Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Yeah, So, That Was Close

In a post earlier today I suggested that Gopher fans take a deep breath. The 6-1 start was nice, I wrote, but I cautioned that it didn't mean a lot in the larger scheme of things. We destroyed some cupcakes that Eden Prairie, or maybe even Mahtomedi could beat.

And Wednesday night, in the Barn no less, the Gophers proved why we need to be careful with our expectations for this team.

Something called the South Dakota State Jackrabbits fought the Gophers for 40 minutes, and for most of the game controlled the game. The Jackrabbits handled the Gophers on the offensive end of the floor. When the Gophers played zone, the Jackrabbits attacked the zone and found the open shooter when the zone collapsed. When Tubby Smith had the Gophers in a man-to-man defense--which should have benefitted us considering we are far more athletic--the Jackrabbits made the Gophers overcommit, and when the help-side defense wasn't there, the Jackrabbits pounced.

The blue bunnies from South Dakota had about a 10 rebound advantage. A lot of this came when the Gophers were palying a flat-footed 2-3 zone. Not only did we fail to box out, but as the bunnies ran out to a 9 point first half lead, we failed to challenge a slew of outside jump shots.

Basically, the Gophers are incredibly lucky to have walked out of Williams Arena with a 78=72 win against the Jackrabbits. Had this been a team with a less childish nickname, say the Spartans, the Gophers would have been run out of the gym.

What else should we take note of? Here's a list.

** This near-disaster was mostly about team defense. Shots weren't challenged. The help-side defense was slow.

** On numerous occasions, the Gophers struggled to get going offensively. A 35-second violation against the blue bunnies is somewhat embarrassing. Part of the reason for tihs is the Gophers don't have a guard that can effectively, and consistently create his own shot. Only two Minnesota players on this night could create their own shots: Damian Johnson and Dan Coleman. Lawrence McKenzie? No. Al Nolen? He'll get there, but not yet. Kevin Payton? LOL

** Where art thou Lawrence McKenzie? He finished the game with 7 points on 2-for-6 shooting. Gophers bloggers took Dan Coleman to task earlier this year for lackadasical play. Coleman has since put up his first back-to-back 20+ scoring games in his career. Perhaps we should turn our attention to McKenzie.

** Speaking of Coleman, he led the Gophers tonight, and they needed every bit of it. Twenty-four points on 10-for-14 shooting is nothing to scoff at. He scored with his back to the basket, and showed off a baby-hook, among other inside moves. It's good to see him play down low.

** In the last two minutes, with the Gophers holding on to a two to five point lead, this is the lineup we saw: Damian Johnson, Dan Coleman, Spencer Tollackson, Al Nolen and Lawrence McKenzie. All the talk about starting lineups is pointless. The lineup at the end is what matters. Here is your go-to Gophers lineup. I'd assume that if Tubby wanted offense instead of defense, he'd have Blake Hoffarber on the floor instead of Johnson--but that might not be the case. Johnson has been the Gophers MVP so far, and he's not a liability on offense.

** Spencer Tollackson came through in the clutch. With 1:30 left, and the Gophers nursing a 3 point lead, Tollackson had the ball on the block with the shot clock at 10. He did his best Kevin McHale up-and-under, jumped, and somehow underhanded a pass to a wide-open Coleman under the basket.

** South Dakota State sophmore Garrett Callahan should transfer to the Gophers. He destroyed us. He has a quick a release as Blake Hoffarber, can penetrate effectively and was the best player on the floor Wednesday night.

** The Barn can still get loud!

** Al Nolen hit 3-of-4 free throws down the stretch for his only three points of the game. But he was feisty on the defensive end, and on this night the Gophers needed his energy

** Sometimes I think I sound like I'd like to knob off Damian Johnson. But I can't stop with the superlatives for him. He led the Gophers in rebounds. He altered shots down the stretch. He was the most effective Gopher in drawing fouls and penetrating. Johnson finished with 10 points and went 4-for-5 from the free throw line. Most improved Big Ten player?

In summary, the Jackrabbits put quite the scare into the Gophers. The win wasn't pretty. But 7-1 is 7-1 and the Gophers now have 10 days off before Santa Clara comes to town. The close game should give Tubby Smith plenty to bark about in practice. It was clear at times he wasn't happy Wednesday night.

For the same reasons we shouldn't point to the 7-1 mark and start talking about Big Ten titles, we also shouldn't point to this surprisingly close game and believe that the Gophers can't be competitive. They can. But there is work to be done.

10 comments: said...

McKenzie was looking really gimpy towards the end of the game, maybe still some groin issues? He did have 6 assists and one turnover, so not too bad. Tollackson's three, yes, the number one less than four, rebounds is the primary reason the score was so close. It looks like he is in pain when he tries to jump.

ScarletGopher said...

Nice post, PJS! I really like your take on the game. Kudos to your thoughts on Johnson. It seems like Tubby is easing him into the forefront of this team, perhaps to keep him from feeling too much pressure.

I'd like to respectfully disagree with you on one point - McKenzie. It seems like McKenzie is being asked to be more of a distributor in Tubby's offense. After all, he only took six shots tonight. He even posted up a few times in the first half against SDSU's smaller guards. I'm not sure the Tubster knows what role McKenzie will fill when Al Nolen is on the floor.

Coleman looked much better tonight in that he was more aggressive around the rim. His two dunks in the first half were emphatic and were not his usual "I don't want to hurt the rim ... let's just get these two point" numbers. A few other times, he was fouled on his way to the rim - perhaps Tubby has asked him to be more aggressive?

We would have found a way to panic, launch 20 second-half threes and lose this game last year. As poor as we played, Tubby did not let the Gophs panic.

Wouldn't want to be participating in Tubby's practices the rest of the week...

Alex said...

I think this was the loudest the Barn has been all year, especially in the last 10 minutes of the game or so. All the casual fans seemed to realize that it was time to step up, and for the rest of the game, there was hardly a moment of silence. It was really a great job (even if only two people got my Limar Wilson joke when Al Nolen had some free throws near the end)

PJS said...

Scarlet--That's an excellent point on McKenzie. In a perfect world, the Gophers would have Mckenzie concentrate on playing the two-guard spot and making scoring his offensive goal. He did set up a number of baskets last night, penetrating and finding the open post player.

But I think the Gohers need his offense. ANd you're right that it's going to be hard for that to happen without Nolen on the floor.

FTB, Could Tollackson ever jump? :-)

Anonymous said...

Admit, PJS, you have a man crush on Damian!!

Alex said...

Everyone has a mancrush on Damien. I know I do, and most of the student section does too. He's done a great job this year hustling and doing everything he can on both sides of the court, which is more than you can say for some of the players (*cough* Spencer).

PJS said...

Yes, anon, I heart DJ.

Mark said...

McKenzie is still my boy since I watched him kick ass during the state high school tournaments, but DJ is definitely doing a great job so far.

Hopefully the break the Gophers get now before Santa Clara and the UNLV tournament helps Lawrence to fully get over the groin injury.

FromTheStateThatRanOffTubby said...

"We would have found a way to panic, launch 20 second-half threes and lose this game last year. As poor as we played, Tubby did not let the Gophs panic."

I think you will find, more often than not, that this will be the case with Tubby as your coach. Despite being known for "the glare", Tubby tends to be very composed and focused on the sidelines. He has an outstanding mind for seeing the match-ups on the floor and making in-game adjustments. I wouldn't want to play chess against the guy...

PJS said...

An endorsement for Tubby from Kentucky? Holy shi*! LOL. Oh, I kid the Kentucky fans.