Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Purdue

Well here we go.  A month's worth of crappy games have gone by with the Gophers managing to avoid a crippling loss, which is something you can't say for most of the rest of the Big Ten, which is good.  Despite the horrific schedule the RPI sits at 69, a reasonable enough number that could easily rise into at-large territory with a good Big Ten season.  To kick off the conference slate the Gophers get nearly a perfect test in a road trip to a flailing Purdue squad.  The Boilers are 8-5 with losses to North Florida (home), Kansas State (neutral), Vandy (road), Notre Dame (neutral), and Gardner Webb (home) with those last three coming in their last three games.  They aren't a very good team, which is great because this is exactly the kind of road game an NCAA quality team wins.  So if the Gophers win, we will know they're at least decent.  If they lose, we already know the NCAA Tournament is out so we can stop stressing.  Win-win.

If Purdue is good at one thing it's controlling the paint with their two monsters, 7-0 junior A.J. Hammons and 7-2 freshman Isaac Hayes.  They rank first and fourth in scoring for Purdue (Hayes 11.5, Hammons 9.9), second and third in rebounding (Hammons 5.3, Hayes 5.2), and block 3.7 shots per game between the two of them (Hammons 2.9, Hayes 0.8).  Purdue ranks 14th in block shot percentage in the country and 27th in offensive rebounding percentage (6-7 freshman Vince Edwards helps out here, he's a beast).  The paint can be a scary place against these guys, but they're weak there too.  They give up a ton more assists than the average team, don't defend the three well at all, and are 245th in field goal percentage against at the rim despite the two monsters, which suggests to me they're very vulnerable to the drive and kick.  Given that the Gophers excel at that part of the game, I like to hear this.

Outside of the two bigs, Purdue has an interesting mix of characters with a lot of depth and balance (only Edwards plays more than 25 minutes per game, and 10 guys play twelve minutes or more).  The scariest is guard Kendall Stephens (aka K3ndall St3ph3ns) who is second the team at 10.6ppg but is pretty much either good or bad.  He's been brutal lately, hitting 2-14 from 3 in the team's last 3 games, but he's also capable of lighting it up (21 against Kansas State and 3 games this year with 5+ threes made).   If the Gophers lose this game I'm pretty sure it'll be his fault.  Two other interesting Purdueites are Edwards and 6-5 junior Raphael Davis, simply because they ad an athletic dimension to this team and either could take over the game for a portion long enough to be a difference maker.  Edwards (10.4ppg) is extremely inconsistent but when he's good, he's very good with two 25+ points scored games this year, and Davis (9.2ppg) is similar, though he relies almost completely on getting to the rim.

Point guard is an issue for Purdue, which probably isn't a great thing going up against a team who creates so many turnovers though their numbers aren't bad this year, merely average.  Their choices are Jon Octeus (7.5ppg, 2.5apg) a 6-4 senior transfer from Colorado State who isn't really a point guard or Bryson Scott (6.2ppg, 1.8apg) a 6-1 sophomore who can't shoot and has played poorly enough to see his playing time reduced so far versus last season despite Purdue losing their two starting guards from last year.  If everything goes according to plan, this will end up the key for the Gophers and they'll force in the neighborhood of 18 turnovers.

Also an important part of the plan will be to limit those two big guys I mentioned above.  Hayes is a monster of muscle who will put out maximum effort and never stop fighting.  Luckily he only plays about 18 minutes per game, but he manages to draw a ton of fouls when he's out there so he could end up doing some damage to the Gophers super deep front court of two players.  Hammons remains an enigma, capable of putting up either a 30 point, 20 rebound masterpiece or a 4 point, 2 rebound outing depending on if he's interested in playing or not that day.  Hopefully Mo Walker comes out and makes his life miserable, because when that happens he'll go into his happy place and be a total non-factor and that would be nice.

Purdue is a bad team, and the Gophers need to win this game.  Like all Big Ten teams, however, they're dangerous and particularly so at home.  There are so man wild cards for the Boilers (Hammons effort, Stephens shooting, Edwards, Davis) that if too many of them are on it could be a long day for the Gophers.  This is a great test to see if this is a tournament type team or not.  I choose to believe that it is.

Minnesota 75, Purdue 65.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Notes on Baseball, and a Little Hoops

It's the middle of winter, I have a billion days off, and there's lots going on that I haven't gotten to.  So here's some of that.

-  First off, the Torii Hunter signing.  Ugh.  Hate it.  Absolutely hate it and it was made for all the wrong reasons.  So all the moms and wives and sisters and casual fans will say "Yay!  I love Torii Hunter I'm so glad he's back let's go to a game!" even though the team sucks.  And they're going to suck this year.  The Twins are not going to contend for anything until 2016 at the earliest, and Hunter will be gone so it's a completely pointless signing.

A bridge to 2016 you say?  No.  He's not good anymore.  He's just not.  He's turned into a terrible fielder (not his fault, he's just old) and you can find a billion links to in depth studies, more than just advanced metrics, that prove it.  He hit the ball alright last year but he's been on a pretty steady downslope.  Sure, it's one year so it's pretty low risk, but that $10 million a year could have gone towards another pitcher (Jason Hammel signed for that) and those at bats need to be going towards any of the billion of question mark outfielders the Twins have.  Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks need as many ABs as possible so we can figure out what they are.  Even Jordan Schafer may have some future value.  Also.....wait......look at this 40-man roster.  Look at the outfielders.  There are no words.  Just horrible.

Ok so Hunter won't steal too many at-bats that he shouldn't, but they still could have used that $10 million better than on a marketing stunt.  The Santana and Hughes signings (hold on) showed that they were still going to spend beyond that $10 million, which was a big concern of mine at the time so maybe this isn't quite as bad as I thought.  Actually, now looking at everything, as a pure baseball move it's just fine.  I just hate the message, and I hate that they signed yet another washed up former Twin because he was a good guy when he was here (just not to the gays).  I guess I'm pretty fed up right now, especially watching the Padres (small market) and White Sox (division rival) go all in, right after Kansas City's go all-inedness paid off with a trip to the World Series.  I don't want to be patient any more.  Let's just move along.

-  More promising was the signing of Ervin Santana to a 4-year, $55 million deal.  I don't love it as much as some others, but Santana has been a pretty solid pitcher in four of the last five seasons, and although that one bad season was a disaster it's looking like more of a fluke than anything.  The $13-$14 million per year may be a bit of an overpay, but it's probably worth it to get a real major league pitcher, especially one who struck out north of 8 batters per 9 innings per last season (a stat which makes me wonder if the Twins had an aneurysm or something and missed the fact that he can actually miss bats).

Santana will be 35 by the end of the contract, which isn't ancient but is a little stomach turning, and who knows what kind of pitcher he'll be by then, but if the plan is to contend for the playoffs in 2016 he should be a key cog.  That's the hope anyway.  Both Santana and Hughes have some risk (hold on) so counting on them to be your front of the rotation guys is a little dicey, but it's a damn sight better than counting on Mike Pelfrey or Kevin Correia.  That may not be saying much, but hey, at least they're spending on potentially quality pitching.  Infinitely better than the Ricky Nolasco signing.

-  The Twins also signed Phil Hughes to an extension, wiping out the last two years of his current deal and extending him three more in what is essentially a 5 year, $58 million deal.  Although there's plenty of upside to the deal, since $11 million per will end up an absolute bargain if he can be the same pitcher he was last season, there are plenty of reasons to be nervous.  Five years is a long time, $58 million is a ton of money for a team like the Twins, and prior to last season Hughes was a complete train wreck.  I don't really understand why they felt the need to move now considering Hughes was under contract for two more seasons at a totally reasonable price.  Why not let him start the year on his existing deal and then, if he looks like the stud he was last season, extend him then instead of taking $58 million worth of risk on one season of proven production?

Then again, there isn't anything in his numbers that suggests last season was a fluke.  His BABIP was actually high, his FIP was almost a full run lower than his ERA, his K/BB ratio was an all-time record, and although his HR ratio probably dipped down below where it should be it should be offset by that high BABIP and his overall numbers should be around the same as last year.  That kind of season is #1 pitcher territory, and based on WAR and the current rate being paid per win (note:  I don't really know how this is calculated) Fangraphs estimates last season Hughes was worth around $30 million.  If he pitches anywhere near that well maybe it's harder to extend him or becomes significantly more expensive.  Hughes certainly cashed in on his great season, it's a matter of time to see who got fleeced.  I'm hoping for Hughes.

-  Another newly added Twin is J.R. Graham, a right-handed pitcher the Twins picked in the Rule 5 draft from the Atlanta Braves.  Graham was a fourth round pick out of college and rose as high as a top 100 prospect according to both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus pre-2013 before arm issues derailed him.  Last season he pitched in 27 games at Double-A (starting 19) and put up 5.55 ERA and 1.47 WHIP which are yuck.  He was a stud at the lower levels before the injuries, so even with the ugly numbers last year he's probably worth taking the chance on.  As a Rule 5 draftee Graham has to stay on the Twins Major League roster all season or be offered back to the Braves.  Seeing as how Graham hasn't pitched above AA and did so poorly last year it's certainly a risk, but it worked for Ryan Pressly a couple of seasons ago.  Expect to see Graham in a lot of blow out, non high leverage innings.  Hopefully he does well.

-  Last baseball thing I want to mention is how great it is to see San Diego just say "Fuck it" and go for it big time.  They've constructed a completely new outfield of Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers, acquired a new catcher in Derek Norris, and landed a young 3B in Will Middlebrooks.  Considering the Padres were a historically horrible offense last year (their team total over/under in Vegas was frequently 2.5) replacing over half the lineup is not a bad idea, and they were able to do it without trading away any of their top 3 blue chip prospects (though they traded pretty much everyone else in the minors away).  They also only had to ship out one of their starters, a team strength, and will go into next season with a mostly intact rotation.  Two other signees, Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow, have flashed a ton of talent but neither has had much success staying healthy - perfect signings to fill that #5 slot, really.

Of course, any time you take this kind of risk you are inviting disaster in countless ways.  Kemp will be tasked with playing center field and by any metric or the eye test his body really isn't up to that any more.  Myers had a really bad sophomore season and the Rays essentially totally gave up on him with questions about his work ethic.  Norris is a big bat but is pretty horrendous defensively, and Middlebrooks has been underwhelming at best in his short career.  I couldn't find anything bad to say about Upton.

This is all pessimism of course, since I'm a Minnesota fan, and I think these are fantastic risks for a team in need of a shot in the arm and I'd love the Twins to pursue a similar course once they think they're close to being a contender.  They also now have an expendable Carlos Quentin, who can still hit the crap out of the ball when healthy - though he hasn't played more than 100 games since 2011 so who knows if he even can be healthy anymore.  If he can get through the first half of the season or so healthy and hitting, expect the Padres to aggressively move him to an American League team since he's basically a born DH.  It's a fun time to be a Padre fan.  I hate them.

-  Moving on to NCAA Hoops, uh, how good is Kentucky?  My goodness they just overwhelm teams.  The scary part is they're really winning with defense, because they have the most talent of anyone, they're incredibly athletic and tall (almost everyone who plays is 6-6 or bigger) and because they're so deep they can give total effort on the defensive end, knowing they won't have to conserve energy because they won't be playing heavy minutes.  And everyone is buying into the concept.  I'm really not interested in another Kentucky championship, but man I'm not sure how they don't end up winning.

Because they're so good defensively and so deep it's hard to see a team just jump up and beat them on a fluky night.  The only two teams I see who could beat them this year are Duke and Louisville.  Duke is nearly as deep and nearly as talented as Kentucky, so I could see them beating Kentucky if the Wildcats don't play their best game.  Louisville is super talented and can almost match Kentucky's athleticism, and they play a style that could work against the Wildcats if they can speed them up (and we might find out on Saturday).  Depressing?  Yes, but I mean, watch these guys.

-  Looks like the Gophers damn near dropped one to Furman tonight before rallying to win by 10.  That's definitely not good, but looking around the Big Ten avoiding the home loss to the crappy opponent seems to be a key this season.  I mean, Michigan lost to NJIT and Eastern Michigan, Michigan State lost to Texas Southern, Indiana lost to Eastern Washington, Northwestern lost to Central Michigan, Nebraska lost to Incarnate Word, Purdue lost to Gardner Webb and North Florida, and Rutgers lost to St. Francis and St. Peter's.  These are all horrible, horrible losses.  These aren't upsets, these are mega-upsets.  Avoiding this loss to Furman keeps the Gophers record intact, along with Wisconsin, Iowa, Maryland, Ohio State, Illinois, and Penn State (depending on how you feel about Charlotte).

I can't really write much about tonight's game because I didn't realize the game was on ESPN3 until late in the second half, but I did manage to catch the last ten minutes or so of game time and Furman could not miss.  Some of it is on the Gopher defense, yes, but the Paladins (for reals) hit a bunch of shots I'm willing to wager they don't usually knock down as well.  Every so often you run into a buzzsaw, not getting chopped down is a good thing.  As long as they don't come out and go down to the wire against Wilmington on Saturday you can pretty much just write this one off to a weird night - a weird night that didn't end up in a loss, a rarity in the B10 this year.

-  Lastly, fantasy football is stupid.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Rube Roundtable, Year 3

Every year around this lull in the year, ZipsofAkron from the much smarter than mine blog From the Barn sends some Gopher related questions out to blogger types.  Most years I remember to answer them.  This is one of those years.  My answers are below.  I will post a link to his blog when he compiles all the answers from us nerds.

1) So, uh, we're down to 9 scholarship players and a Kendal Shell. Your thoughts?

Well, it's better than 8 scholarship players and no Kendal Shell.  With or without Diedhiou, they have enough non-horrible players to come up with a playable rotation, even if it means heavier than you'd like minutes for some guys.  The real problem is going to come if there's foul trouble, and you know there will be foul trouble.  There are going to have to be a couple new walk-ons here soon, if only to have the bodies to weather a worst case type scenario.  And walk-ons are always fun in blowouts.  They think they're people.

2) Last year the Gophers won the NIT. What are your expectations this year?

This has already changed three times for me.  At the beginner of the year I was thinking they definitely need to make the NCAA Tournament for this season to be a success.  Then, after the preseason NIT or whatever I thought this team was way too dumb to end up making the tournament and figured the season was heading for a train wreck.  Now, however, Big Ten teams are dropping games left and right - at home - to terrible teams.  I figure if the Big Ten is as down as it seems, and the Gophers are at least mostly taking care of business, they should be able to get to 10 conference wins and, no matter how terrible terrible terrible terrible terrible the non-conference schedule was I can't see a 10 win Big Ten team getting bounced.  Thus, I believe this should be an NCAA Tournament team.  I reserve the right to change this when they get their doors blown off at Purdue.

3) What do you miss most about Maverick Ahanmisi?

The angst he caused.  The twitter meltdowns.  The clueless threads on Gopherhole (turns out I can still find plenty of those on a myriad of other topics).  By the end of his career he had turned himself into a halfway decent, albeit streaky, spot up outside shooter who deserved a chance against zones to see if he was hot.  Should he ever have been allowed to dribble?  No, of course not.  Did he do a lot of really dumb stuff with the basketball?  Yes, almost constantly.  Could he play defense?  Very little.  Wait, what was the question again?  

4) What about Gopher basketball is going to give you an ulcer this year?

Easy answer is Carlos Morris, but when you go the JuCo route a certain amount of chuckery and undisciplined ball is expected so I'll give him a pass and say Joey King, and I don't really want to say Joey King, but it's Joey King.  He clearly works hard.  He's got a really nice shot fake, he's a much better rebounder than he was, he's even developed himself some semblance of a post up game, a far cry from the perimeter offense only type he was when he first arrived.  That's all great, but he just does some horrible things.  Nobody has ever been worse in the open court, ever, and he still likes to put up a really dumb shot at least once or twice a game.  He also constantly uses that shot fake to get his defender of his feet, but then doesn't do anything with that advantage (that alone is enough to give me an ulcer).  Of course there's nothing he can do when he's overpowered or out-athleticked, but the mere fact that's he's basically the team's only option is ulcer-worthy as well.

5) Maryland and Rutgers are real Big Ten members. How do you feel about this from a hoopsball perspective?

I love conference expansion because I love getting a chance to see new teams and players in person, and given the traditional home non-conference schedule for this program that doesn't happen very often.  I still don't understand why they can't schedule home and homes with like, Colorado or Oklahoma State, or Seton Hall or other mid-tier big conference schools, but I digress.

I like seeing new teams.  I don't care about exposure or tv sets in new markets or blah blah blah, but I'm also not wrapped up in "traditional rivalries are being destroyed" or any of that stuff that always sounds like it's being yelled by an old man in a bath robe who is shaking his fist at a newspaper.  New teams are fun.  Maryland is fun.  Rutgers exists.  

6) Real talk. Are we on the up and up or is this just another foray into unmet expectations and mediocrity?

Every time one administration flops and a new coach comes in there is always plenty of blind optimism, and I'm as guilty as anyone.  So far, that optimism hasn't lasted, and there's another flop and the cycle continues.  I'm hoping this one is for real, because I'm hoping Richard Pitino is for real.  Being mentored by Rick Pitino and Billy Donovan is about as good an education as you could ask for, and Pitino (and his staff, can't forget McHale and Kimani) are tireless workers on the recruiting trail.  Their in game schemes, plays, and game plans are inventive and exciting.  Mo Walker's improvement suggests they may be good at player development, which would make this staff 3-for-3 in what you need from a college coach.  Monson was hamstrung by needing to rebuild a shattered program, Tubby was looking to go out in a cushy job where he could half ass it (my perception), but Pitino should be good to go.  So I guess I think we're on the up and up.  I'm so stupid.

7) In the same vein, what does this program need to do to take the next step? 

College basketball, in my opinion, is ruled by recruiting.  A good game coach (game plan and/or in game) can help elevate a team, but the disparity in talent between the top players and the rest is insurmountable by any coach, so that's the key.  Pitino has the team moving in the right direction in this arena, but the rumors of his leaving every off season to take a "better" job are only going to get louder if he continues to build the program up (or hell, as long as he doesn't burn it to the ground).  In order to continue to build their talent and keep creeping up the recruit ladder they need to keep Pitino.  If he is hired away, it's likely because he's had success here so they need to make a hire who can keep that going, although I'm not sure where you can find someone young and hungry enough to take this job and work that hard who is also somewhat of a known commodity based on household name recognition. So I guess the answer is to give him as many blank checks as needed so he never leaves.  Pretty simple. 

Coming soon:  Some baseball talk.  Maybe a live movie blog.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Big Ten Chuckers, Power Ranking #2

With the next 2-3 weeks really nothing but meaningless games it's doubtful I'll be writing any game previews or recaps.  When somebody goes rogue transfer like Martin I'll hit it and when/if Diedhiou becomes eligible that's post worthy, but there probably won't be a whole lot of Gopher specific stuff until a wrap up/preview before conference play starts.  For now, I'll do more fun stuff, and what's more fun than checking in on our chuckers for Power Ranking #2.  Last week's rank in parenthesis.

1.  TRE DEMPS, Northwestern (1).  Demps remains the master, shooting 7-27 in his last three games with a 1-7 and 1-8 mixed in.  On the season he's now taking 29% of Northwestern's shots when he's in the game with a 37% hit rate on 2s and 29% on 3s.  His 2-1 assist-to-turnover rate is the only thing holding him back from being one of the most perfect chuckers in history.  He's fifth in the conference in missed shots, and only attempts 11 per game. That's impressive.  Bonus points because he usually becomes super good towards the end of close games.  It's quite a super power.

2.  MIKE WILLIAMS, Rutgers (8).  I had no idea who Williams was at the beginning of the year, but he's really growing on me.  Just a freshman, he burst onto the scene shooting 7-29 in his first four career games, and he hasn't gotten much better, shooting just 33% on twos and 24% on threes on the season.  He's taking 25% of his team's shots when he's on the floor on a team with two clear senior leaders (Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack), and he's averaging more shots per game (8.8) than points (7.3) which is pretty fantastic.  From the volume shooting to the inability to make any baskets, Williams is a really strong contender.  And we get three more years. [2-6 on Tuesday.  Don't get shy, Mike.]

3.  TERRAN PETTEWAY, Nebraska (7).  It's time to talk about Petteway.  Fantastic player, obviously.  He's averaging 21 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, and a block per game this year, outstanding numbers.  Make no mistake though - he's a chucker.  He's taking 35% of the Huskers shots when he's on the floor (which ranks 24th in the entire country and 4th among major conference schools) and hitting 47% from two and 36% from three which puts his eFG% under 50%.  He's also turning the ball over nearly 4 times per game, and threw up a game where he shot 5-18 and turned it over 8 times earlier this year.  So yeah, he's a fantastic player, but he's also a big time chucker.  Never forget.

4.  CARLOS MORRIS, Minnesota (4).  Morris has an unfair advantage because I get to watch almost all his games, but he definitely belongs.  A couple of really efficient games have bumped his eFG% up to 46% which is getting a little too close to respectability for my tastes (combined 13-19 shooting in his last two is no good), but his refusal to pass the ball is as strong as ever.  He does average 2.0 assists per game, but that's against 2.4 turnovers and considering he's a wing on a team that ranks 9th in the country with an assist on 66% of their made baskets that's not very impressive.  Plus, just watch  him sometime. [5-9 Monday.  Continues to be efficient.  Not going to drop him much until I see it against a good team, but we could really use more chucking here.]

5.  KENDALL STEPHENS, Purdue (NR).  I said at the beginning of the year that Purdue was set up to have at least one guy on this list, and right now it looks like Stephens is the guy.  I had Bryson Scott on here for both of my first two lists, but he just doesn't shoot enough (though a 1-6 in 12 minutes recently is nice).  Stephens, however, is starting to look like a more than worthy replacement.  His shot percentage is a solid 26%, and though his eFG% is higher than I'd like at 52% he's started to put up much better chucker looking numbers with a 1-9, 2-11, and 2-7 in his last three outings.  Add in that 70% of his attempts are from three and somehow he's shooting an insane 19% from two this year (4-22) and I think he's the Boiler for the job. [5-11 Monday.  Good shot amount in 22 minutes.  Could be a high riser.]

6.  KADEEM JACK, Rutgers (NR).  Jack has always been a high usage player for the Scarlet Knights, and he's kept it up this year (31% shots) but he's added a new wrinkle to his game - he can't make anything.  He missed the first two games of the year but has made up for it with some seriously prolific chucking including an 8-23 performance against Vandy and a ridiculous 3-15 vs. Seton Hall, leading to a 37% shooting percentage and a scoring average more than 2 points lower than last season.  He's never been much for passing (his average of 1.5 assists per game this year is a career high) but his season total of 9 assists vs. 17 turnovers is worth noting.  If his shot doesn't come back he could challenge for the crown.  [3-9 Tuesday with 7 turnovers to boot.  Something could be brewing here.]

7.  BRYANT MCINTOSH, Northwestern (9).  When I put McIntosh on here last time I said I figured he wouldn't last long.  So far, at least, I was wrong. Since my last post (5 games) he's shot 15-48 including a 1-10 game against Georgia Tech, and I just can't ignore that kind of non-production no matter how good he is at passing - and he is, averaging 5 assists per game (against 2.5 TOs) with an assist rate ranking in the top 40 in the country.  He's still taking 23% of his team's shots when he's on the floor, and as long as he keeps up that volume while being unable to actually put the ball in the basket it'll be tough to keep him off this list.  There are plenty of good distributors who are terrible shooters, most of them don't heave the ball at the hoop this often.  And that's why he's a chucker.

8.  KAMERON CHATMAN, Michigan (NR).  Another freshman who just DGAF, the most impressive thing about Chatman is how he's 6-7 and he just hates the paint.  Loathes it.  Treats it like my kids treat the floor when they do that thing where the floor is hot lava.  I say that because I perusing the sweet site, and Chatman has taken 6% of his shots at the rim this year.  I will just tell you that is insanely low.  For reference there is no Gopher under 10%, and no other Wolverine under 15% - it's a really low number, especially for someone who is 6-7.  I also noticed that 100% of his baskets at the rim are assisted, which means he never drives, he just stands around and chucks jumpers, like when he shot 0-6 in their hilariously awesome loss to NJIT.  On the season he's now at 34% on twos and 21% on threes, and if he continues to be allergic to the rim he could be one to watch. [0-2 Tuesday.  [Shot amount is unfortunate, but at least he missed them both.]

9.  BRANDON TAYLOR, Penn State (NR).  Taylor's actually similar to Chatman in that he hates scoring in the paint too (10.5%), but he has fewer excuses.  He's not a skinny freshman like Chatman, he's a 6-6, 225 lb. junior who averages 6.4 rebounds per game, so it's not like he's incapable of playing in the paint, he just doesn't want to.  Now, granted, this can be a valid plan and has worked for many players in the past.  It does not, however, generally work when you're shooting just 29% from three (15-51) especially when you're taking more threes than twos. Nothing new for Taylor since in his three seasons he's averaged 3.5 or more 3 attempts per game each year and failed to ever break better than 32% accuracy.  I really should have had him on the list earlier.

10.  JARROD UTHOFF, Iowa (NR).  Uthoff likes to shoot (25% shot percentage) and he's not particularly horrible at it (40% twos, 39% threes) but his eFG is still just 48% so he qualifies, and he deserves mention on this list because of that horrendous 40% twos for a 6-9 player.  I checked a handful of other teams and the only other guy who combines that kind of volume and ineptitude with that height is Kadeem Jack, number 6 on this list.  Special shout out to his 2-13 game against North Carolina, though in fairness he also grabbed 11 rebounds.  I don't see Uthoff sticking on this list for very long, but I wanted to recognize him while he's not hot. [6-11 Tuesday.  Vs. Alcorn State.  So meh.]

Notable feats in chucking around the country:

1.  CAZMON HAYES, Delaware.  If we are looking for the best chucker in the nation, we might not have to look any further.  Just look at this line:  15.4ppg, 29% field goal percentage, 0.7 assists per game.  Glorious.  He has a 3-18 and a 4-21 shooting on the year.  Also a 6-21.  His best shooting game he went 4-9 and I assume he must have been in foul trouble to only get off 9 shots.  He has five assists the entire season.  He's shooting 9 threes per game despite hitting just 29%.  Even better, last year he only averaged 10 minutes and two shots per game.  Get yours, Caz, get yours.

2.  KYLE WILTJER, Gonzaga.  Wiltjer transferred from Kentucky in order to get out under the shackles of a tightly called and tightly run Calipari offense, and he's certainly had free reign to chuck away since becoming a Zag (35% shot percentage).  Never was that more evident than against Georgia when he put up 26 shots.  It's really hard to shoot 26 times in one game, especially when your team shoots 52.  Some quick math tells me that's half the team's attempts, which I don't think is how most offenses are supposed to be run.  He did make 14 which is not chucker like, but when you take half your team's shots and put up the second most attempts of any player in a game this year (behind DJ Newbill who took 33 in a 2OT game) it's worth noting.

3.  DAMON LYNN, NJIT.  This is a pretty good one, because Lynn had a god awful chucker level game against Marquette not long after the last Chucker Update, shooting 4-20 with five turnovers in a game the Highlanders lost by just five, a game they might have won if Lynn makes a few more shots.  Then came the big upset win over Michigan which was pretty awesome, and Lynn is the hero, hitting 7-16 (6-10 on threes) and coming up huge, nailing that huge, soul crushing, monster three pointer with about two minutes left when Michigan looked like they might be about to retake the game.  Chucker redemption at its finest.

4.  MARCELLUS BARKSDALE, IUPUI.  Though he did put up back-to-back performances worthy of a call out (4-14 and 2-11 shooting), he's mainly just here because I saw his name pop up in my top secret chucker formula and actually said "holy shit" out loud. What a sweet name.  Marcellus Wallace and Avon Barksdale had a baby, and he loves throwing the ball in the basic direction of the hoop.  Also, I love Pulp Fiction (duh) and I just finished season 4 of The Wire so I'm still in that "holy crap you guys The Wire is so good I can't believe I never watched it" mode.  Seriously though, holy crap you guys The Wire is so good I can't believe I never watched it.

5.  PHIL FORTE, Oklahoma State.  Phil has carried on the Forte tradition of being an excellent college basketball player started by Joe and Jason and probably Matt.  He's not here because he's a terrible shooter, because he's generally pretty good.  He is, however, a 3-point bomber with two thirds of his shots coming from behind the arc at a clip of over 8 attempts per game.  He's around a 40% shooter from there in his career so he's a pretty valuable weapon.  However with a weapon like that, occasionally things can go drastically wrong.  Forte fell apart against South Carolina on Saturday, going 1-14 from the field and 1-10 from three as the Cowboys got blasted 75-49.  It was pretty much disaster all around as the team shot sub 25% for the game.  It is hard to win that way.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Fare thee Well, Josh Martin

Well that was fast.  Seven games into his collegiate career freshman power forward Josh Martin, Richard Pitino's first "real" recruit, has decided the University of Minnesota is not for him and has decided to transfer, effective immediately.  This comes as a bit of a surprise considering he was pretty spaztastic about the U after he signed on Twitter, including tweeting at a bunch of other recruits so it seemed kind of like he was a Gopher 4 Life.  On the other hand, his body language wasn't great, and he was playing just five minutes per game.  One could argue that playing five minutes per game in your first seven games for a Big Ten mid-tier team is probably about where a mid-tier recruit should expect to be, but hey, not everyone can handle something like that after being a star in high school.

I thought Martin flashed some good potential (read here) and obviously he was a big time athlete, and I was expecting him to steadily improve and be a big time player his last two years.  Obviously that's out.  If he felt like this wasn't the right fit and wanted more playing time right away, well, unfortunately that's his right and he's entitled to seek out the best situation for him, but the timing sucks for everyone involved.  The Gophers are now down to nine scholarship players and need Gaston Diedhiou to become eligible more than ever, and for Martin he's essentially wasted a half year of eligibility with nothing to show for it.  So why not finish out the year?  I suspect, and I have nothing to base this on other than the timing and my gut feel, that this is a "home sick" kind of situation.  Minneapolis is quite a ways from Seattle, and I can't think of any other reason to make such an abrupt change other than simply "I don't want to be here any more."  I'm guessing the playing time situation  didn't help, but I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up in the Pacific Northwest when his transfer gets figured out.

It sucks, and I had high hopes for him, but we move on.  Assuming Diedhiou gains his eligibility, an assumption which I have to assume at this point or I'll cry, he should be able to fill in for Martin's five minutes per game, or at least that's the hope.  It also opens up another scholarship for Pitino to fill, and with Lofton and McNeil (probably) off the team that's three spots for Spring recruiting which can be a dicey proposition.  I trust Pitino to do well, and I'd bet at least one of those spots gets filled by a transfer.  This is a bummer, but it's not crushing, at least.  Even if Gaston doesn't get to play they should be able to get by with

PG:  Mathieu (35), Mason (5)
SG:  Hollins (30), Mason (10)
SF:  Morris (30), Mason (10)
PF:  King (30), Buggs (10)
C:  Walker (25), Eliason (15)

No problem, right?  Now how about nobody gets in foul trouble?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Gophers 84, Wake Forest 69

Ok so I was wrong.  Wake did get to the line a ton but didn't shoot well once there, the Gophers controlled their rebounding, and the Gophers shot the bell well and got a great night out of Andre Hollins.  Wake was as bad as I thought and the Gophers were just better.  It's nice to see them take care of business against an inferior opponent on the road, not that they'll have to do that again for a month or so.  Anyway, here's ten things.

1.  Can we get this Dre Hollins all the time?  Man is he fun to watch when he gets going like tonight.  It seems like it's been a rough go with him lately, what with his regression to chucker and turnover machine status so far this year, but tonight he had it all working again and it was glorious.  His shot was so on he was NBA Jam On Fire in the second half and he was active the whole game, resulting in 7 boards. He did have 3 turnovers but that's acceptable, even against 0 assists because he's just not a point guard anymore.  It's pretty much Mathieu or Mason getting the ball handling work, and I'm actually more comfortable with either of them than with Dre, so it works for me.  He's a scorer, so go be a scorer.

2.  The press continues to work.  You can't say Pitino hasn't changed this team's style, that's for sure.  They're fast - last night's game ended up at 77 possessions, just shy of the Louisville game and helped speed Wake up to a faster pace than they generally like, which ended up in sloppy possessions and a whole mess of Gopher turnovers once again.  Wake gave the ball away on 23% of their possessions with the Gophers stealing the ball 13 times (18 total TOs), an incredible number which upped their % to 14.7% on the year, 7th highest in the country.  It's worth mentioning that last night's press was more aggressive with trapping than the press usually is, suggesting Pitino knew Wake was a questionable ball handling team and intentionally upped the pressure.  It's a little thing and may seem obvious, but I know other coaches here didn't make little adjustments like that from game to game.  It's nice to see that attention to detail and willingness to tweak things based on opponent.

3.  The Gopher guards do a really nice job against ball screens.  Aaron Craft got a lot of pub last year about how he's the best defender ever and stuff like that, and he was good, but one of the things he was exceptional at was slithering over the top of a ball screen (Shannon Scott too, which is why OSU was so good defensively last year).  If you can slip between the screener and the ball handler, nobody has to hedge or help or switch or rotate, and it becomes a wasted motion by the offense that takes up time but does nothing towards getting the offensive team closer to scoring.  It's a valuable skill, and the Gopher guards are good at it (not Craft or Scott good, but good enough to be mentioned).  Mathieu is on that Scott/Craft level, Hollins can do it every time if his offensive game is clicking (yes, sorry, but his offensive game triggers his defensive level of effort, it's true), and I've seen Mason do it more often than you'd expect a freshman too.  It's not a stat and doesn't show up in the paper or our fantasy league, but it's a really valuable skill and three Gopher guards have it.  Nice.

4.  I'm going to say something nice about Carlos Morris.  There are parts of his undisciplined JuCo wild approach that work because of his athleticism.  Eight steals last night is awesome, and yes, many of them game with him gambling and taking chances (which is fine) and there were times he missed the steal and gave Wake an easy path to the basket or to break the press (which happens) but as long as his gambles are paying off with 8 steals, I'll take it.  I also really like how when he gets a rebound he'll just turn and book it down court.  Mathieu is the only other one who does that.  They just fly and then assess if they should continue to attack or pull back once they cross the timeline rather than let the defense get back and get set right away.  I love it, and I think more Gophers should do it when they get a board (NOT Joey King).  I didn't like Morris's shot selection, six turnovers, or that time he went up for a (ill advised) jumper and chucked the ball straight backwards, but I've been hammering on him and he's not really all bad, he just needs to be controlled a little bit - like a pet alligator.

5.  Beyond just Morris, this team turns into a really dumb team sometimes.  I really hate dumb teams.  As an avid gambler one of my biggest rules is "never bet on a dumb team."  It's one of my strongest rules along with "never take an under on Marcus Paige or Yogi Ferrell" and "don't ever bet on a football team who can't throw".  Sometimes, however, you don't know who is a dumb team, and sometimes smart teams turn into dumb teams, and all this is just me finding a way to say that I'm starting to fear that this Gopher team is dumb.  Dumb teams take stupid shots, make dumb turnovers, foul too much and at stupid times, miss tons of free throws, and give up easy buckets with defensive lapses including but not limited to not getting back in transition which the Gophers did like 117 times last game (I didn't count).  So far this year the Gophers take stupid shots, make dumb turnovers, foul too much and at stupid times, miss tons of free throws, and give up easy buckets with defensive lapses including but not limited to not getting back in transition.  I'm absolutely terrified for the rest of this year.

6.  The Gophers kept going to a pretty simple play, and it kept resulting in 3 points.  It's nothing special, really, but they used it several times and Hollins got two three-pointers out of it and King got one.  Shooter guy starts on one wing and just sprints to the opposite corner or wing, rubbing off a back pick on the near wing and a second pick on the opposite block.  It's basically just two picks, but it worked early for the Gophers and they kept going back to it, rightly so since it worked several times.  They also ran a modified version for Carlos Morris where instead of going to the corner or wing for a jumper he turned it into a curl cut where he's already moving towards the bucket when he receives the ball.  Good modification.  Good play.

7.  Josh Martin is going to be a really good rebounder some day.  His box score looks pretty brutal with just six minutes played and 1 rebound (to go with one missed shot, two turnovers, and two fouls) but I paid attention to Martin last night and I saw some promising things, mainly around rebounding.  Offensive or defensive, he was always in good position and got his hand on 2-3 other rebounds that he couldn't corral because his positioning was perfect.  He also got shoved almost all the way under the basket by some Wake guy on a free throw so we're still a little ways off, but he'll get there.  I'm going to say one year in the future he'll average as many as EIGHT rebounds per game. You heard it here first.

8.  Mo Walker, rim protector?  Walker is never going to be confused for Antoine Broxsie or Jerome Holman when it comes to shot blocking, what with 37 career blocks coming into this season, but suddenly he's a different defender.  The combination of the weight loss, recovery from injury, and the confidence he's gained after a successful season last year have him as active as I've ever seen defensively and it's paying off big time.  I always considered Eliason the defensive presence and Walker the offensive banger, but this year Walker is averaging 1.6 blocks in 20 minutes per game, blocking 9.8% of the opponents shot attempts while he's on the floor.  That's an incredible number that's doubled from last season and is almost 3 times higher than Eliason, and it ranks as the 42nd best percentage in DI (behind only A.J. Hammons, Alex Olah, and Michal Cekovsky in the B10).  I didn't notice this until last night when he was challenging, and blocking, shots but man, what a huge development.

9.  The Gophers look really good in transition, thanks to Mathieu.  Boy is this team fun to watch in transition.  I love when Mathieu just takes off and guys are sprinting to fill lanes.  He's incredibly good at being able to observe the defenders at 100mph and know when to go to the rim, when to pull back, and my favorite is when he'll kind of drift towards the off ball defender, knowing a teammate is screaming up the opposite wing and he can hit him with either pass leading towards the rim or a kick out for an open three attempt.  He struggles against teams who can challenge his quickness, but when he has it going like last night (8 assists) it's a thing of beauty.  I still wish he'd look for his shot a bit more since he is a quality shooter but he's down a full 2 shot attempts per game this year.  Don't worry, that's not a complaint.  Love this guy.

10.  So by my count the Big Ten now leads the challenge 6-2.  That's good!  They only need two more wins to win this thing which would be the sixth straight year of the Big Ten not losing after losing the first ten iterations of this thing.  Normally I'm not one who cares about rooting for your conference and usually I hope any and all rivals face ruthless and humiliating defeats whenever possible, but in this case Big Ten wins help the Gophers.  It bumps up any winning team's RPI, and by extension the whole conference's RPI, and if the B10 does well it helps the national perception of the teams which can only help in March when those nerds go into their sealed room and start talking about NCAA Tournament bids.  So yeah, in general I root for the Big Ten in these games, except for Iowa and I hope a black hole opens up in Madison tonight and swallows Wisconsin, Duke, and all the fans of those teams in attendance into Bolivian.  Who wouldn't want that?

So that's it for meaningful games until the conference slate opens on New Year's Eve at Purdue.  Until then it's a bunch of garbage.  Next up is Western Carolina on Wednesday, and other than Kevin Martin possibly showing up (it's his alma mater and the Wolves are in town, though they play the  Rockets and I don't know the rules like if he has to be there when he's hurt or if he can go to the Gopher game) there's not a whole lot to be excited about.  Really not the Martin thing either because meh.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Wake Forest

This Wake game just sucks.  Really sucks.  It's a total no win, big loss situation.  Wake Forest is not a very good team and they just lost at home to a horrendous Delaware State club so they shouldn't be scary.  That also means a win against them will mean nothing for their March hopes, and a loss will be a big black mark.  They'll be on the road, where they're always shaky, against an ACC opponent with one very strong skill (they're one of the best rebounding teams in the country and tops overall on not allowing offensive rebounds) in a game they can't afford to lose.  Doesn't seem fair.  They're going to be a 5 point favorite in a game where a loss is a major resume killer.  Sucks.  So I guess yeah just win.

The reason the Deacons control the boards mainly lies with the talents of 6-9 junior forward Devin Thomas, who 4th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 36% of all opponent missed shots when he's on the floor, adding up to 10.3 rebounds per game.  He's not a huge scorer (11.7ppg) but he's capable, having put up 19 against Arkansas, the best defensive team Wake has faced this year.  He mainly hangs around the bucket and is shooting 51% this year and he'll be a handful for Eliason and Walker to handle.  He also excels at getting to the line, drawing over 7 fouls per 40 minutes and having taken nearly as many free throws as field goals on the season.  I seriously doubt both, if any, of those two can avoid hacking away so that means we may see a hearty dose of Bakary Konate.  Sink or swim, kid, sink or swim.

The other Demon Deacon who deserves his own call out is Codi McIntyre-Miller, and not just because he spells his first name with an I.  He's a bit of an odd duck as a 6-3 guard who doesn't shoot 3-pointers (just 7 attempts this year), but's still managed to average 11.3 points per game this year though on 39% shooting.  He's the play maker and point guard for the team, though his assist numbers have taken a bit of a tumble this year and his turnovers have jumped up a bit.  The best news of all is that he's taking over 30% of his team's shots when he's on the floor with an eFG% of 39% and you know what that means - CHUCKER ALERT!  Always fun.

Behind those two there's a mishmash of 7 other guys who play 13 or more minutes per game, but none really standout.  Mitchell Wilbekin (6.9ppg, 1.6spg), brother of Scottie, is the other starting guard and a plus defender and the team's top three point threat (44% on about 4 attempts per game).  Cornelius Hudson (7ppg, 4.3rpg) starts on the wing and he's another great rebounder on this team, and Michael Crabtree's brother.  Down low Darius Leonard starts next to Thomas (6.6ppg, 3.4rpg).  He's not scary, though if it goes as expected and Joey King ends up guarding him who knows.  Off the bench Wake gets some scoring pop from 6-10 freshman Konstantinos Mitoglou (8.1ppg and 5.6rpg in just 18.1mpg) and 6-1 junior guard Madison Jones (7.1ppg, 2.9apg), another point guard who doesn't shoot threes.  There's a bunch of other guys here but Danny Manning mixes and matches a lot of guys, trying to find a workable and winning combination.  The seven I touched on here are the ones who should really impact the game.

Overall, Wake is a pretty bad team.  But they have a couple of big advantages:  They are a much better rebounding team than the Gophers and could end up getting a ton of o-boards while allowing Minnesota to grab zero of them, and they get to the line regularly and that's been the Gophers major weakness.  On the flippity flop, the Gophers create a ton of turnovers and Wake has been really sloppy with the ball this year, and even better most of their turnovers are coming via the steal and the Gophers are rocking the thefts this year.  Neither team can shoot though both share the ball well, so that's a push.  The way I see it, if you look at the four factors most highly correlated with winning basketball, there's one push (shooting), one where the Gophers have the edge (turnovers), and two go to Wake (rebounding, free throws). Add in Wake having home court and I struggle to see this going well for Minnesota.  Someone push the panic button.

Wake Forest 64, Minnesota 60.