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.