Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gophers Take Care Of Lowly Northwestern

The Gophers did what they were supposed to do Wednesday night. In fact, they did what they had to do. The Gophers' upcoming slog of a schedule has been well chronicled, making it all that much more important that they dispatched the lowly Northwestern Wildcats in relatively convincing fashion during Tubby Smith's debut at Williams Arena.

From my vantage point--recliner, beer, DirecTV--Spencer Tollackson led this team against the Wildcats. His interior passing was crisp, effective and even fancy. In 27 minutes, Tollackson scored 14 points on 5-for-6 from the field (a big improvement for him) and contributed in other areas (four rebounds, three steals and two assists--a number that could have been higher had the recipients of his good interior looks converted). Tollackson also completely impressed with his ability to get out on perimeter shooters while rotating on defense. The boy was hustling.

We can write his performance off if we want because the Wildcats have very little height and the Gophers had a clear inside advantage. Still, this was Tollackson's best, most active game of the season and it was good to see this senior lead the way.

Fellow senior Dan Coleman also had a nice game. But Coleman has done this to us before. He continues to excel against inferior opponents and struggle against average to very good teams. He finished with a great line (19 points, 14 rebounds). Until Coleman proves he can be a difference maker against the best teams in the conference, I'm not going to give him large ovations for dominating the Northwestern's and North Dakota State's of the world. He'll have a chance again this Saturday when the Gophers travel to meet Geary Claxton and the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Against Northwestern, we saw the Gophers dominate in numerous aspects of the game. The Gophers forced the Wildcats into a season-high 19 turnovers. The Gophers won the war on the boards handily. Our pressure defense had an impact, and the Gophers' rotations on defense were very impressive.

Other thoughts on the Gophers' 82-63 win:

** Al Nolen is far and away the best defensive guard on the team. He impressed in the Michigan State game by frustrating Kalin Lucas. Against the Wildcats, Nolen worked in the second half to apply pressure at key times to cause turnovers that led to easy scores. He played 22 minutes Wednesday night (the most of any non starter) scoring 10 points with six assists to three turnovers. And according to the Gophers' PR folks, Nolen had three steals on the night and has had three or more steals in seven games this season. Nolen has 34 steals on the season, and seven in two Big Ten games. He's still slightly up-and-down, but the Gophers are at their best when he is on the floor causing havoc in the opponents' back court.

** There was some clamoring in the post below for Blake Hoffarber to replace Jamal Abu-Shamala in the starting lineup. Some also questioned the lack of second half minutes for the freshman of ESPY fame. It's easy to make the argument that he should start, or at the very least see an increase in minutes, when he shoots the lights out like he did in the first half. But I tend to like his offense coming off the bench. Last night's game is a prime example. The starters were a little flat coming out and NW jumped out to an early lead. Off the bench, Hoffarber provided the spark we needed. He's the go-to guy in the second group offensively. Put him with the starters to begin games and he'll get lost while we try to establish an inside presence or get Lawrence McKenzie going. More than anything else, I'd like to see Nolen replace Westbrook in the starting lineup.

** Kevin Payton played just four minutes, and honestly, I though they were fairly impressive four minutes. That said, it's good to see Tubby shortening his bench now that Big Ten play has begun. The BTN flashed an interesting statistic last night that indicated the 10 Gophers players had played in every game of the season. No other Big Ten team had more than eight players play in every contest. Similarly, Jon Williams only recorded seven minutes last night. Part of that was because Tollackson and Coleman were playing so well.

** Dan Coleman does deserve some recognition for becoming the 17th player in school history to record 1,000 points and 500 rebounds. Congratulations, Dan.

** Lawrence McKenzie's new role as distributor continued against Northwestern. He scored fewer points (five) than he had assists (six). I'm still not sure how I feel about this, but like I've said before I'm not sure Tubby Smith has much of a choice. Someone other than Nolen needs to put together quality minutes at the point. Interestingly, McKenzie led the team in minutes with 31.

UP Next: The Gophers head to face Penn State (10-4, 2-0), a team that has kicked off the Big Ten season with road wins at Illinois and Northwestern. The game Saturday at 1 p.m. central time will be the Nittany Lions' Big Ten home opener.

** This post was updated at 8:50 p.m. eastern time Thursday to accurately reflect the rebound total for Tollackson.


alex said...

According to both ESPN and, Tollackson had only 4 rebounds, not 8.

I definitely agree with you on Nolen though, he should be on the first string.

PJS said...

You're right, Alex. When looking at the stats I added the 4 from defensive rebounds with the 4 from total rebounds, thinking I was adding together the offensive and defensive numbers. I corrected the post.

Friend Of Tubby said...

Gophers need to split the next 4 games.

lonebadger said...

OK Spencer, you may attend class when semester begins.

PJS said...

I agree, FOT.

LB, It's good to see you've stopped calling for the Gophers to take away Spencer's scholarship. I imagine you only suggested that as an attempt to get him out before he dominates Brian Butch later in the season.

Also, Tollackson is quite the star now. He's a key figure in the BTN's relatively lame Minnesota basketball show. He's a theater major. That might have something to do with it. Theater!?!

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