So the Gophers are 4-0. It's probably nothing more than building up some false hope and this team's upside is still an NIT invite, but 4-0 feels good, particularly since two of the wins were against teams that aren't probably completely terrible. With three of the next four games against teams that pose an actual challenge (Arkansas, at Florida State, vs. Vandy in South Dakota) this seems like a good time to check in. I was at the game against Louisiana (but had my two weiner kids with me so it was hard to pay too much attention), half watched a replay of the game against UTSA on the computer while I was at work, and saw most of the St. Johns game on TV. Needless to say, I'm clearly qualified to have opinions. Here are some of those:
1. I LIKE this team. The last couple of seasons were made extra tough because there were just too many unlikable players. I don't mean as people because I don't know any of these guys, but to watch. From Carlos Morris to Kevin Dorsey to Bakary Konate to Gaston Diedhiou to Joey King to wondering what in the hell happened to DeAndre Matheiu it just wasn't a fun experience. But I really like this year's team thus far. I've always said the best college team you could put together would be four mostly interchangeable athletic guards/wings with one defensively dominant big man, and one of those wing types a go to scorer. I'm getting way ahead of myself I know, and I don't know who will be the scorer guy, but I like this team's makeup and they're fun to watch.
2. Reggie Lynch is amazing. I love this guy. Did you know he's ninth in the country in block rate right now? That's top 10! When is the last time the Gophers had an actual rim protector like this? Jerry Holman? And if you watch him he's more than just a shot blocker, he has an understanding of help defense and can handle a pick and roll and has a good knack for being in the right place. He's also got an extremely ugly hook shot that goes in once in a while, and I did see him drive to the rim once. Plus he's my son's favorite player. Only because he wears #22, which is also Andrew Wiggins number, but still, that helps. Big fan.
3. Also a big fan of Dupree McBrayer this year. He somewhere acquired some swagger, befitting his NYC point guard pedigree, and has seen an uptick in shots, shooting percentage, and scoring and his body language just screams team leader out there. He's putting up pretty amazing numbers efficiency wise right now and doing it while still not committing turnovers which is not what usually happens when you see an increase in usage so I'm expected a bit of a regression at some point. Still, even if the real Dupree this year is somewhere halfway between last year and what we've seen this year that's a nice leap in a sophomore season. Plus he somehow manages to be both herky jerky and smooth at the same time, something only a lefty can do for some reason.
4. The freshmen have looked really, really good. In the first couple games Amir Coffey was clearly used to being able to do whatever he wanted on the court and forced a few things that don't work against college level defense, but you could see he was on a higher level than most players. That finally all came together against St. John's with that incredible 30 point night. He's done a good job so far balancing being the best player on the floor (if not yet technically it won't be long) with not doing too much since that first game. Hopefully that continues. And how good is Eric Curry? He's the one guy on the team where I want to see him be more aggressive. More than once he's had an opportunity to look for his own shot and just passed the ball of without even exploring that option. Be aggressive Eric! You're good!
5. I've been so busy raving about all our shiny new toys I haven't even mentioned the two best players from last year, Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy, and how they've continued to do what they do. It's easy to take them for granted now while we look at what's changed from last year, but Murphy is averaging 12 and 8 while shooting 55%, and Mason is putting up a line of 13.5 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists per game - those are both really good! Both of these guys are better than they were last year, and with all the other improvements it's hard not to be optimistic. Believe me I'm trying.
6. Ok the one negative so far: Akeem Springs. Holy crap this guy is basically a cartoon character how much he completely fits the senior year transfer looking for his own shot to showcase his own value in order to hopefully have some kind of post-college basketball career. I mean he's taking a much higher percentage of shots while he's on the floor this year than ever before and he's on a much better team now! Chucker city. Since he's going to be an inefficient shooting machine, we can either hate him, or embrace him as a Malik Smith kind of guy. Since I'm in a good mood, I'll do the Malik Smith thing. Put him in as the first guy off the bench each half. If he's hitting - yay! If not, bench him for the rest of the half and give his minutes to Michael Hurt or Ahmad Gilbert. Win win.
There are a couple other potential issues like the team suddenly not creating turnovers and the usual issues defending the three pointer, but the team is 4-0. They're 4-0 with two wins over teams who could have beaten them and they're fun to watch. So I'm going to enjoy this for now. Mostly because they could be 5-3 after the end of next week and we'll be back in the dumper with a horrible season looming ahead of us - again. But I'm not going to think about that right now. I'm having fun.