Sunday, November 30, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So good.

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Game Preview: Gophers vs. St. Johns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keys to the game:

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

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

B10 Chucker Power Rankings, Week 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other notable feats of chucking around the nation:

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gophers 76, Western Kentucky 54

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Western Kentucky

For what it's worth, Western Kentucky is the Gophers biggest test at home in the non-conference this season.  So I guess I'll write a preview.  For what it's not worth, the Gophers are favored by 12.5.  This is not exactly a killer slate here.  And despite that spread, this team does have the potential to score an upset.  I'll explain why.

The two best ways to pull of an upset are to slow the game way down and limit the possessions, or to shoot and make an assload of three pointers.  Well, the Hilltoppers aren't really a slow it down team and the Gophers will probably speed them up so that's out, but they do shoot an assload of threes, so that's still in play.  As a matter of fact WKU had three guys shoot over 100 treys last season, and overall 39.7% of their FG attempts were from behind the 3-point line, a number that ranked 39th in the country.  That's about as often as mad bombers Michigan last season, though far less successfully.  

Two of those three gunslingers are back in guards Chris Harrison-Docks (9.9ppg, 36% from three) and T.J. Price (15.5ppg, 36% from three).  They're joined by a third guard in the starting lineup in Trency Jackson, who isn't shy from 3 either (10.2ppg, 32% on 62 three-point attempts) and he'll get more time as their third guard with the departure of that other 3-point shooter guy. Since the Gophers have shown the ability to get torched from three before, this does worry me.  

Of course, there is a dark side to these guards besides the possibility of them combining to shoot 2-18 from 3 in a game.  Check these numbers (per game last year):  Harrison-Docks 2.2 assists, 2.3 turnovers.  Price 1.9 assists, 2.1 turnovers.  Jackson 1.8 assists, 1.8 turnovers.  Those are the Hilltoppers three starting guards combining for 5.9 assists and 6.2 turnover per game.  Gross.  They did beat Austin Peay in the opener (who isn't very good) 77-70 and the three combined 8-15 from three (15-31 overall) with 6 assists (but 8 turnovers) so it looks like not much has changed.  They're gonna bomb, they're not really gonna pass, and they're going to be sloppy.  Hope those three don't get hot, and the rest should take care of itself.

They've got four bigs, but none should be much of a concern.  George Fant, who averaged 13.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game last season, would be but he really struggled against high major opponents this year and Eliason, Walker, and Konate should have the size to overwhelm him at just 6-6 (though at 250 lbs. if he ends up with King on him he could become an issue.  Aleksej Rostov is the muscle (6-10, 225) who fits in well since he's a turnover machine.  Rob Marberry and Justin Johnson are the promising freshmen with good size (both 6-7 to 6-8 and 230-240 lbs.).  Marberry led the team in scoring off the bench last game, and Johnson turned down teams like Auburn, BC, and Providence to stay home and be a Hilltopper.  WKU overall has the size that they won't be overwhelmed, and they rebounded extremely well last year and have the same basic big man core, but their offense in the paint shouldn't be the main scariness.

That, as I said, remains guards who love to shoot and have little to no conscience.  Once chucker is always a little scary just in case he hits that zone.  Three is slightly terrifying.  For both teams.  It's all going to come down to how often the Gophers get WKU to turn it over and how many threes the Hilltoppers hit.  If either team can win both battles this game is all theirs.  Personally, I think it's a split with the Gophers forcing plenty of turnovers, but getting torched behind the arc as well.  Talent wins out:

Minnesota 70, WKU 61.  

[NOTE:  Even though Franklin Delano Pierce threw a scare into St Johns tonight I'm still not doing a preview on Thursday and you can't make me.]

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Louisville 81, Gophers 68

Say la vee.  Anyone expecting the Gophers to win was probably a raging homer so this doesn't really come as a surprise, and they kept it from a being a blowout against a Final Four contender so that's a positive.  It's tough to get a true read on a game like tonight since there were one million fouls called and Louisville made free throws and the Gophers didn't, but there's still some things we can learn.  Here are 10 things I liked and didn't like about the Louisville game, with the caveat that this opponent was probably the best team the Gophers will face all season.

1.  Dre Hollins looked good.  Or should I say Andrew Hollins, which is what the pregame announcer called him during lineups.  Dre led the team with 22 points, and more importantly did it by getting to the rim as well as jump shots which was a slight concern I still had.  He took six threes versus nine twos which is a better ratio of 2s to 3s than he's had in his career and a sign that maybe he's decided attacking the rim is the way to go, which it is.  He hit a couple of floaters in the lane which is a shot I don't remember him having in his repertoire before and is a positive.  It also looks like he'll be playing strictly off the ball this year with Mathieu and Mason doing the ball handling.  This might be a negative for his NBA potential, but a definite positive for the Gophers and should lead to more and better scoring chances coming off picks.

2.  Mo Walker has a chance to be a real force.  Man did he look good.  Like basically every Gopher who matters he spent a chunk of the game in foul trouble so his numbers were maybe suppressed a bit (10 pts, 4 rebs on 5-7 shooting) but he is tough when he's in the paint.  A nice drop step and a nice looking lefty jump hook that could become a nice pet move, and his footwork combined with his size make it really hard for a defender to get into, and even more stay into, a good guarding position.  I'm getting ahead of myself here, but there's a chance Walker has become the type of player you can't defend one-on-one.  We won't know until he plays legit competition again which is in like a month, but I'm extremely positive on Mo right now.

3.  Nate Mason is legit. He was probably pressed into more minutes than Pitino (Richard not Rick) would like due to foul trouble (I guess) but the kid looked like a player.  He was a little shaky with the ball early which made me think he was a nervous freshman in a big spot, but he quickly overcame that and flashed some high level skills and a tremendous amount of confidence.  His first collegiate bucket came taking the ball basically coast-to-coast including a stutter step move that allowed him to blow right by quality defender Wayne Blackshear, and he's good enough already on the defensive end to stick with Chris Jones - or at least as well as anybody can.  He had five rebounds in 20 minutes, which is tremendous for a guard, and after some free throw troubles settled down to hit 6-10 on the night.  If he can give you that kind of defense and rebounding and continue getting to the line he's going to be an absolute steal for the Gophers.

4.  It's ok to play guys with more fouls than you'd like earlier than you'd like when needed.  I HATE THIS.  It's not just our Pitino to be sure since most coaches follow the sit down a guy with 2 fouls in the first half mantra, but it's not necessary.  When the offense has completely stagnated because your top two shot creators in Mathieu and Morris are both on the bench with two fouls you need to get them back in before Louisville goes on a 15-2 run.  I recognize it's prudent to try to keep your best players from becoming disqualified and not being around for crunch time, but sometimes it's more important to take a chance so maybe you can get to crunch time in a competitive position.  Ugh.

5.  Montrezl Harrell is ridiculous.  How unfair was it when Harrell hit that three pointer as the first basket of the game?  I practically did a double take.  Harrell's game was always pretty much paint oriented, but I guess he worked his ass off to become a jump shooter and man that just isn't fair.  He went 3-4 from three and hit at least one other jumper, all in addition to complete dominating the glass and the paint on his way to a 30 point, 7 rebound night.  Granted, the Gophers don't have anyone who can match up with him as the only guy who could maybe do it physically is a freshman and everyone else is either too small (King) or too slow (Walker and Eliason), but he certainly took advantage.  Then again, there aren't too many players who can match up with him in the nation period.  He could very well be the best player in the country.  Super impressive.

6.  Carlos Morris is going to be an adventure.  When I wrote after the UMD exhibition game I said that Morris looks like he believes he can score on every position, but that I meant that in a good way.  I still hold that same sentiment, even after an off game.  He shot just 3-9 in this one and took some horrendous shots along the way, not to mention forcing drives where they weren't going to work.  It's hard as hell going from JuCo defenders and UMD to Louisville so it wasn't a surprise watching Morris struggle, but a big key to the season might be if Morris can adjust his game to be a more efficient and effective scorer against better defenses.  The Gophers still need his ability to create offense, but he just has to do it in the flow of the offense, transition or half court.  And no more contest long twos.

7.  Crappy long 2-point jumpers are not how you win games.  A lot of this is due to Louisville's stellar defense, but man did the Gophers take a lot of crappy shots.  When the Gophers got out in transition and ran they did fine, but in the half court it was pretty brutal.  The worst was when Mathieu, Walker, and Morris were all on the bench with two fouls in the first half (the horror!) and the Gophers simply could not initiate any kind of offense.  Hollins came around in the second half just fine, but in the first he was very passive (I actually made the note "Hollins passive" but the second half wiped it out) and there was just no offense going on at all.  Seemed more like a Tubby offense than a Pitino offense, but I suppose it doesn't really matter what you draw up if nobody can get inside that damn defense.  Though it would be nice to at least work the ball around a bit rather than throwing that crappy long 2 up with 20 seconds left on the shot clock (*coughMorriscough*).

8.  Josh Martin and Bakary Konate had rough intros to college ball.  Granite, making your debut in a modified aircraft hanger in stifling hot weather in a foreign country against one of the best teams in the country is probably pretty tough, but yikes.  They only played 10 total minutes, but in that time managed a couple of turnovers, a few bad fouls, several horrible defensive rotations, and Konate put up the single worst shot of the night by throwing up a half contested 18.5 foot jumper that shockingly didn't go in.  I'm not worried about either freshmen as I'm sure they'll be fine against normal, human teams, I'm just saying it wasn't pretty.  Even if it's understandable ugly is still ugly.  Like a chick hit in the face with a frying pan.

9.  The free throws, my god the free throws.  The Gophers ended up hitting 20 of 33 free throws which is a horrible 61%, and they only got to that number by getting hot at the end.  In a game with one billion fouls called it was maddening every time the Gophers got a chance at the line to help narrow the gap and ended up clanging away two free points again and again and yes I'm looking at you Nate Mason.  I think the team was 8-18 at one point, and even if I'm making that up it was something similarly horrible to that.  I'm sure it's stupid for a middle aged white nerd sitting on his couch to say how easy free throws are, but I'm going to anyway because I hit 83% in my high school career.  I guess what I'm saying is, I probably could have played division I high major college ball.  Probably.

10.  I don't know what to say about Joey King.  He clearly tries hard.  He's changed himself from a perimeter obsessed mincing nancy to someone who does his best to be a real life power forward, and that's really admirable.  He tries to bang around in the lane, tries to be a big time rebounder, gives it his all defensively, and has actually become a halfway decent scorer in the lane, and he still has his not horrible jumper.  He really tries, but man there are times when his physical limitations are just glaring, like against Louisville.  Anyone the Cardinals ran out there just ran and jumped circles around King, or pushed him around, or in the case of Harrell did all three.  I've stopped hating him, but man it can be tough to watch when he's just getting brutalized and there's nothing he can do about it.

All in all the Gophers stuck pretty close with a Final Four contender and didn't roll over and die when it would have been pretty easy to just give up.  I don't know how anyone can't be happy with that.  Now we move on.  Three games this week, but only Western Kentucky in the home opener Tuesday night is likely to put up any kind of fight.  Then comes the big Thanksgiving tournament in New York, where they'll play St. John's and either Georgia or Gonzaga.  Need to go 1-1 at worst.

I'll try to get a preview up for WKU, but no promises.  I will not be doing a preview for Bernard Pierce or Mildred Pierce or whatever.  I do have some standards.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Gophers vs. Louisville Preview

Well here we go.  Nothing like hitting the ground running someone said once probably.  Friday brings the coolest opener the Gophers have ever participated in when they take on #8 Louisville in Puerto Rico.

Louisville has basically turned into a basketball machine and this year should be more of the same, but there are some questions, particularly in the back court.  Russdiculous is gone and he was basically the team's rock (not to mention leading scorer at 18.2 per game), and Luke Hancock is gone from the back court as well and he was the team's third leading scorer (12.3ppg) is gone as well.  Those two hit 138 threes between the two of them last season, almost half the Cardinals' total.

Chris Jones is back though, and he's a nearly perfect guard for a Rick Pitino team.  He's absurdly quick, and if the Gophers play a lot of zone he's going to absolutely murder them by getting into the lane over and over - you watch.  He also ended up with the 8th best steal rate in the country, so he could wreck some shit, particularly against a Gopher team that struggles taking care of the ball.  Wayne Blackshear returns as well and should jump into Hancock's role as wing bomber.

Then there's the newcomers who can help fill in - PG Quentin Snider and wing Shaqquan Aaron.  Snider was ranked by ESPN as the #5 incoming point guard for 2014 (he also briefly may have considered the Gophers).  He's going to be ridiculous by the time he leaves Louisville, hopefully he'll be shaky given that it's his first game.  When he gets his feat under him he and Jones could be the next Napier/Boatright or Smith/Siva back court with two 1.5's rather than a true 1 or 2.  Aaron is a big guard who was genetically engineered for the fast break.  I read one possible issue is he's so used to having the ball in his hands from his high school days he may struggle moving without the ball in a new role.  Hopefully he'll stand around a lot and do mostly nothing. [NOTE:  looks like he'll do nothing.  Nailed it.]

In the paint the Gophers will probably get physically murdered by Montrezl Harrell who could have gone to the NBA and right now I wish he would have.  He's an absolute monster at 6-8, 240 lbs. of pure muscle who averaged 14 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last year while shooting north of 60%.  He doesn't exactly have a jump shot, but when you look like Mr. Sandman you don't need one.
This is basically him.
The Gophers who have the size to check him are Eliason, Walker, and Martin (though I would be hesitant to use the freshman on him much), but next to Harrell Louisville can roll out 6-10 Mangok Mathiang or any one of a trio of talented freshmen in 6-10 Chinanu Onuaku (#9 center in the class per ESPN), 7-1 Anas Mahmoud (#12 center and possibly almost a Gopher), or 7-2 Matz Stockman (the #19 center), not to mention 6-9 freshman Jaylen Johnson (#24 PF).  Granted these guys mostly freshmen and unproven (Mathiang played about 15 minutes per game last year), but as Benjamin Franklin once said you can't teach size, and somebody is going to have to handle a very tall man.  Assuming Pitino (the good one) wants to avoid playing Eliason and Walker together that means either Joey King or Martin will have to guard Harrell or a gigantic center, depending on how he wants to split it.  This is a thing I am not looking forward to, as I'm pretty sure Harrell could dunk over King without actually noticing he was there.

Basically Louisville has the size advantage and the speed advantage (the Gophers are getting better, but they aren't there yet), and their pressing, attacking defense causes a whole boat load of turnovers (#2 in the country last year) while the Gophers, despite an experienced back court, were a turnover machine last season.  But I still think our favorite team has a chance.  Louisville has a solid foundation in Jones and Harrell, but they're folding in a lot of new pieces this year while the Gophers are relatively stable.  In order to run the kind of system both Pitinos like you need good communication and a good grasp of where to go and where to be, especially against another team who is willing and able to run and gun, or you end up out of position and giving up easy shots in transition (remember the lay-up line that was Arkansas last year?).  The Gophers best hope is probably to run with Louisville and hope they're better prepared than the Cardinals.

Will it happen?  Although it's possible I don't see it.  The two teams want to play the same way, but one team has the better athletes, more size, the better coach (FOR NOW!), and simply fit the system better.  The Gophers only advantage is more continuity, but much of that is negated by Pitino Sr's coaching, because he's still one of the best.  I keep picturing that Arkansas game I mentioned above, but I keep seeing the Gophers as the Gophers, not as Arkansas.

Louisville 88, Minnesota 74.

[note: just learned Shaqquan Aaron is not eligible as of yet for Louisville.  This changes nothing, except for how this preview now looks stupid like your face and your mom.]

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Big 10 Chucker Power Ranking Preview

Hi friends.  It's time we do a little something new, and a little something fun here at DWG, and that's celebrate my love of chuckers.  Who doesn't love the guy who comes in the game for 11 minutes and gets up 15 shots, making 3?  Who doesn't love the guard who thinks he has to do everything for his team and ends up with 7 assists and 90 turnovers on the season?  It's annoying when you're playing with that guy at the park or the Y, it's maddening when he's on your team, but when it's an opposing player?  Good freaking times, as anyone who remembers watching Morgan State's Reggie Holmes will remember.

To quickly recap, Holmes played four years at shooting guard for Morgan State and lived up to the position's name.  He averaged 15.4 points per game in his career, including 21.4 his senior season.  He did this while shooting a dismal 38% from the floor over those four years, which yes, means he shot the ball a shit load - 15.8 times per game his senior year and 12.1 over his career, good enough to finish 3rd All-Time in career MEAC shot attempts after finishing top 3 in each of his final three years.  He topped it off by refusing to pass, putting up just 76 career assists in four seasons for a whopping 0.6 per game average.  This versus 156 turnovers which is actually a really good number for someone who handled the ball that much but it looks silly compared to his assist number.  Reggie Holmes might have been the most perfect chucker ever.  We're looking for the next one.

This season I'll be doing a ranking each week of the top chuckers.  I haven't decided if it'll be a week-to-week thing or a running season long ranking, but likely it will be a blend of both.  I also was trying to come up with some kind of chucker formula, but I realized it's the kind of thing you can't really define, you just know it when you see it - like a penguin.  Anyway, there are four things that go into making a really good chucker, in descending order of importance:

1.  Takes a ton of shots.  A ton.  It doesn't matter if the guy plays 35 minutes or 10, it's all about how many times you can jack that pill towards the goal.

2.  Is a terrible shooter.  Someone who shoots a ton but makes a respectable amount is just a good player.  It's gotta be someone who just clangs clangs clangs bricks all over the place who makes you say geez we should gather up all these bricks and build a shelter for the homeless so your mother has a place to stay tonight.  Seriously, I want your mother and sister out of my house.

3.  Hates passing.  Yogi Ferrell shoots the ball like a chucker, but he ruins the whole thing by passing a lot (and actually he's a little too accurate throwing the ball in the direction of the hoop to really qualify).  You need a guy who feels a little bit physically ill when he gives up the ball.  If you see a guy refuse to pass out of a double team in a situation where the other team is trying to foul because he wants those free throws and those precious, precious points you may be looking at a primo chucker.

4.  Turns the ball over a lot.  This is the least important of the four, but it still counts.  A lot of chuckers don't turn the ball over much because they basically shoot it before they catch it, and most chuckers love that ball more than their mother so they're loathe to give it up to an opponent (or a teammate).  But there are others who rack up the TOs by trying to dribble through people or make fancy stupid passes.  Those guys are sweet.

It's rare to find someone who hits all four but we're going to try.

So in this preview I'm going to cover your potential top chuckers in the Big Ten.  Although the power rankings will cover all of college basketball I'm just going to do our favorite conference here because seriously there are a lot of teams in D-I.

I looked all the players last year and dug out those who took more than 20% of their team's shots when they were on the floor (so more than their share) and who put up an effective field goal percentage of less than 50% (metric to smooth in 3-pointers since 50% from 2 and 33% from 3 are equivalent).  I didn't use true shooting percentage since it folds in free throws and I don't want to miss out on someone good/bad who shoots 95% from the line or something.  Plus most chuckers are good free throwers because they want all the points, and those are good ways to get easy points.

So without further ado, here are my top candidates for B10 Chucker of the Year Award.

1.  TRE DEMPS, Northwestern (26.3% shots, 45.7 eFG%).  Nearly a perfect chucker, with that great chucker mentality that he can make every shot, no shot is a bad shot, and that his range is infinity (note: it's actually less than that).  With Drew Crawford gone there'll be even more shots available for him to poach.  If he can push his shot rate to 30% and continue to convert at the same levels the award is his for the taking.  The prohibitive favorite to win.

BEST GAME LY:  5pts on 1-10 shooting (0-5 from 3) with 2 assists and 2 turnovers vs. Penn State.

2.  JOHN JOHNSON, Penn State (22.6% shots, 45.6% eFG%).  He transferred into Penn State last year from Pitt with a reputation as a shooter, and though he shot plenty when he was on the court he didn't shoot well, hitting just 32% from three and 44% from two.  With Tim Frazier gone he should see a few more minutes, and though he shot more twos than threes last year (69 vs. 66) hopefully he'll take on more of the perimeter shooting burden and throw up a bunch of bricks.

BEST GAME LY:  3pts on 1-8 shooting with 2 assists and 2 turnovers vs. Siena.

3.  MARC LOVING, Ohio State (23.2% shots, 43.2% eFG%).  He's a bit under the radar since he played just 11 minutes per game last year, but those chucker statistics are sweet.  With LaQuinton Ross (31% of shots), Lenzelle Smith (23%), and Aaron Craft (15%) gone there are a whole lot of shots available this season.  The Buckeyes have a lot of other talent, both returning and new, so there's no guarantee he morphs into a chucker supreme, but here's hoping he decides he needs to be THE MAN and does just that.

BEST GAME LY:  No one game stands out since his minutes were so limited, but he did go on an 0-12 three pointer streak mid-conference spanning 14 games.

4.  BRYSON SCOTT, Purdue (23.1% shots, 37.4% eFG%).  Purdue is an interesting case seeing as they had six players last year who fit the chucker criteria (which explains why they were so terrible).  The good news is three of those six are now gone, so somebody is going to be a fixture in the chucker rankings and the best bet is Scott and his horrendous 36% 2-point field goal percentage.  He didn't shoot many threes last year (just 13) and hit a respectable 39%, so here's hoping he decides to shoot more and does it more poorly.  That eFG% is a thing of beauty, worst among all the qualified chuckers last season.

BEST GAME LY:  13pts on 4-13 shooting with 3 assists and 5 turnovers vs. Washington State

5.  RAYVONTE RICE, Illinois (28.2% shots, 48.1% eFG%).  I don't love having him on here since he does so much for that team, but his chucker numbers are fantastic, not to mention a pathetically low assist rate for a guard who has the ball in his hands so much (11%, 1.5 per game).  With all the talent the Illini have already and the 3 new key pieces there might be too many mouths to feed for a true chucker to emerge, but I have faith that his chuckerish instincts will prevail.  It's really too bad Tracy Abrams blew out his knee, because he had even better numbers (24% shots, 38% eFG%).  That's one to stash away for your chucker keeper league.

BEST GAME LY:  19pts on 7-21 (1-5 on threes) shooting with 1 turnover vs. Wisconsin, or 8pts on 2-11 (1-4 on threes) shooting with 2 assists and 2 turnovers vs. Northwestern, or 10 points on 3-13 (1-5 threes) shooting with 1 assist and 2 turnovers vs. Nebraska.

6.  PETER JOK, Iowa (25.1% shots, 48.4% eFG%).  Another off the bench chucker, but this one doesn't have as clear a path to more playing time since Iowa's guards are all back so he'll have to do his damage in a limited time - which he can.  Twice last season he had more field goal attempts than minutes played in a game, which is both terrifying and admirable.

BEST GAME LY:  3pts on 1-6 shooting (1-4 from 3) in 5 minutes (5 minutes!) vs. Villanova.

7.  DRE HOLLINS, Minnesota (24.7% shots, 47.0% eFG%).  Don't pretend like this can't happen, I mean look at those chucker stats - they're legit.  Last year Hollins got a bit too comfy shooting jumpers instead of trying to get to the rim, and though it's easy to believe it was mostly injury related, what if it wasn't?  What if he decides to let Mathieu and Mason do the driving and he just wants to fire away from the outisde?  He finished out the year (last 6 games) 14-63, which is 22%, and put up some chuckeriffic games in that stretch.  I hope he falls off this list quickly.

BEST GAME LY:  8pts on 2-14 shooting (2-7 from 3) with no assists and 2 turnovers vs. Wisconsin

8.  TRAVIS TRICE (18.4% shots, 54.8% eFG%) or DENZEL VALENTINE (16.9% shots, 48.9% eFG%), Michigan State.  Keith Appling, Adreian Payne, and Gary Harris are all gone which means someone has to step up offensively and both the freshmen and most of the returnees are pretty meh.  There are three clear guys who need to have big years and that's Trice, Valentine, and Branden Dawson.  Dawson is too efficient to end up on this list so it's either going to be Trice or Valentine.  Neither qualified last year under my completely arbitrary criteria, but the team dynamic is so different I have faith one of these two is going to become a trainwreck.  Smart money is on Valentine since he just seems more likely to become overconfident, but it's pretty close to 50/50.  OMG what if it's both?  That would be awesome, as Chris Farley once said.

BEST GAMES LY:  Trice - not a high volume shooter, but 0pts on 0-5 shooting (0-3 from 3) with 2 assists and 3 turnovers in just 16 minutes vs. Georgetown shows some potential.  Valentine - also not high volume last year, but I do like his 3pts on 1-6 shooting (1-5 from 3) with 4 assists and 5 turnovers vs. Illinois game.

9.  STANFORD ROBINSON, Indiana (22.6% shots, 45.8 eFG%).  Yogi Ferrell is gonna shoot a ton because Yogi be Yogi and Crean be Crean and there's a bunch of other talent on the perimeter coming in so he could be squeezed for minutes, but Robinson has some real potential, especially if he shoots more threes (3-16 last year).  He shoots more twos than I'd like (149 vs. 16) and is a little too efficient (48%), hence the low rating, but getting suspended for failing a drug test is a good start to the year.  I don't know that drugs and chucking correlate, but it seems like it's probably not a bad sign.

BEST GAME LY:  0pts on 0-7 shooting with 2 assists and 3 turnovers vs. Purdue.  No one should have had their worst game (best game) vs. Purdue last year.

10.  TERRAN PETTAWAY, Nebraska (32% shots, 48.2% eFG%).  Seems pretty silly to have him here given he's a top candidate for player of the year in the conference, but it's hard to ignore that shot % number of 32%, which is the kind of number usually reserved for small conference stars.  The only major conference guys with a higher shot % last year were Marshall Henderson (maybe the best chucker in history) and Jabari Parker (just dominated the ball, but efficiently).  Nebraska's rotation should be relatively unchanged this season, but the guys lost did shoot a ton so it's possible Pettaway takes his shot percentage number into another stratosphere.  Considering most of his value comes from his scoring if he has a bad shooting year man it could be epic.

BEST GAME LY:  13pts on 5-18 shooting (1-6 from 3) with 3 assists and 3 turnovers vs. Illinois.  

This is gonna be great.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Gophers 95, UMD 68

I couldn't go to the game against UMD, so for some reason that I'm not sure about but probably has to do with zero willpower and being kind of an idiot, I broke down and ordered BTN Plus for the month just so I could watch the game.  Or sort of watch the game.  I also had to pay attention to my damn wiener kids, try to see some of the Cincy/Cleveland game because gambling, and we were watching American Horror Story on the big tv.  So I would say I saw 60% of the game.  Here are 60% of my thoughts.

1.  I think I like Carlos Morris.  He's a little bit herky-jerky offensively, but it's also in a smooth way if that makes any sense at all.  Think Vincent Grier or Shawn Marion.  He led the team with 23 points last night and was super aggressive offensively looking for his shot.  The 0-4 three point calls into question his jumper, which was already in question, and dominating less athletic, less skilled players is basically what he did in JuCo so this game was tailor made for him, but I still mostly liked what I saw.  On the offensive side of the ball, that is.  Defensively.......

2.  The team defense was absolutely horrendous.  UMD should not score nearly 70 points on 45.5% shooting against this team.  But they did.  The defense was brutal in every single way.  Players were getting beat to the rim, the rotations were slow, often Gopher defenders were completely out of position (this happened to Morris at least 70 times last night, which means he's going to make me insane this year), and at times UMD was even in better rebounding position when they in no way should have been.  The Gophers got away with it because they were bigger, stronger, faster, better, and pretty much outclassed UMD in every way, but both the effort and technical parts of defense were sorely lacking, and it wasn't hard to imagine how Iowa State (allegedly) put up 100 on them in that secret (not secret) scrimmage.  Or to imagine Louisville blowing their doors off.  I am 44% less excited for that game now.

3.  Daquein McNeil looks legit.  McNeil led both teams in scoring in the big intrasquad scrimmage and he looked the part again last night, coming off the bench to score 15 points on 6-7 shooting.  Hard to believe a FIU recruit who tagged along with Richard Pitino because he needed to make sure he filled his roster now looks like a bona fide weapon off the bench in the Big Ten.  But forget the shooting for a minute, there was a moment towards the end of the game which was more important.  The Gophers had their last five in to wrap up the game and McNeil ended up at point guard since Nate Mason was hurt and didn't play.  He took the ball, dribbled it up with a distinct swagger, made a move and drove right by his man and then dished off when help came for a Josh Martin dunk.  It was beautiful, and if he's that confident, I'm that confident.

4.  Elliott Eliason is still who he is.  If you had hoped Eliason would develop a hook shot or a good drop step or a step back jumper or some kind of pet move it appears, based solely on last night, that you're out of luck.  I'm not complaining.  He brings some legit rim protection and is a high end rebounder and fills an absolutely necessary role for a Big Ten team and does it well so no complaints.  I wondered if we'd see a little more going into his last year.  Hopefully we still do.

5.  Josh Martin is going to be your energy guy.  You could probably already tell from his spastic nature on twitter and in interviews, but Martin is bundle of energy.  He will also bring the house down a few times with some spectacular dunks, as the scouting reports touting his jumping and athleticism were not exaggerating.  He completely outclassed UMD in those regards and was able to get a bunch of dunks, and his baseline cuts are going to become a fixture this year, but he didn't show much polish (didn't have to) so I'm curious to see what kind of game he can bring against a more legit opponent.  Also, I guarantee every other Big Ten fan base is going to hate him by the end of his four years.

6.  Offensive aggressiveness overall was good.  Dre and Dre were looking to attack the rim, and Joey King was always looking for a shot, not to mention Carlos Morris pretty clearly thinks he can score any time he has the ball and I mean that in a good way.  I'm still worried about Dre Hollins and hope that he continues looking to drive once they start playing the real teams, but last night was encouraging.  If Nate Mason is what we think he is that gives the Gophers six players (including McNeil) who look to get to the rim, a handful of shooters, a legit low post scorer and defender (two different guys unfortunately), Josh Martin who's going to do some spectacular things, both good and bad, and whatever the get from Bakary Konate who I manged to not notice at all in his 13 minutes last night.  Pretty solid.

Things get real in a hurry with the opener against Louisville just a week away.  I fear the Gophers are going to get killed, but they've surprised me with some big wins in the past in similar early season games so I hope I'm wrong.  Should be a fun season.  Let's rock and or roll.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Big Ten Basketball Preview: #1 Wisconsin Badgers

I truly hate to say this, you know I do, but the Badgers are by far the best team in the conference and it isn't particularly close.  I just wrote about how Ohio State has all that crazy talent, but the Badgers were an excellent team last year and have basically the entire squad back.  This is usually where I might bash them for not having that much talent on paper and stuff, but at this point that's just stupid.  Bo Ryan might never win the recruiting awards or whatever, but he knows how to get players to run his boring system and he knows how to take guys who seem like stiffs for two years suddenly blossom when he needs them to.  I can no longer deny his wizardry or his ugly grinch face, but I sure don't have to like it.

Frank Kaminsky is the best example this year, following in the footsteps of all the other ugly white stiffs and becoming a star.  Two years ago Kaminsky averaged just 10 minutes per game, shot 44% from the floor, and averaged just 4.2 points and 1.8 rebounds per game.  Then Berggren, Evans, and Bruesewitz graduated, and he suddenly averaged 13.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game and won Big Ten honors.  It's some kind of horrible circle of life.  Well he's back, and despite being the best player on the team he's probably third in talent level, because Nigel Hayes (conference sixth man of the year as a freshman last season) and Sam Dekker are poised to breakout.  

We said the same thing about Dekker last year, and although his improvement wasn't exactly a breakout, it was a step in the right direction (from 9.6 to 12.4 points per game and from 3.4 to 6.1 rebounds).  It did come with a minute increase though, from 22 to 29 per game, and his advanced stats were basically stagnant from last season, other than rebounding.  Wisconsin's only major loss is Ben Brust, and although they have the pieces to pick up his minutes Dekker may see more time with the ball - this can only help.  Hayes is one of my favorites in the conference already, if I could have a favorite who played for Wisconsin, which I cannot.  He doesn't fit the Badger model at all since he's an athletic beast, but he's smart and fundamentally sound so he works.  He's also a defensive terror, which they like.  He doesn't have the three-point shot Sconnie loves, but he does have a smooth jumper out to the perimeter so it wouldn't surprise me if he develops it eventually, maybe this year.  He's going to be First Team All-Big Ten eventually.

Like I said, Brust is gone, but Josh Gasser (8.8ppg/1.9apg), Traevon Jackson (10.7/4.0), and Bronson Koenig (3.5/1.1) are all back so there's no shortage of perimeter players.  Jackson has turned himself into an awfully good point guard by learning to score while becoming a better distributor at the same time, and Gasser was basically back to the same player he was three years ago prior to his knee injury, so he'll look to take another step forward and take on some of Brust's scoring from last season.

Pretty solid lineup:  Jackson, Gasser, Dekker, Hayes, and Kaminsky.  This is going to suck.


Big Ten Basketball Preview: #2 Ohio State Buckeyes

In typical Thad Matta fashion the Buckeyes lose a ton from last year's team.  The three top scorers from last year are gone in LaQuinton Ross (15.2 ppg, also led the team in rebounding), Lenzelle Smith (11.0ppg, also led in 3-pointers), and annoying yet admittedly valuable Aaron Craft (9.8 ppg, also led in assists and steals).  I mean, that's a team that's been gutted.  Unfortunately, in true Thad Matta fashion, Ohio State is going to be loaded again anyway.  The #1 ranked recruiting class in the conference this year (#8 nationally) will join the #2 class last year (on a per player, basis) along with the probably top available transfer who is immediately eligible and the Buckeyes will keep rolling.  Great.

The one guy who could be fun to watch is Marc Loving, who is going to end up near the top of my B10 Chucker Power Ratings if I actually end up doing that which I plan on but I'm pretty lazy.  Loving, a 6-7 wing who ranked as the 62nd best recruit in 2013 averaged about 5 points per game last season in 11 minutes per game.  More importantly, he took 23% of the Buckeyes' shots when he was on the floor last season while shooting 37% from the floor including just 26% from three.  I don't want to get too excited here since there is so much other talent here that could end up screwing this up, but those numbers are fantastic indicators when it comes to Chucker potential, which we all know is the second most entertaining thing that can happen in basketball behind Circus Ball.  The departure of LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith, and Aaron Craft opens up 426 shots from lasts season.  I think Loving has real potential to reach 30% of the team's shots when he's on the court, a number reached only by Ross and Terran Petteway last season, though more efficiently.  This has a chance to be a truly special season.

Of course there are plenty of people who will try to get in the way of that and help the Buckeyes win games more efficiently.  There are the returning contributors:  center Amir Williams (8pts/6rebs/2blks per) who is kind of a stiff offensively but is a defensive force, wing Sam Thompson (8pts/3rebs) who is crazy athletic but is kind of Rodney Williams-ish in that he's still waiting to put all that talent together, and point guard Shannon Scott (8pts/3.5asts/2stls) who was overshadowed by Craft but might actually have been a better defensively.  It wouldn't surprise me if any of these guys ended up leading the Buckeyes in scoring since they all have the talent and the opportunity is there.  If I'm guessing I'd put Scott the most likely to break out and Williams the least, but nothing would surprise me.

Then there's the freshman:  Kameron Williams (#58 overall/#13 shooting guard in 2013), Jae'Sean Tate (#28/#8 small forward in '14), Keita Bates-Diop (#22/#6 small forward), and especially De'Angelo Russell (#13/#1 shooting guard).  I mean, I agree that's an annoying amount of punctuation in the middle of those names, but that is a damn talented group being added to an already talented group.  Russell could be a one and done type of talent, and with Diop and Loving both at 6-7 they'll have a ton of positional flexibility.  If the freshman come together quickly enough and the returnees are improved that's one hell of a top 8, and considering Thad Matta generally goes only six or seven deep this team is plenty talented.

Oh, right, and in case you forgot they also signed transfer Anthony Lee from Temple who will be immediately eligible thanks to that graduate transfer rule that is well intentioned but is really just taken advantage of as a loophole for players who outperform initial expectations to jump to better schools.  Lee is a 6-9 power forward who averaged 14 points and 9 rebounds for the Owls last season and was pretty much regarded as the top available transfer on the market this offseason after putting up eleven double-doubles last year.  So the Buckeyes second five will probably be Williams (#58 freshman - redshirt), Tate (#28 freshman), Diop (#22 freshman), Loving (sophomore, #62 last year), and Trey McDonald (senior center).  That's probably a top 5 Big 10 team right there.  These guys just don't stop.

Oh, and they already have three Top 100 guys signed for next season.  Good stuff.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Big Ten Basketball Preview: #3 Nebraska Cornhuskers

I thought this was going to feel weird and yep, it sure does.  Nebraska, third in the Big 10.  Wow, crazy.  At the same time it makes sense though.  The Huskers finished fourth in the conference last season and return nearly everybody from that team.  They were 11-7 in conference play and beat Ohio State and Michigan State at home.  I mean this is serious, people.  Tim Miles is obviously some kind of wizard, and it doesn't look like it's stopping any time soon because he's already inked two ESPN Top 100 dudes for 2015 (Ed Morrow, #62, and Glynn Watson, #66).  Seriously what a jerk.

The main reason Nebraska is going to be good this year is the return of Terran Petteway, one of only two All-Big Ten first teamers back this season, and his 18.1 points per game.  I love this guy's game.  At 6-6 he's the perfect size and has the perfect athleticism and ball handling skills to create his own shot whenever he wants, he can rebound (4.8 per game) and distribute a little bit (1.6 assists per game, but assist rate that was second on the team), and he has a perimeter game.  Of course, he only shot 33% from three which is acceptable but not great when you're taking nearly five per game on average.  If he's figured out the three-pointer this team suddenly has Sweet 16 potential, and sleeper ability to go further.  Not joking.

Another guy who could really help out the team by hitting more accurately from deep is Nebraska's other wing Shavon Shields, who hit less than 32% last season.  He's got a nice all around game that compliments Petteway (12.8 ppg/5.8 rpg/1.6apg), and the two of them give Nebraska a potential 1-2 punch that's up there with anyone else in the conference, even if neither of them are dead-eye from deep.  With Ray Gallegos, who you may remember from when he torched the Gophers two years ago for 30 points and 6 made three-pointers, and his 54 made 3s gone from the team this year somebody needs to give the Huskers a boost from outside, and it's likely Petteway or Shields.

Of course, things aren't all that desperate because Walter Pitchford is back at power forward and he hit at a 41% clip last season.  He's not some dandy either, with about a 50/50 two-pointer/three-pointer split and a defensive rebound rate that's up there as one of the top in the conference.  That high three-point conversion and a 54% 2-point percentage makes him one of the most efficient players in the B10.   The Huskers did get hit by a bit of blow when returning senior PF Leslee Smith went down for the year with a knee tear.  He's not much for scoring but he supplied rebounding and defense and they'll have to find a way to replace that production.  Senior David Rivers and incoming freshman Jacob Hammond will have to come up big.  There's also some grad transfer guy from Georgetown who was terrible there so who knows.

The main question for the Huskers is really at PG, where Tai Webster didn't really live up to expectations last season (4 pts/2 assists per game in 23 minutes).  The only other PGs on the roster are undersized Benny Parker (5-9) who is better served as a mini offensive energy explosion off the bench (think Microwave) and freshman Tarin Smith who may not be ready and is just 165 lbs. at 6-2 which won't really cut it right away in the Big Ten.  Webster is from New Zealand and I read somewhere last season that somebody said if he had been in the US he'd be a top 50 recruit, but that certainly didn't play out last season.  I know I already said Petteway could elevate this team another level, but Webster is probably the most important player for Nebraska this year.  Watson should be a stud PG next season and Rivers and G-Town guy are the only seniors, but Petteway could bolt to the NBA so it'd be good for them to make a run this year.

Look I don't know.  Even after writing all that it still seems weird to have Nebraska predicted to finish in third place in the conference, but after reading all that it completely makes sense.  They have a great coach, a program on the rise, a ton of experience back, and one of the top players in the conference returning.  Honestly if it wasn't Nebraska they could even go one place higher, but I'm just not ready to do it yet.  I just can't.  Hell of a turnaround by Miles though.  Gonna suck for them when Pitino and the Gophers dominate the conference every year eventually when that happens.  When not if.


Monday, November 3, 2014

Big Ten Basketball Preview: #4 Minnesota Golden Gophers

Hell I don't know.  This feels both overly optimistic and totally right, so it's probably viciously wrong but I'm going with it.  Every team I have ranked below the Gophers either has serious questions or serious flaws, and it's not like the Gophers are perfect or anything, but they're more settled than almost every team in the conference, aren't they?  AREN'T THEY?  They have 64% of their minutes back from last year, which I'm guessing without doing the math is fourth behind Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Penn State.  They have their starting back court back, which can only be said by them Iowa, and kind of Northwestern and kind of Nebraska.  They also have forwards and centers and stuff back.  I hate being optimistic, but I'm optimistic.

The back court with Dre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu might be the best in the conference.  We all know Dre was a bit off last year after the ankle injury as he pretty much turned into a jump shooter, taking just 17% of his shots at the rim last year, which also dragged his field goal percentage down to a career low 38%.  In fact, Hollins didn't make over 50% of his shots in any one of the team's last 7 games, and actually he shot just 24% from the floor during the team's NIT run.  Obviously his health and return to form is going to be the major key to the Gophers' season.  We know we don't have to worry about Mathieu, who is completely awesome and unstoppable in every way.  If he looks for and improves his outside shot he's going to be an absolute star.  I love him so much.  Freshman Nate Mason sounds like a really fun player and should be able to fill in at either guard spot.

The paint is mostly set too, with the two headed monster of Elliott Eliason and Mo Walker at center.  If the Gophers can get first half of season Elliott and second half of season Walker that's going to be one hell of a tandem.  That out of nowhere five game run where Mo averaged 14 and 6 was pretty much the most fun thing about last year (besides Honey Gopher, of course) and the fact that it didn't come against the patsies but in the heart of the Big Ten schedule tells me he's for real.  Hopefully Eliason's late season swoon isn't, or the Gophers will need more from freshman Bakary Konate than they're likely planning on, although early reports on him are positive.

Forward is where the questions lie with Minnesota, though there's plenty of bodies it's more how they'll fit.  In an ideal world newcomers Carlos Morris and Josh Martin would be able to step in and start with Joey King paying his "offense off the bench" sixth man role and Konate, Charles Buggs, and Daquein McNeil, who will also add minutes at the 2, backing them up with Gaston Diedhiou hopefully getting himself eligible for the second semester.  I think it's more likely King starts the season as the starting power forward which I don't love as he's a tweener between a 3 and 4 so it's not a perfect fit wherever you put him.  He did clearly work last year to improve his power forward type of skills and you could see the positive results by season's end, so hopefully he's been doing more work.  And getting like, more faster and jumpy and stuff.

Yep, Gophers still have plenty of questions, but they also have more answers than an awful lot of teams in the Big Ten.  It feels very strange writing something this positive, and even though I believe it I also don't believe the Gophers could possibly finish 4th in the conference and have an NCAA bid sewed up prior to the B10 Tournament.  Things never go that well for Minnesota teams, so I'm expected some kind of a major injury either around game 4, or one of the first few Big Ten games after a really good pre-conference start.  It's bound to happen.  It's science.