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.]

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