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.
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.