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.