Sunday, December 30, 2007

Tubby's Gophers Brought Down To Size

For the second time this season, the University of Minnesota men's basketball team faced an athletically-superior opponent. For the second time this season, the Gophers were virtually run out of that team's gym.

The first measuring-stick game came against the Seminoles of Florida State and ended with a 75-61 loss. Sunday night in the finale of the Duel in the Desert Classic, the UNLV Runnin' Rebels ran the Gophers out of the Thomas and Mack Center from the opening tip. The Rebels grabbed a quick 9-0 lead and never looked back en route to an 81-64 win.

The Seminoles and Rebels have one thing in common: athletic guards who can beat Minnesota's pressure defense, fill the basket from beyond the arc and take our less athletic defenders off the dribble. In both games the Gophers tried for a period to run with the opposition, only to find that the other team had better athletes to run-and-gun. When the Gophers (10-2) tried to slow things down against the Rebels and Seminoles, our guards were unable to effectively get the team into its offensive sets.

When the Gophers have dominated cupcakes this season, they've done so by forcing a large number of turnovers and scoring easy transition baskets. Against FSU, the Gophers lost the turnover battle 18-16. Those numbers weren't lopsided Sunday night, but UNLV had a 14-11 advantage. In both of these games, offense didn't come easy for the Gophers.

This is partially because the talent level on the Gophers is simply less than UNLV or Florida State. UNLV (10-3) was a Sweet 16 team last season and is led by outstanding junior guard Wink Adams. He was the aggressor Sunday night, leading the rebels with 20 points, including 8-of-9 from the charity stripe, and racked up 7 assists to zero turnovers. Adams' back court mate Curtis Terry did quite a bit of damage on his own, going 4-for-6 from three for 14 points. Make no mistake, UNLV is a good team and they came to play Sunday night.

This loss shouldn't cause anyone to be any less excited about the Big Ten season. The conference, for the most part, is weak. Illinois lost Sunday to Tennessee Tech. After Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana and maybe Ohio State, there isn't a team in the conference I don't think the Gophers can beat. The Gophers can be an upper-half Big Ten team. No one should have been having delusions of Final Four appearances before Sunday night and likewise we shouldn't take the throttling from UNLV and be any less inclined to sell out Williams Arena as the Big Ten season gets ready to begin in earnest.

Some other general thoughts from the loss at UNLV:

** As much as I preach that starting lineups aren't really that important, the Gophers would have benefited tonight had Blake Hoffarber been in the starting lineup as opposed to Jamal Abu-Shamala. Against teams like UNLV the Gophers need as many people on the floor who can A) score and B) handle the basketball. Hoffarber can do both better than Abu-Shamala. The freshman did see five more minutes on the floor against UNLV than Abu-Shamala. Additionally, the Gophers can apply pressure more effectively and handle opponents' pressure more easily when Hoffarber is on the floor instead of Abu-Shamala.

** Sticking with the lineups ... I know Tubby Smith is trying to get Lawrence McKenzie accustomed to the point guard spot. But I still feel our best lineup would be with Al Nolen at point, McKenzie at off-guard, Blake Hoffarber at the three spot and Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson underneath. McKenzie is one of two multi-threat scoring options on the team (the other being Coleman). Making McKenzie a distributor first would seem to be wasting what he does best: Score. I understand why Tubby is playing him at point, and it's hard to argue with it. The Gophers have one true point guard on the roster in Nolen, a freshman. McKenzie needs to take up minutes at the point, but in doing so the Gophers sacrifice his much-needed offense.

** The Gophers have two players who can handle the ball in pressure: Lawrence McKenzie and Al Nolen. This is going to hurt the Gophers all season against teams with quick guards. It'd be nice to see Lawrence Westbrook progress in this department.

** Dan Coleman led the Gophers again offensively, but he still has a bad tendency of fading away on most any interior shot. While leading the Gophers with 10 points on 5-for-10 shooting, Coleman didn't go to the line once. Instead of taking repeated fade away jumpers, it would be nice to see Coleman take a nice power dribble once in awhile and take the ball to the basket. He's taken small steps in this department, but can still be much more aggressive.

** Spencer Tollackson shot 2-for-7 from the free throw line. Yuck. Tollackson only recorded 16 minutes, scoring six points and grabbing just one rebound. In comparison, Jon Williams recorded 17 minutes and pulled down 4 rebounds.

The full boxscore for the game is here.

Up Next: The Gophers have five days to prepare for what will be one of their tougher road tests all season when they head to East Lansing for a meeting with Tom Izzo and the Spartans. If the Gophers are competitive next Saturday, that will show signs of progress against quality opponents.


alex said...

Last year, I was a fan of Abu. He played with heart, and he had an excellent shot. This year though, his flaws have really been highlighted by the Gophers new style of play. He seems to be worthless on the court, and hasn't even been making his open threes like he did last year. Really, I see no reason Hoffarber shouldn't be starting over him. He can score better, shoot better, and, while his defense isn't anything to write home about, play better defense than Abu. I love Abu's heart and passion for the game, but we need people who are more than one-dimensional players.

PJS said...

I imagine the only reason Hoffarber isn't starting over A-S is Hoff is a frosh and A-S is a junior. It will be interesting to see if Tubby makes changes now that the B10 season is upon us.

Friend Of Tubby said...

Tubby started freshmen in 1999, 2000, 2001 (2 of them), 2002, and 2005 (2 of them) at UK.

He started freshmen at Georgia (1997) and Tulsa (several years), too.

He'll start 'em at The U also.

PJS said...

Would you say it's Tubby's track record to ease freshman into the lineup. I've been thinking that if he was to insert Nolen or Hoffarber into the lineup it might come once the B10 season arrives.

Friend Of Tubby said...

No - Prince or Allison started from the Get Go in 1999.

Ditto Bogans in 2000. Likewise Parker and Fitch in 2001. Hayes (mid-year) in 2002.

Also Rondo and Morris in 2005.

All but Hayes started either right away or by mid-December each year.

I do think Hoffarber will start at some point this season.

Anonymous said...

PJS You missed a prime opportunity to dis the Badgers with all this UNLV talk. I'm kinda disappointed. I thought we had something special. Now I see I'm just another poster to you. Well, it was fun while it lasted.

PJS said...

I'm going to go ahead and assume the above anonymous post is from lonebadger. ... So, let me say this: lonebadger you are very special to me. So special in fact that I decided not to rub salt in old wounds of yours. *Kisses*