There was a lot of optimism around the Gopher basketball team going into this season with a trip to the NCAA Tournament looking likely. At this point, however, it now looks like a return to the NIT might be the best case scenario. With the majority of the team intact from last season, I thought it might be instructive to look at the players and see if there's any glaring changes. Looking at the five starters (comparing Austin Hollins with Carlos Morris) here are their offensive ratings as computed by kenpom.com in 2013-14 and 2014-15:
According to O-rating, Walker and Mathieu have essentially been the same player (I'll look closer at Mathieu later because it sure doesn't seem like it), but massive drop offs from Andre Hollins and Joey King and the switch from Austin Hollins to Carlos Morris have drastically hurt this team on the offensive end.
You think the easy answer on Dre Hollins is that he's shooting terribly, but look at these numbers:
We like to harp on Dre's shooting, but he's actually shooting significantly better this season than last, outside of free throws which have been a team wide problem. The real issues for Hollins are a decreased assist rate versus an increased turnover rate, as well as a steep drop in free throw attempts. To put these numbers in a per game perspective, Hollins is averaging the same amount of assists per game as last season at 2.4 while increasing his turnovers from 1.8 to 2.3 per game, a career high despite giving up most of his point guard duties. At the same time his free throw attempts per game have plummeted from 4.9 per game to 2.7, a number near the 2.5 he averaged his freshman year when he was playing just 20 minutes per game.
The assist decrease coupled with the free throw decrease screams of a player who is no longer creating offense by driving to the rim, and indeed a quick check of hoop-math.com shows he's attempting just 13.5% of his shots at the rim, down from 16.8% last season and yet another career low. More telling, a teammate has registered an assist on 68.4% of Hollins's baskets scored at the rim this year, well up from 34.2% last season, meaning the majority of his at the rim baskets are a result of someone else creating the offense. Andre is most effective when he uses all this weapons, especially since he's such a good free throw shooter, but he's settled into the role of jump shooter this year and that's a negative.
Next up is whipping boy Joey King.
Though King's shooting has been fine, though down, and is very similar to last season, his rebounding has taken a dip, his turnovers are up, and, again, his free throw rate has been cut in half. Similar to Hollins, King's % of shot attempts at the rim has dropped from 27.2% to 21.1%. The rest of his shooting splits are pretty similar to last year, so it could simply be a case of him spending less time around the rim, a case which would also negatively impact his offensive rebounding rate. If we want to put this another way, King's playing time has jumped by about 25% this year, and you'd expect most counting stats to jump by the same amount if there's no improvement or regression:
While the assist and block improvement are positives and the turnovers are expected given his increased touches and general trouble keeping hold of the ball, the slim rebounding increase and negative free throw number are huge red flags for someone who is supposed to be a power forward. Though some of the rebounding regression could be ascribed to Mo Walker both increasing his playing time and rebounding rates, Elliott Eliason has conversely seen both his playing time and rebounding rates dip so at a minimum King's rebounding should have increased at a level similar to his playing time, and there's no excuse for such a drastic free throw decrease.
Next up, a comparison between Austin Hollins last year and Carlos Morris this season:
Despite Hollins taking quite a lot of crap (more than he should have) for his senior year performance, it's clear that he was far and away a better player than Carlos Morris has been this season. The only place Morris outpaces Hollins are in assist rate and defensive rebounding rate, and those are both by a slim margin where Hollins is significantly better than Morris in most of the other categories. I like Morris and I think he has a shot to be a pretty solid player next season and a great scorer, but the drop-off from Hollins has been significant this season, more than many would have though, and has certainly contributed to a sub-par season.
Lastly I want to look at Mathieu quickly, because his O-rating being the same as last year kind of surprised me. I don't feel like making a chart, but despite his recent struggles Mathieu's assists are up, turnovers are down, steals are up, and although his shooting is down a bit it's still a good number. He's fine, just in a bit of a slump.
I don't expect the Gophers to turn it around at this point and make the NCAA Tournament or anything, but I would like to see Hollins get back towards attacking the rim, King play more like a power forward and take some strides since he's going to be important next year (gulp), and Morris continue to develop his all around game because I think he's improved significantly from earlier in the year. I mean, there are lots of other things I want to see too, but these are the ones uncovered from this post.
It's been a long year.