I suppose I saw this coming as a loss, which is why I bet Ok State -3, which is why Nate Mason's late lay-up instead of some desperate three clanging off the rim was a double killer. You either want the Gophers to win, or to win your bet. When neither happen it just sucks. Like the team this year. Anyway, here are 10 things I liked and didn't like (disclaimer: may not get to 10 because meh).
1. The defense was much better for most of the game. There were lapses of course, but in general the defense seemed much better both from an effort and a scheme stand point. The Gophers extended their zone out, way out, compared to usual in order to kind of take away the easy three pointer, and at the same time whoever was the anchor, Bakary Konate or whoever, laid back near the rim to discourage lay-ups. This forced the Cowboys into taking a lot of long twos, which is what you want. Considering Ok State shot a worse percentage from both 3 and 2 than the Gophers are allowing on the season I'd say it was a success. I want to see this exact defense in every game forever.
2. Kind of related to the effort and scheming on defense, the offense was much more active. It's like Pitino went into the lab on both offense and defense to change things up, and even though the Gophers shot like poop you could at least see more offense going on. Lots of off the ball screening, many times with a wing zooming from one side of the court all the way to the other, and far less reliance on pick and rolls. This helped facilitate a lot more ball movement than we've seen lately and will only make the team better in the long run. Of course, it's not all ball movement because Morris.
3. I don't see any reason to play Carlos Morris more than a token amount of minutes going forward. You can't just bench the guy because it's kind of a dick move to do that to a senior, but he doesn't fit the ball movement offense and just does some really dumb things. The passing up an open three to pump fake, then starting at the defender, and then shooting now that it's contested. The offensive rebound followed by fall away jumper that has no prayer of going in. Taking the ball at the rim in a one-on-four situation. And the ball stopping. Always the ball stopping. Last year, at least, you could point to his defense and high steal rate, but for whatever reason his steals are cut in half this year and he's just not adding anything of value. On a team that is going nowhere this year, there's no need to play a guy who isn't part of the future if he doesn't help you. Joey King at least gives you some shooting, even if that's about it.
4. Keep an eye on this Jordan Murphy character. His stats, obviously, are eye popping as he put up another double double with 11 points and 12 rebounds, his third in his last four games. His offensive rebounding is already elite with his quick jump ability and smarts (top 50ish) and his defensive rebounding is great too, mostly based on good positioning. His offensive game is decent as well, and if he can hit that open three-pointer to keep defenses honest it's going to open up so much more for him - and we're off to a good start there at 3-8 and they look good coming off his hand. His intelligence is what really sets him apart for me though. He and Mason ran a pick and roll, but the defender hedged so hard over the top the pick didn't really happen, so Murphy just flipped around and Mason came right back the other way. It was a smart, smart play. It resulted in a missed shot of course, but the Murphy/Mason pick and rolls should end up a staple of this team for the next few years.
5. Speaking of pick and rolls, I loved this one particular play. Pitino must have worked this one out in the lab because I can't recall seeing it before, but it should be used a minimum of once a half going forward. Mason has the ball, and Murphy and King set a double pick for him on the wing. Once he clears the pick, Murphy rolls to the hoop and King pops right out to the wing. It's brilliant. It gives Mason three immediate options - drive, hit Murphy diving to the hoop, or swing it back to King for an open three. Meanwhile the other two players are in the corners to clear spacing and give Mason the option of a kick out if their defenders collapse or jump to cover King. Really cool play.
6. Speaking of Mason, man this kid is good. He is just so under control at all times. He can drive and score, dish, or pull up and hit a jumper, and he can hit the open three (his shooting will come on despite a slow start). He took over running the offense this year and although the offense has been iffy at best, that's not his fault. Then there was a play that didn't work but just showed his court sense and vision. The Gophers got a rebound and outlet passed it to him, and Morris had broken down court (because OFFENSE OFFENSE OFFENSE is what is in his brain) and without even taking a dribble Mason turned and fired it all the way down court. The Ok State defender got a hand on it and knocked it out of bounds, but if he doesn't Morris catches it and dunks without having to dribble. Would have been a thing of beauty. Mason is a fun watch.
7. Where was Charles Buggs? After playing at least 23 minutes and starting in the first 8 games this season (I think), Buggs played zero minutes against Oklahoma State after getting just 8 in the South Dakota State game. According to Pitino it had nothing to do with discipline or injury, and he simply played the players he though would help him win the game, which included walk-on freshman Stephon Sharp getting 3 minutes (after having had 1 whole minute this season) and little used freshman Ahmad Gilbert 2 minutes (he had 27 coming into the game). I don't think Buggs is some big game changer, but he's been an extremely efficient scorer this year and has improved on defense considerably from last season. Considering he'll presumably be around next season, this is a surprising development. I'd bench Morris way before Buggs. Also, full disclosure, I didn't even realize Buggs wasn't playing until someone mentioned it on twitter, so....
8. Dupree McBrayer took Buggs's spot in the starting lineup, and I think I like him. He needs a lot of polish, and I mean a lot, but there's things here I like. He does a good job as a secondary ball handler, and even it that role he's actually second on the team in assist rate (behind Mason). He also leads the team in fouls drawn and free throw rate because he already has a good ability to attack the rim and very smooth and in control when he does it. Against Ok State there was a play where he drove and the dude set up for a charge and he was able to just slide himself enough to the side to turn it into a block. Very good play. Yes, he's had some lapses on both sides of the ball, is too left-hand dependent, and hasn't been able to shoot a lick this year, but I'm ok with that. As a freshman I've seen enough that I'm confident he'll be a solid player down the line.
9. Kevin Dorsey too. Yeah him too. I'm liking how this class is shaping up for the most part. Dorsey is more polished than McBrayer, which is why I'm more concerned with his shitty shooting than Brayer's shittier shooting since I think if he could hit a jumper we would have seen it by now, but he's a bull getting to the rim. He's already a master of using his body to draw fouls and is third on the team in FT rate (behind McBrayer and Murphy). Considering he hits around 80% of his foul shots that's a solid strategy (and gives me hope his jumper will come around).
10. Next up, Chicago State. Considering the Cougars are one of the worst teams in the entire country (#339 per kenpom) this needs to be a blowout. They do nothing at all well. They do however, hoist a ton of three pointers. They don't make them, but knowing this Gopher team that's always a bit of a concern. Their only three wins this season were against non-D1 opponents, and they lost to DePaul by 24, Iowa State by 42, and Northwestern by 42. They are a terrible team. Please let this not be close.
Gophers 88, Chicago State 66.