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.