Friday, January 30, 2015

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Somebody

I'm taking my kids to the Gopher game tomorrow.  I just now realized that I have no idea who they're playing, that's how checked out I am this year.  That's kind of the reason I haven't written a post game post in a while.  I watch the games, I take notes like usual, then the Gophers self combust and lose the game in some kind of disheartening way and I really don't want to write.  There's a limited amount of times one can write about the number of poor decisions this team makes, although I am starting to think I may need to write a post addressing Pitino's in game coaching because I have some questions.  Anyway, it's more fun to write about a team that isn't the Gophers, so hold on a minute while I look up who they play and write the preview for...............Nebraska!

Nebraska, eh?  I'm pretty sure the Gophers already played these guys, let me check how they did.  Just kidding I already know they lost because they always lose.  Looks like I didn't write a preview or a recap of that one, probably because that was when I was still all checked out and angry and stuff.  I remember that one though because I was in the car for the end for some reason and was listening and heard "Hollins misses a three.  Morris rebounds.  He misses a three.  Hollins rebounds, over to Mathieu.  Mathieu misses a three.  Times up."  That was fun.  I asked my dad when I got to his house if any of them were good looks and he said two of them were.  So it was another stupid loss that probably shouldn't have been.  God what a horrid year.

Anyway, Nebraska is still basically a two-man squad with the terrible Terran Petteway and bricklayer Shavon Shields.  The two combine for 35.6 points per game, which is huge because Nebraska scores like 60 points per game because they can't shoot at all and play at a snail's pace.  The two have also combined for 531 field goal attempts which is a terrifying percentage of the team's total of 1,016.  If ever a team was screaming to be triangle and two'd it's this one, and it would actually be hilarious to watch Petteway try to deal with that because man is he ever wreckless.

The guy has a higher usage rate than anyone else in the conference and a top 10 mark in the entire country, yet his offensive rating is below every Gopher other than Bakary Konate.  Watching him is awesome if you love chuckers (and who doesn't?) because he'll just shoot whenever and wherever with little regard to anything going on around him.  He's not a true chucker because he does hit a little bit too many of them and his assist rate is good, but his turnover rate is in Joey King territory and he just forces the action in some hilarious ways.  If the Gophers can speed Nebraska up, easier said than done, there should be at least a handful of laugh out loud moments.

Then there's Shields, who loves to shoot long jumpers.  He hits 22% on his threes so letting him shoot is probably a good idea.  He's much better on 2-pointers at 55%, but just 43% on jump shots so, you know, let the guy shoot and stuff but keep him out of the lane.  Also keeping him off the free throw line would be a good idea since he's an 83% free throw shooter.  Actually both Shields and Petteway get to the line a lot, so another good strategy would be not fouling.

Nebraska has some other guys too but they're boring and I'm boring myself over here.  Looking forward to watching Petteway be crazy in person, and hoping for a Gopher win so maybe we'll get to watch someone fun like Oregon or Tennessee in person in the NIT.  Gophers projected for a #1 seed!!

Minnesota something, Nebraska something slightly smaller.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

That's about it.

Quick Preview: Gophers vs. Penn State

I admit I thought Penn State had a chance to be a sleeper in the Big Ten this season.  I said they had a chance to finish as high as 5th in the league this year (though I also said they could finish 14th and it wouldn't surprise me).  As usual, I'm an idiot and they are terrible.  They're 1-6 in conference play, which is actually worse than the Gophers if you can believe that.  That lone win came against Rutgers at home, and outside of a nice win over George Washington there isn't a single thing in their schedule they can be proud of.  The next best things are home wins over Akron and a 6-point road loss to Michigan State.  It's been that kind of season.

I thought Penn State could be a sleeper because they had an "elite" player (depends on how you want to define elite though) and a bunch of returning upperclassmen.  Hasn't quite worked out.  D.J. Newbill (the "elite" guy) is pretty much playing out of his mind (22 points, 4.5 rebs, 3.1 assists per game with good shooting percentages) but nobody has stepped up to help.

Brandon Taylor is shooting the ball a ton but has stopped driving and become a jump shooter which has killed his percentages, and his increased ball handling has turned him into a turnover machine.  Ross Travis is still an elite rebounder but has pretty much completely checked out offensively and is 5-29 on free throws this year (5-29!!!!).  John Johnson, one of the only perimeter threats on the team, has been suspended indefinitely for being a bad boy. Donovan Jack turns the ball over whenever he touches it, Jordan Dickerson shoots 46% and he's 7-1, and Geno Thorpe has done the opposite of improve in his sophomore year.  Freshman Shep Garner is having a nice season and he's going to be an outstanding four year player for the Nittany Lions in the Tim Frazier/Talor Battle mode (called it!) but he's the only one outside of Newbill who's not having a terrible season.

If the Gophers go zone, and they should, barring a monster game from Newbill (certainly possible) they should be able ton hold Penn State down.  The Nittany Lions don't move the ball well with just 42% of their baskets coming off an assist (341st in the country) and they don't shoot the 3 well at just 32.8% (218th) - both of which are sort of keys when going up against a zone defense.  Only Newbill and Garner - both at 36% - are credible three point shooters with Johnson in detention.  Taylor will shoot 'em and he is 8-15 over his last 3 games so the Gophers should probably guard him and stuff, but overall this year he's been pretty brutal (prior to this hot streak he went 4-26).  Letting most of the team bomb away should be to the Gophers' advantage.

Outside of that they're pretty average at most stuff, and I don't mean average for a Big 10 team I mean average for a division I team which includes all 344 teams.  They foul a ton, don't create any turnovers, and are pretty lackluster at just about everything.  They don't get the ball stolen from them much, which could be interesting since it's a Gopher strong point, and they defend ok but nothing special.  It's a disappointing and not very scary team, and one the Gophers should be able to deal with.

That "should be" is really the key.  I feel strongly enough to guarantee you the Gophers have an 8-12 point lead at some point in the second half.  It's a Big Ten road game, and we've seen what happens to this team when they have a late lead.  Is the win over Illinois enough to get this team back on track and confident enough to close this one out?  Probably not but I'm rolling with it.

Minnesota 70, Penn State 62.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Super Bowl! Check it out at SportBet!

The Super Bowl is right around the corner, again, and as such I am gambling on it.  At the end of this post I will list everything I bet on, and they're all really smart bets so you should probably tail me. Want to know more about the Super Bowl this Sunday?  Check for more news and odds.

The whole deflated football controversy is complete nonsense, although watching people get all twisted up inside about it is hilarious on both sides.  It's not really that hard to figure out.  The Patriots probably did something semi shady but also likely not strictly prohibited by the rules.  Many other teams probably do many similar things.  Or, more likely, it was something like the refs didn't really check the balls or something even more innocent.  Really, who cares if a ball is slightly deflated, do we really think it makes that much of a difference?  Morons, the lot of you.

As far as the game, I really don't know but I think and expect it to be close.  I think both teams will try to establish the running game, and if New England can get Blount going it's going to be a rough day for Seattle, because if they start having to commit to the run Brady should be able to pick them apart with some play action and short stuff.  The other way I see New England winning is getting ahead early, because Russell Wilson just isn't the kind of QB who can come back from a big deficit.  I know they came back against Green Bay but that had nothing to do with Wilson and if you think it did it's because you love him so much and want to marry him.  Green Bay screwed themselves at least three different ways.  God you Wilson lovers are the worst.  I don't even like the Patriots and I'm just praying that they win.  Anyway, here's my bets:

Due to a combination of a Patriots future I made last week at 2-1 to win and a whole bunch of teasers I'm guaranteed to make a profit on the game no matter what because somehow I've nailed every teaser (leaving one side of the Super Bowl) I made last week.  Best case scenario is a Patriots win by less than 7 or a Seahawk win by less than 7.  I make money even if one team blows the other out, but if the game stays close we're going Sizzler.


Seattle First Penalty called
Katy Perry first song Roar
Ovechkin shots on goal over Wilson TD passes
Arsenal/Aston Villa total goals over Brady TD passes
Delon Wright points over Seattle first half points
Wilson TD passes over Sidney Crosby points
Blount under 4.5 receiving yards
Collins under 8.5 tackles
Revis under 2.5 tackles
Chung under 5.5 tackles
Wilfork under 2.5 tackles
Wagner u 9.5 tackles
Ninkovich u 4.5 tackles
Hightower u 7.5 tackles
Chancellor u 6.5 tackles
Thomas u 5.5 tackles
Wright u 6.5 tackles
McCourty u 4.5 tackles
Sherman u 3.5 tackles
New England longest kick return
Blount MVP
Blount first TD
Blount over 62.5 yards rushing
No defensive or special teams touchdown
Longest TD of the game under 44.5 yards
First punt over 42.5 yards
No roughing the passer penalty
Belichick wearing blue hoodie
Belichick wearing hoodie with sleeves cut off
Katy Perry with Brown/Black hair

No,  you have a gambling problem.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What's wrong with the Gophers? Nerd stats and charts!

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 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 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.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Welcome aboard, Michael Hurt!

Richard Pitino and the Gophers secured their first 2016 commitment recently with Rochester forward Michael Hurt signing on.  Hurt may not have the greatest offer list right now (Gophers, Davidson, Northern Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, and assorted other mid-majors) but the ratings sights like him quite a bit.  247sports has him as the #155 player in the class and #27 power forward, while ESPN has him all the way up at the #59 overall player and #15 power forward.  Likely as time went on Hurt's offers would get more impressive and rumors were Wisconsin and Oregon were sniffing around so locking up the home state kid early a great move by Pitino.

Hurt is a tweener forward, but in this case it sounds like that's a positive.  Rather than being too slow to go up against small fowards and too small to go against power forwards, Hurt sounds like he's too quick for small forwards to handle and too big for small forwards and I really hope that sentence made sense.  He's said to have an outstanding jump shot with a chance to be one of the best shooters in the class and to be a good enough ball handler where he could do a little bit of a point forward thing if needed.  Scouting reports also say he can score well both in transition and the half court, with or without the ball (cutting and such, obviously you can't score without the ball), and when he's the focal point of the defense he's adept and finding open teammates and is a good passer.

Well then.  This sounds pretty good.  The only weaknesses I could find listed by anyone are he needs size to go against college PFs (not a surprise for a high school kid) and he could be a more aggressive rebounder (and this can be taught).

All-in-all, a very good first pick up for 2016 for the team, and someone with a little bit of size as well which is still looking like a possible future issue.  I don't know if Hurt will be able to play PF right away when he gets on campus, but I know he'll be able to shoot and should be a capable player right off the bat.  Good start.  Oh, and he's lefty, so we'll get to look at that sweet, sweet lefty J.  Looking forward to it.

As for tonight's game the Gophers are terrible.  Nebraska 70, Minnesota 56.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Iowa 77, Minnesota 75

It's a good thing I had pretty much already written this season off, because the Gophers found a new way to lose a game as brutally as possible.  Getting blown out, crawling back, taking the lead, losing the lead, and tying it up at the buzzer which oops was actually after the buzzer is a new level of losing.  It was clear he was late, clear enough to me at least that we just left after the buzzer instead of waiting for the ref's review.  Sucks.  Here are some things.  I might get to ten I'm not sure.  They're also probably going to be short because it's not very fun.

1.  Dre Hollins still can't shoot.  I consider myself a fairly analytical basketball mind, but there's really no rational reason for Hollins to continue to miss at this level (2-12 last night).  I still think he's settling for jumpers to much and not getting to the rim, but it's not a huge shift from last year (14.1% of shots at rim this year vs. 16.8% last year) and if he's not 100% that could be the reason, but he's just flat missing even the wide open looks.  I wish I knew more about stuff like shooting form and balance and release points and all that, because at this point it's gotta be mechanical.  Or at least I hope so, because if it's mental it's going to be tough for him to pull it together after so many, many, misses.

2.  Carlos Morris and Nate Mason were offensive superstars.  The duo accounted for 38 of the Gophers' points on 14-25 shooting - that's good!  Both have been showing off multi-faceted offensive games recently, and that only bodes well for the future.  Wait, let me rephrase.  The Gopher offense should score a lot of points next season, and points are fun.  The defense right now looks to me like it will be absolutely dreadful. We're getting pretty used to it, but there's a very good chance it's going to be worse next year.  Much worse.

3.  If they make their free throws at the end of the game, they probably win.  This is something people want to focus on and it's tough to blame them.  Yeah, there were tons of other things that could have changed the game's outcome and the Gophers shot 12-16 from the line for the game, but missing the front end of two one-and-ones with a slim lead in the final two and a half minutes is pretty tough to ignore.  I, and plenty of others, said if the poor free throw shooting didn't improve from earlier in the year it would cost this team at least one game, and here it probably did.  Weird to say in a game they shoot 75% from the stripe, but tough to ignore that situation.

4.  Pitino's new starting lineup didn't matter.  Another thing I heard some whining about is how Pitino's different starting lineup (Eliason-Buggs-King-Hollins-Mason) screwed the team because they started the game in a 10-2 hole.  Just shut up.  That didn't matter.  First, it was so early in the game that an eight point lead is not really close to insurmountable.  Second, nobody on this team is so good compared to his replacement that his not being on the floor is going to make any significant difference.  The only change that would make any difference long term would be Eliason in for Mo Walker, and it looks like Walker came in at about the seventeen and a half minute mark (we missed about the first five minutes or so because Macs was SO slow bringing the food out).  This is a dumb point.  He tried something kind of dumb to "spark the team" because that kind of dumb stuff sometimes works.  This time it didn't, but it had little bearing on the team's loss.

5.  Pitino's offense seems to have lost its edge.  Remember when the Gophers ran some cool plays?  Good enough stuff that I would point some of them out here?  What happened?  I know the base offense is kind of to let the players create and not have a pet play (like Tubby's flex) but the Gophers don't really have the types of players who can do that consistently.  It works at Louisville and Florida because those guys are really, really good (Florida this year excepted).  There needs to be a little bit more of a plan on the offensive end, especially when Mathieu is running rough.

6.  Maybe Mathieu should have shot a pull up at the end.  I guess in hindsight yes he definitely should have since he couldn't get the lay-up off, but he's fast and he's used to get where he's going and it's not like he was late by some huge amount of time.  He saw a lane, he got to it, and it almost worked.  He shares plenty of blame for what's gone on this season, and I have no idea what's going on with his dribbling which was near flawless last year but seems to have gone to hell, but don't put a whole lot of blame on him for running out of time.  I saw some classy chap on twitter call him dumb.  He makes a lot of dumb turnovers, sure, but this is the kind of thing that just sucks.  It happens.

7.  I thought the defense on Iowa's last shot was fine.  I haven't rewatched it, which I probably would have if this season was going any where but it's not so I really don't feel like it, but my first impression was the defense was there, Uthoff just made a tough shot.  I don't want to look at it again.  If I'm wrong, it's probably the first time so give me a break.

8.  Joey King is like, trying to be unlikable.  He hit two monster threes in the second half.  After both he did some cocky thing with his shooting hand like, simulating a ball going down into the hoop.  Don't do that.

9.  It may be time to let the kids play.  This season is in oof status, and I'm not advocating a wholesale benching of the seniors or anything it's probably time to at least start glancing towards next year.  With both Mo and Eliason gone that means Buggs, Bakary Konate, and Gaston Diedhiou are going to have to log a lot of minutes next season (gulp).  Time to let them get more than a little taste and at least get some idea of what you have going into next season.  Also probably time to be hitting the Juco, late signee, and transfer ranks pretty hard.

10.  Well now what?  I don't believe this team is anywhere near as bad as an 0-5 Big Ten team usually is, flaws notwithstanding,  Kenpom still has them ranked #50 in the country, which kind of seems silly right now, but on the other hand they've mostly blown out bad teams and played good teams close, which is a recipe Kenpom generally likes.  Unfortunately there are other metrics out there that mean more to the NCAA Selection committee such as RPI (#106) and Strength of Schedule (#103) which have pretty much now reached a level where anything the Gophers do short of nearly running the table isn't going to be enough to reach the tournament, and there's even some work to be done to go back to the NIT.  Time to just try to have some fun with the rest of the year and watch the guys develop for next season and beyond.  Luckily, I had already tricked my brain into thinking that way after Purdue.  Even so, this season has been a disappointment on a level that I don't know if I've ever experienced.

I do think they'll smoke Rutgers on Saturday though.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Michigan 62, Minnesota 57

Well that sucked.  Another game that looked eminently winnable, and another loss.  0-4 is not a good place to be, but luckily for me I had pretty much prepared myself for this.  Yes, I got sucked in a bit and yes, I felt a bit of rage rising post game, but I beat that shit back like Link fighting Ganon.  Sorry my kids are really into watching me play Zelda games these days.  Anyway, I didn't expect a win, I kind of started to believe, but when the collapse happened I wasn't the least bit surprised and well, I pretty much was just waiting for it.  Here are ten things I liked and didn't like about that Michigan game.

1.  Back door cuts are killing this team.  It happened against Ohio State, it happened against Purdue, and it probably happened against Maryland but I slept through most of that game.  It happened again big time against Michigan.  It doesn't seem to matter if it's man or zone defense, that back door cut is just killing this team. Against Michigan there was a play I actually rewound twice to see if there was a pick, but no, it was just Dre Hollins falling asleep and letting his man go back door.  I don't want to single him out because this is a team wide issue (Carlos hi) but it's a constant problem.

2.  Mo Walker has become so good he's getting hard doubled.  Pretty much every time Walker got the ball on Saturday Michigan sent a second defender, and not in a semi double way in a hard double way.  Walkter had no choice but to pass, basically (which killed my Walker over 13.5 points bet) and it made sense because Michigan doesn't have the personnel to guard him one one hone (which is why I made the bet).  He did a good job handling it and found open teammates enough times where it should have helped, but a staggering majority of those times whoever received the pass wasn't ready to shoot.  Could have made a lot of difference.

3.  I have never seen a team throw the ball directly out of bounds as much as this team.  The Gophers turned it over 17 times in the game, and I swear at least 8 of them were balls just thrown directly out of bounds. Michigan is a decent team at causing turnovers, but this was just out of control.  I gamble kind of a lot (but always within my means!) and a rule I try to follow is never bet on a dumb team.  Baylor, LSU, and any team coached by Bruce Weber usually fall into this.  The Gophers are trending in this direction.

4.  Carlos Morris could end up being really good.  Morris is on a really good run.  Outside of the Maryland game (which I slept through) he's managed to take his chucker tendencies and turn them into scorer tendencies (this difference is not missing as much).  He can hit the outside shot, he loves to drive to the rim, and against Michigan he showed off a very nice post game on a possession which had me like whoa (he did a very nice fake into an up and under which I didn't know he had in him).  Morris can score, and there was little doubt of this from day 1, but he's started doing it in a a way that fits the offense. Next year, when he's the clear #1 option (and he will be) he could seriously end up with a spot on an all Big 10 team.  For real.

5.  That being said, Morris's jump pass is killing me.  One thing you can say about Morris is the boy is confident. When he gets the ball and decides it's scoring time he's going to go to the rim and I am fully in favor of it.  The problems is, besides the sometimes really bad shots, is that if he doesn't have a shot he'll jump and look to pass.  If someone is open he great, good play dude.  But when there's no one around he's suddenly finding himself in the air with nowhere to go.  It's not good.  Or, at best, rarely good.

6.  Derrick Walton's jumper is beautiful.  Is it Ray Allen beautiful?  Of course not, don't be ridiculous, but it's a good looking shot.  I know the stats say the long two is the worst shot in basketball and I don't dispute that, but there are some guys who can just hit it enough to make it worthwhile.  Walton looks like he's going to be one of those guys.  I wish there was a way to get stock on a guy in a way that actually made money, because I'm telling you right now Walton is going to be an absolute superstar by the time he's out of Ann Arbor.  You heard it hear first.

7.  The Gophers got killed on the boards.  I know the final numbers show Minnesota winning the rebound battle, but man they got smoked on so many by a team that's basically running a four guard lineup.  Michigan doesn't crash the o-boards, but the got 31% of their own misses against a season average of 26% (including the Minnesota game).  There were just too many times a Michigan missed shot resulted in the Wolverines keeping the ball, which is a killer against a team that thrives in transition.  On a list of ways to lose the game, giving up offensive boards should have been near the top.  The Wolverines only shot 22% from three, which should have been a big part of a Gopher win, but giving up second chances negated that.

8.  Michigan does a great job of taking away passing lanes.  They did this in both man-to-man and that 1-3-1, but the whoever is on top for Michigan does a great job of making the offense reset.  They don't necessarily try to steal the ball, but whenever a Gopher guard on the wing was trying to pass back to the point the Michigan defender was always in the way, making the pass go much further towards half court than the Gophers would like and effectively making them start the offense over.  When Michigan switched to the 1-3-1 it was even more pronounced, and unfortunately no Gopher other than Nate Mason understood you need to attack the gaps rather than just work it around the perimeter.  Really, Mason impressed me with his understanding of what needed to be done, but he was the only one.

9.  Elliott Eliason is broken.  There as a play as the game wound down where somebody (and I wish I had the game recorded right now to rewatch this) left the ball off for him and it should have been a one dribble and dunk situation.  Instead it resulted in something else bad which I don't remember because he was just so hesitant.  I know he's not a good offensive player, and that's just who he is, but at point Elliott seemed to realize that he could score in the right situation and was seeming to develop into a competent player.  I have no idea what happened to the man, but he's become nothing more than a back-up center who can grab some rebounds sometime.  The difference between who he was early last season and who he is now is staggering, and it's impossible to not wonder what happened with the coaching here.  And yes, this is my first questioning of Pitino and staff I think.  It happens.

10.  I remember talking with someone and saying the Gopher might have the best back court in the conference.  They sure aren't playing like it.  Dre Hollins is basically playing the same as last year statswise, and he's shooting well but he has seemed to resign himself to being a jump shooter and isn't driving anymore (though you'll notice when the team is playing well it's when he's driving more) and Dre Matheiu is turning into a guy who won't shoot, even though he's a good shooter and who can't take care of the ball.  Both are scoring less than last season, and both have disappeared at times.  Despite a hot first half Hollins is still shooting like hell at just 10-46 (7-29 from three) in conference play and he's at 7 assists and 7 turnovers in those games.  Mathieu might even have been worse - he's totaled 17 turnovers in B10 games against just 8 assists.  I think everyone knew that these two were the key to the Gophers' season, and it's turning out that way.  If things are going to get turned around, it has to happen here.

11.  Extending this to eleven just because I have to mention Joey King  Oof.  Didn't shoot well, didn't rebound, and turned the ball over like it was his job.  One key play towards the end of the game he dove for a ball on the ground and gained possession (good!), had enough wits about him to not call timeout since the Gophers were out (smart!), and, despite multiple teammates around him, was unable to get the ball to one of them, leading to Michigan possession (bad!).  It was a huge play at that stage of the game.  I know King is just crazy inconsistent and he's never going to be anything resembling a competent ball handler, but he's been brutal.  Do you realize he has had more than one rebound in just one of the last five games?  He's 6-9 for christ's sake.  Ridiculous.

0-4 is a pretty major hole to dig your way out of, but it can be done.  Kenpom still projected the Gophers to finish the conference season at 8-10, and if they could basically do that but steal just one game they aren't supposed to win (without the corresponding bad loss) that's 9-9 and in the ballpark for an NCAA bid.  They'll probably need to go 10-8 to feel good, which means a whole lot of winning and it starts Tuesday night against Iowa.  The Hawkeyes have been solid this year (11-5) without a single bad loss (Texas, Syracuse, Michigan State, Iowa State, Northern Iowa) and two outstanding road wins (North Carolina, Ohio State).  Yes, they won both at Columbus and Chapel Hill, so I don't think they're going to automatically wilt because it's Williams Arena.  The Gophers will have to play well.  The Hawkeyes like to play fast, so this should be a fun game at least.

Minnesota 80, Iowa 77.

Iowa 75, Minnesota 66

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Michigan

This probably seems like a weird time to come back.  The Gophers are now 0-3 on the Big Ten Season and at this point the only decent wins they can point to are an almost blown win against an ok Georgia team and a win at Wake Forest that we still aren't sure if it's a decent win or a throwaway win.  The team's best player is pretty much in the tank and may or may not be still or newly hurt and the team depth seems to be getting shallower by the minute.  A gritty effort was proven to not be enough, and the team continued the tradition of screwing up end of game possessions, dropping a heart breaker that would have been enough to restore some optimism to the fan base.  It's not a wonderful time to be a fan.

But you know what?  Kind of it is.  The loss to Purdue basically told me everything I needed to know about what kind of team and year this was going to be (and this isn't hindsight, I said so in the preview) so, after a mini-breakdown or tantrum or hiatus or whatever term you prefer, I returned to watch the game against Ohio State with zero expectations, other than expecting the Buckeyes to win.  With lowered expectations comes lower stress levels and in a strange way more of an enjoyable viewing experience.  So after the Buckeye loss instead of being angry about another missed opportunity, I was pleased they hung in there and more of an "aw shucks would have been nice to get that one."  That's not being happy with a moral victory, it's simply accepting reality.  There was almost no way they were going to win that game - Ohio State is about 50 times better than they are - and it would take something miraculous to make the NCAA Tournament.  Once you accept that, it makes this year much easier to swallow.

So with that out of the way, let's move on to Saturday's game at Michigan. The Wolverines have had some much celebrated issues this year - the losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan - and, well, we still don't really know what's up with Michigan this year.  They started strong with wins over decent Syracuse and Oregon and hung tight with Villanova and everything looked like they'd be ok.  Then came those two horrible losses followed by an absolute drubbing by Arizona.  Since then they've won an overtime home game against Illinois, lost at Purdue, and lost at Penn State.  So who really knows what's up with this team?  I lean towards lower middle tier Big Ten team with very little shot at teh NCAA Tournament, so this should be a pretty even match up.

The bad news is the Wolverines really take care of the ball, and in particular they rarely have it stolen away - the Gophers #1 move.  The good news is they aren't particularly good at anything else.  This isn't one of the great shooting teams of the past few years, although they sure do like to chuck the three.  Of all Wolverine 3-point attempts so far this year, 43.5% of them have been three pointers, and the team makes 35.9% which is a good, but not great number.  Guards Caris LeVert (39%) and Derrick Walton (29%) and wing Zak Irvin (35%) all have over 50 3-point attempts already on the year, and all are capable of putting up either a 5-7 or 1-7 performance.  They rely on those three heavily, and all play 33-35 minutes per game, scoring about 60% of the team's points.  Getting the three to put the ball on the floor and take contested 2-pointers would be an excellent strategy, rather than letting them find open threes.  Anyone helping on a driver off a perimeter shooter should be benched immediately (that includes Spike Albrecht, who doesn't have the volume but hits 40% and needs an open shot to score).

After those four nobody else plays more than 19 minutes per game and you may have noticed those four are all perimeter players so you may be asking "does this mean Michigan is weak inside" and the answer is a resounding yes.  The only size on the team comes from three freshmen - 6-7 Kam Chatman, 6-9 Mark Donnal, and 6-9 Ricky Doyle and although the three have been better than I expected (combined 50 minutes, 16 points, 9 rebounds per game) they still aren't much of an inside presence.  They don't block any shots (Michigan is 335th in the country in block rate) or grab any offensive rebounds (322nd), though they do protect the defensive glass well overall (40th).  Mo Walker should (SHOULD!) be in line for a pretty big game.

All-in-all to me it looks like a pretty even matchup, and that includes the Wolverines' home court advantage.  The Gophers should be able to feast inside, while Michigan will have plenty of chances to hit outside shots.  I think if the Gophers let the pressure of being 0-3 get to them, they'll do stupid things and miss open shots.  If they're relaxed and playing ball, they'll win.  This one's on Pitino.

And I still believe.

Minnesota 69, Michigan 66

Monday, January 5, 2015

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Ohio State

Because the schedule says they have to the Gophers are going to play Ohio State on Tuesday night and they are going to get killed.  The Gophers do one thing well on defense - create turnovers - and they suck at everything else.  Well the Buckeyes don't really turn the ball over and they shoot the ball at an incredible rate if you prefer the ball going in the basket.  They hit 41% from three and 58% from two which rounds out to the third best shooting team in the entire country by effective field goal percentage.  Does this really sound like a team the Gophers beat?

Did you watch these guys the last two games?  Unfortunately I did, other than the 10 minute stretch I fell asleep during the Maryland game because I was really sick.  So sick I couldn't even drink.  Oof.  Anyway, the Gophers press the shit out of you and try to create turnovers and when it works it's glorious.  When it doesn't, however, there are open shots all over the place and you have to hope the other team misses more than they should.  That's not going to happen against Ohio State.

The Buckeyes have three guys in the top 254 in the country in effective field goal percentage.  D'Angelo Russell shoots the ball so much he'd be a great chucker if he didn't make everything, Sam Thompson decided he is in fact not Rodney Williams 2.0 and has decided to make a ton of shots, and Marc Loving defied my prediction and is, in fact, awesome at making the ball go in the hole. 

Six of the other seven guys who play would actually also all rank in the top 254 if they played and/or shot more.  Amir Williams, Jea'Sean Tate, Trey McDonald, and Anthony Lee make everything they shoot because they know what shots they should take, Kam Williams is some kind of deadeye shooter, and Keita Bates-Diop is 6-7 and shoots 62% from two and 44% from three.  The one guy who is a little bit of a suspect shooter is Shannon Scott the world's greatest defender who is one of the few guards in the conference who could shut down Dre Mathieu and who has a world class assist rate because he's really good at setting up all these good shooters for easy shots.

Pretty simple equation for this one.  Gophers give up a ton of easy shots, Ohio State hits all easy shots.  The Gophers would have to score a ton to keep this one close, but Ohio State has no real defensive weaknesses so I'm not seeing how that happens.  Short of the Gophers creating a ton of turnovers, which not even Louisville could do against these guys, this is a bloodbath.

Ohio State 80, Minnesota 56.