Purdue refused to make free throws and turned the ball over 15 times, just begging the Gophers to win and put them out of their misery.  When you can't play zone, and you can't play man, well, I don't really think there's a third thing. 

5.  I'm starting to run out of good things to say about Mo Walker.  On the offensive end, at least.  When he was big and fat he showed flashes of good footwork and passing ability, and now that he's in better shape he's putting those skills to good use and showing a lot of confidence.  His post up game has changed from just trying to bull people over to actually using moves and some quickness.  At least twice he took it at Hammons and actually used his footwork to get a good shot instead of throwing it directly into his arms like he would have done in the past.  He's making free throws and even hit a nice 17 foot jumper Purdue dared him to take.  He's coming into his own, and it's fantastic to watch.

6.  I'm starting to worry about Dre Mathieu just a little bit.  Look, I love the Honey Gopher and I love how he plays.  I said earlier this season that I like my point guard to be just a little bit out of control, and that's how Mathieu played for much of this season, but I'm now worrying he's crossed over and gone too far out of control.  After playing a great game against Wisconsin he's now had three subpar games in a row, averaging 4 assists and over 6 turnovers per.  In the team's first 15 games he had more TOs than assists just once, since then they've played 8 games and he's done it four times.  I will grant the level of competition has increased, but he doesn't seemed to have adjusted. 

7. I said it would be important for one of the "power forwards" to step up offensively and Joey King did.  Fourteen points and nine rebounds is a really nice line from him, and he actually scored in a post a few times without looking like a baby deer trying to walk.  It's rather stunning to see he played 47 minutes last night to just 8 for Oto.  I think it's clear Pitino really prefers King to Oto, and if he's played well he's going to see the bulk of the minutes.  Maybe this was King's breakout game.  Of course his defense was still terrible and he constantly got lost on picks.  The next time I see King successfully navigate multiple picks and end up in good defensive position on his man will be the first time.

8.  I have no idea why they didn't call a timeout at the end of the second overtime (I think).  It was their first chance to really win the game, and I get not calling a TO right away and trusting your players but it wasn't working.  Mathieu was trying to work a pick and roll with Mo Walker and he just couldn't get the penetration and kept having to reset.  At that point you need to call a timeout and run a designed play, because I know the Gophers this year have plenty of them designed to get a shot.  Instead they got nothing but a Dre Hollins contested fade away from 17 feet.  I even double and triple checked and yep, they still had a timeout available.  Zero idea why Pitino didn't call one there when it was clear that "letting them play" wasn't going anywhere.

9.  Shon Morris is absolutely terrible.  Most announcers aren't very good but are pretty easy to tune out, but Morris somehow blasts through your ear hole and into your brain like some sort of miniature super villain.  He seems to feel the need to make some sort of analysis on every single play, and most of the time he's either making shit up or just flat wrong.  If Dre Hollins throws the pass over Austin Hollins' head and out of bounds, I don't need some in depth analysis about why he threw a shitty pass unless there's actually a reason.  Sometimes it's just a shitty pass.  He's just horrible.  Of course, he gets stuck doing games like Minnesota vs. Purdue, so maybe the Gophers should just be more better.

10.  Indiana is now a must win game.  The Gophers are now 4-6 in conference, and in order to feel safe and make their Big Ten Tournament results mostly irrelevant they'll need to get to 9-9, which means closing out at 5-3.  With only four games they "should" win left (home vs. Indiana, Illinois, and Penn State and @Northwestern which I'm still counting as a "should win") that means they've really put themselves in a terrible place.  If they can win those four they still need to steal one out of the @Wisconsin, @Ohio State, @Michigan, and home vs. Iowa group.  Yes, that's doable, but if they drop any of the "should win" games they'll have to get two of those others, and I don't see that happening.  I was starting to think this would be the year I'd finally get to see the Gophers in the "lock" category in a bubble watch column.  Not looking that way, once again.

I might put up a preview of the Indiana game but if not in a nutshell I have no idea how they're going to keep Yogi Ferrell out of the lane and I'm pretty sure Indiana has a good chance to score 100.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Purdue

Last time the Gophers played Purdue they dominated for about 30 minutes or so.  Then Purdue realized - wait, we really suck at this jump shooting thing, we should totally attack the rim using dribble penetration and then the Boilers almost won.  So this one is pretty scary, given that as uneven a game coach as Matt Painter is he most likely understands what happened last time out.

Since we last saw Purdue, they went on a little 3-game win streak (home vs. Nebraska and Penn State, road vs. Illinois) but have now lost their last four including road losses to PSU and Northwestern, and they're currently sitting as the only Big 10 team with an RPI outside the top 100 (107, BAD LOSS ALERT).  They're a horrendous shooting team, better only than Northwestern, and outside of A.J. Hammons the whole team kind of blends together in a homogenous mixture of mediocrity.  Their top two guards are practically identical players in Ronnie Johnson and Terone Johnson, with Terone a little more perimeter based and Ronnie more inside the 3-point line, but they do a lot of the same things, with Ronnie the point and Terone the 2 guard.  These were the two who shredded the Gophers for 12 and 18, mostly by driving in the second half - Ronnie was nearly unstoppable.  As such, I'm hoping the Gophers pack that zone in deep and force Purdue to beat them from the outside.

Because, you see, they probably can't.  If you recall the first game, the first 3 quarters of the game consisted of Purdue hanging on the perimeter and hoisting - and mainly missing - three pointers.  As a team they shoot just 28.9% from three in conference play, ranking 10th in the conference.  You wan them shooting from out there.  Ronnie Johnson doesn't shoot much, but Terone can fall into chucker mode and he hits a mediocre 37%.  The two three point specialists, wings Sterling Carter and Kendall Stephens, shoot 25% and 36%.  The rest of the guards are more drivers than they are jump shooters, and packing in the zone helps eliminate those opportunities.

Packing in the zone is a good idea for another good reason, and that's the monster that is A.J. Hammons.  Bad news for the Gophers is he's big (7-foot), strong (251 lbs), and can take over a game on either end (averaging 17 pts and 10 rebs in his last two games and leading the conference at 3 blocks per game).  The good news for the Gophers is that Hammons can disappear from games.  In nine Big Ten games he has three where he's attempted four shots or fewer and three where's he's grabbed 3 rebounds or fewer (both of these happened against the Gophers last time).  He's also had five games with double digit shot attempts and five with 8+ rebounds.  I can't seem to find any rhyme or reason to his disappearances either.  The three games where he didn't shoot much were Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Penn State and his three poor rebounding games were against Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Nebraska.  He's been a monster the last two games, but whether through his own apathy, a good defensive scheme, or the Purdue guards not looking his way he can be taken out of the game.

Playing the zone sagging back into the lane works here too.  Hammons is deadly around the rim, hitting over 80% of his field goal attempts, but the majority of his shots are jumpers (60%).  He is a pretty good jump shooter, hitting 37% from out there, but if the Gophers can push him out to the high post they'll have a much better chance of winning.  I'd rather have him taking jumpers than camping by the basket, especially because, if all goes according to plan, the Boilermakers will be missing a lot of long jumpers and I would strongly prefer to have him nowhere near the rim.  A packed-in zone can work against Purdue, but if they start hitting threes early and the Gophers have to extend out, that opens them up to dribble penetration which they've proven they can't stop and it could end up being a very long day.  The first 8 minutes are going to be very telling on Wednesday.

Defensively, Purdue is pretty much a man-to-man team which is good because the Gophers are much better facing man defenses than zones, in my opinion.  This way they can go to their stock plays using the pick-and-roll to create the action.  Using Eliason or Walker as the screener and pulling Hammons away from the rim is probably the way to go here, considering he blocks 14.1% of his opponents shot attempts when he's on the floor (5th in the nation).  Two big keys are going to be Mathieu's floater/jumper and PF post-ups (cringe).

Matheiu has been great this year scoring at the rim against taller players, but that's not going to fly against a shot blocker like Hammons so he'll have to pull up and hit that free throw line jumper he has.  He's been pretty accurate on that shot this year so I feel good about this one.  I'm not thrilled with posting up either King or Osenieks, but when Jay Simpson isn't in the game for Purdue (and he only averages 12 minutes per game) they don't have any real size outside of Hammons unless they put in Travis Carroll (7.7 mpg) who isn't a defensive wizard.  Since Eliason or Walker posting up on Hammons is dicey (but will need to be tried several times) using the Gophers' other big on the block is an option.  King/Osenieks will need to be able to score on a smaller player or find an open teammate if Hammons comes over to help.  This has the potential to be very frustrating.

Although this isn't a must win game, it's definitely a please god win this one please game.  If Purdue is nailing threes the Gophers are going to lose.  If Hammons is fully engaged on both ends of the floor the Gophers are going to lose.  If Minnesota doesn't execute really well on offense the Gophers are going to lose.  Too many ways to lose.  Let the free fall continue.

Purdue 66, Minnesota 60.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Northwestern 55, Gophers 54

Am I really supposed to write about this game?  I've now had an entire day, including a very unsatisfying Super Bowl, to get over the disappointment and I still don't want to write about.  However I am pretty sure if I pass on writing on this game I will just quit altogether and as much as I'd like to do that I don't want to do that.  So here is a very quick 10 Things I Liked and Didn't Like.  Unless I do that thing I sometimes do where I just vomit words all over the screen, then it won't be short.

1.  Meet the old boss, same as the new boss?  There are a whole lot of things I like about Richard Pitino when compared directly to Tubby Smith.  Energy.  Players improving.  Uptempo game.  More imaginative offense.  Gameplanning for specific opponents.  I am a fan.  A big fan.  But what is this shit where February is just a shit bath every year?  I don't care that Northwestern has some good wins lately and is looking frisky, you don't lose to them at home.  There recent success has seen their RPI creep up into the top 100 (#83) so technically this won't go down as a bad loss, but this was a bad loss.  I will get into NCAA bid chances later, but even if this one didn't hurt as much as you'd think because of that non-horrible RPI, it really hurts because this is a game you just don't lose if you're an NCAA team.

2.  The Gophers got shredded by a terrible offense.  Northwestern has shown some success lately due to their tough defense, not a good offense.  The Wildcats scored 1.02 points per possession and shot 48% from two and 38% from three.  Their season numbers are 0.96, 46.5%, and 30%.  Their in-conference numbers are 0.87, 45%, and 27%.  They have been awful all year and even worse in Big Ten play, and they lit the Gophers up (at least comparatively).  I will grant that Northwestern seemed to hit an awful lot of tough shots, but that shouldn't make a difference.  Horrendous defense, and it's been a problem all year.  This, however, was the worst.

3.  Whining about the refs is really not the way to go.  Did the refs miss a foul call on Mathieu and/or Walker at the conclusion of the game?  Seems like a strong possibility.  I haven't gone back and watched it because I have better things to do like impale each of my fingers with a bamboo skewer, but I've read enough, even from none raging homers, that it sounds like a case can be made that both were fouled.  Doesn't matter.  First of all, they both had lay-ups and even with a minor foul those shots need to be made.  Secondly, the Gophers played so shitty that leaving the final result to the refs is their own fault for letting it get to that point.  There are one billion things to worry about from this game before you get to the refs.  Not an exaggeration.

4.  This team is still way too careless with the ball.  I know it seems weird to complain about turnovers after a game where the Gophers only turned it over 8 times and on a percentage basis were below their season average and even below Northwestern's defensive season average, but they're just so careless sometimes.  There are turnovers where a team's pressure forces you into bad situations, and then there are turnovers where you just give the ball away for no real reason at all and the Gophers' turnovers yesterday were almost exclusively the latter.  I mean you just can't turn the ball over on a simple post entry when the defender isn't even attempting to deny the pass, and that happened at least 3 times with two passes going through Mo Walker's legs like he was some shitty hockey goalie guy.  Northwestern doesn't care if they turn you over, so there's no reason to help them out.

5.  On the positive side, Austin Hollis appears to be registering a pulse again.  13 points on 5-10 shooting, five rebounds, two assists, and three steals with zero turnovers.  Most importantly he looked confident again.  Starting with the open scrimmage thing and carrying into the early season Hollins was carrying himself with some serious senior swagger and in general that bodes well for a breakout type final year. I have no idea what happened or when, but he lost all that.  The crazy thing about watching college kids is you never quite know what's happening.  His girlfriend could have broken up with him or he's struggling in chemistry or he discovered weed (Sammy J -> hi), it could be anything but he just didn't look the same on the court.  He still can't shoot for shit, but he's finally doing that thing where he flies all over the floor and grabs boards and gets steals.  That's a bunch of games in a row now where he's looked like the old Austin, and with Dre still out hopefully he keeps that up and forgets about that devil woman or derivatives or precipitates or whatever.

6.  Daquein McNeil looked pretty good.  I was impressed.  He played a career high of 24 minutes on Saturday (previous high was 13) and although the box score doesn't jump out at your stupid face if you watched him he looked good for an unheralded freshman.  He's clearly passed Maverick on the point guard depth chart, which is a good thing considering outside of a wide open shot Mav is basically a complete disaster with the ball in his hands, and after some early season jitters he seems to have settled in and belies a calm beyond his years.  I mentioned to Snacks that McNeil was started to look like he might end up a pretty decent Big Ten player, and we wondered how good he would have ended up being in the Sun Belt or wherever the hell FIU plays.  There was a lot of understandable skepticism about a Sun Belt recruit suddenly being taken to the Big Ten and I wasn't sure about it myself, but I'm now glad he ended up a Gopher.  I'm sure Dawger still prefers Maverick, but he also thinks Cal Ripken was overrated so what are you gonna do?

7.  The Gophers have developed a couple of pet plays and I like them both a lot.  The first is pretty basic, but you have to have the right personnel and the Gophers do with Mo Walker.  A guard simply enters the ball to Walker at the free throw line and he turns and looks for a baseline cutter.  Walker has the basketball savvy and passing skill to make this work (skills that were evident his freshman year as well, unlike his sudden ability to dominate the paint and score like it's his job).  This worked a few times against Northwestern which was surprising considering how fundamentally sound they usually are.  If the Gophers had won I would probably go back and rewatch these to see how it happened, but as it stands I'd rather rewatch World War Z than this game so forget it.  The other play they will break out 2-3 times a game and it's the one they used to get Malik Smith that huge three pointer against Michigan.  Dre Mathieu will drive from the right side and take the ball baseline, while two shooters spot up on the opposite side - one in the corner and the other on the wing. With the defense collapsing to stop the drive one of them almost always seems to be open.  It seemed to be the corner guy earlier in the season, but as teams have gotten more tape on the play usually it's the wing guy these days, and luckily Mathieu seems to make the right decision.  It would be a better play if anybody could shoot on this team, but I like it anyway.

8.  Tre Demps is a stone cold assassin.  Demps is becoming the kind of guy who you can look at the stats and laugh and stuff but god damn would I love him on my team.  Much like Malik Smith is a chucker but he's our chucker, Demps is the same for Northwestern except he's been hitting huge shot after huge shot.  Three pointer against the Gophers in a tie game with 54 seconds remaining.  Five points and three assists in a four minute span against Wisconsin to give Northwestern control of the game.  Game tying 3-pointer with a minute left in overtime against Purdue and then 4-4 on free throws in double OT to close it out.  Thirteen straight points at the end of the game against Indiana.  Three 3-pointers in a row down the stretch against Illinois.  In every single Northwestern Big Ten win this year, and there are a shocking number of them, you can find a stretch where Demps controlled the game for the Wildcats, whether it was a single huge shot or a stretch where he carried their offense.  Guy is just owning the Big Ten right now.

9.  This team desperately needs Andre Hollins back.  It sounds like it's possible he'll be back for Purdue, but more likely Indiana and it can't happen soon enough.  I love DeAndre Mathieu a lot, but he's better when he's not forced into being the only creator, and with Hollins down he's the only one who can get into the paint off the dribble.  Not to mention he's your best shooter, one of your top defenders, and the clear team leader.  I was hoping the team could tread water while they waited for him to get healthy, but this has been more like treading bricks.

10.  NCAA hopes aren't dead or anything so calm down nancy.  This loss was definitely a hit, but as it currently stands (per ESPN) the RPI is 37 and Strength of Schedule still a robust #6.  The Gophers are 2-3 vs. the RPI Top 25, 4-4 vs. the Top 50, and 5-8 vs. the Top 100 - these are all good numbers.  Thanks to Northwestern's RPI jump, the Gophers still don't have a bad loss (outside the Top 100), and that's probably just as relevant as anything else on their resume.  The issue now is that the home game vs. Northwestern was one everyone was counting on as a win, and with them dropping the game at Nebraska as well suddenly the margin for error is razor thin.  The Gophers probably need five more wins, and now only the home games against Penn State and Illinois look like "sure" wins.  The next two games are huge, @Purdue and home vs. Indiana.  The Gophers don't necessarily need to win both, but it would be awfully nice and then they'd only need to "steal" one of the remaining five games, which is doable.  On the one hand, it's nice to even worry about this because I wasn't sure the Gophers would even be a bubble team at the start of the year.  On the other hand, this sucks because one week ago the Gophers weren't a bubble team but were solidly in the tournament.  Looks like this year is going to be like every other, down to the bubble wire.  I really need a year where this isn't the case.