Updated 12/1 6:30 p.m.
The Gophers handled UC Riverside 75-38 Saturday afternoon at Williams Arena, but it seemed during the first half that one of the three seniors who was expected to be a leader for this team was not only receiving the infamous Tubby "glare," but at least for the first half appeared to be neck deep in the coach's doghouse.
Here is discussion of that, and other findings from Saturday's win, including the continued ascension of Damian Johnson.
** For the second straight game, the Tubby Smith led Golden Gophers looked better offensively and defensively with backups Jonathan Williams and Damian Johnson manning the frountcourt. Meanwhile, Dan Coleman found himself in Tubby's doghouse most of the first half, playing only the first five minutes before finding a spot at the end of the bench. Coleman finished the game 1-for-6 from the field with five rebounds in 20 minutes. It was pointed out in the comments that Coleman picked up two fouls early in the first half, giving perhaps another reason for Coleman to ride the bench for the remainder of the half. But in trying to take the ball to the basket early--at the request of Tubby--it seemed like Coleman was out of his comfort zone and began to force.
Meanwhile, Johnson continues to be all over the place, using his long frame to grab rebounds and influence and block shots. He finished with 13 points, including a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor and a team-leading six rebounds and three blocks and three steals. Doghouse or not, Johnson is filling up the boxscore and Coleman isn't. Coleman better turn things around, because sooner or later Tubby is going to have to give Johnson more minutes. Where are those going to come from? Likely Coleman. After the loss to Florida State, Tubby questioned the effort and energy of his senior trio. Tubby didn't specify which player, if there was an individual, who he was upset with. If there is some other explanation for Coleman sitting all but the first five minutes of the first half, please someone let me know. Until then, I'm blogging under the impression that Coleman has some work to do to regain the confidence of his new coach.
** Neither Al Nolen or Kevin Payton graced us with their perscense in the starting lineup. Instead, Tubby started Lawrence McKenzie, Lawrence Westbrook, Jamal Abu-Shamala, Coleman and Tollackson. We continue to see Tubby flirting with different lineup combinations. We saw a three-guard lineup against Florida State. And we've seen Tubby start true freshman Nolen. I'm not sure I like starting McKenzie at point guard. He's the team's most prolific scorer. While I understand what Tubby is doing here--McKenzie is the most consistent, and trusted ball handler on the team--it would benefit the Gophers greatly if Nolen can mature rapidly to take some ball handling duties away from McKenzie.
** Spencer Tollackson continued to struggle with his back to the basket. Against the Seminoles, Tollackson was the inferior athlete in the post. Against UC Riverside, I was baffled to see Tollackson fail to establish himself as a force underneath. This isn't to say that Tollackson's platy was all bad, but he clearly hasn't been the force underneath many Gophers fans would like to see. His final numbers look OK, 10 points on 4-for-10 from the field and five rebounds. But some of that came in complete garbage time. I have not once this year questioned Tollackson's effort. He seems to be busting his ass. But he can be a bigger force than he has been.
** In the post below this, I questioned the idea of starting Jonathan Williams. I might have been wrong. Out of our four big men, Williams looks the most comfortable in the post, and seems to have the best vision and passing ability. On multiple occasions Williams had the wherwithal to find a cutting teammate with a nice pass in the paint. Tollackson hasn't been comfortable enough in the post to make these types of passes. As long as Tubby is experimenting with lineups, how about starting Johnson and Williams for a game instead of Tollackson and Coleman?
** The Gophers still need to get to the free-throw line more often. This was an area that Tubby reportedly emphasized in practices, even tweaking the offense to provide more opportunites to get to the rim and draw contact. The Gophers got to the line 21 times against UC Riverside, an improvement to be sure. But the Gophers were still perimiter oriented and didn't have enough success in the paint to play inside-out. Also, the Gophers hit just 12 of those 21 free throws. My guess is Tubby will make the boys run a big for that 57 percent shooting from the line.
** Lawrence McKenzie put up 18, shooting 6-for-10 (5-for-7 from 3) from the floor. The Gophers need this from him every night in the Big Ten if we're going to pull an upset or two.
** Blake Hoffarber continues to impress with his quick stroke from beyond the arc. He finished in double digits for the second straight game, this time putting up 13 points while going 4-for-7 from three-point land. Hoffarber also isn't proving to be a large liability on the defensive end. That might change against more athletic Big Ten teams, but for now I'd like to see more of Hoffarber.
** Tubby continues to use a 10-man rotation. If there was a player in jeopardy of being the odd man out when Tubby shortens his rotation, I'd like it would have to be Kevin Payton. The Gophers need the scoring ability of Hoffarber and Abu-Shamala, and they need all the minutes from the four big men. Once again Saturday, Payton proved to me that he's the weakest link in the current 10-man rotation.
UP Next: The Gophers have a quick turnaround with a game Monday night at Williams Arena against North Dakota State. The Bison have started 2007 with a 4-3 mark, but that's somewhat misleading as their losses have come at Florida, at Rutgers and at Wisconsin-Green Bay. I'd expect this to be a much closer game (the Bison only lost by 10 at Florida) and it will be interesting to see if Tubby tweaks his lineup yet again.