Saturday, January 5, 2008

Minnesota at Michigan State Game Thread

This thread is the place to comment on the Gophers' Big Ten opener. I know many of you aren't able to watch the game. So, I'm going to try and update this space throughout the night with information and analysis.

Go Gophers!


** Neither Dick Bremer or Trent Tucker are broadcasting on the Big Ten Network. As far as I'm concerned that means things are already going well.

** Tubby Smith is sticking with the lineup he went with most often during the non-conference schedule: Dan Coleman, Lawrence McKenzie, Jamal Abu-Shamala, Lawrence Westbrook and Spencer Tollackson.

** Gophers are in their all gold uniforms. Nice.

First Half:

15:54: Minnesota 8, MSU 6 — The Gophers did what they needed to do in the first five minutes .... that is not get blown out of the building. A couple things stuck out: While Abu-Shamala hit a nice three to open things up, he can't handle Raymar Morgan on defense. Also, the Spartans had Goran Suton on Dan Coleman. The first time they went head to head, Coleman tried to back Suton down and it wasn't happening. Morgan has two easy layups to lead the Spartans with 4 in the early going.

** The Gophers came out of the last whistle with the backup five on the floor. I really wish Tubby wouldn't do this. And any hope that Kevin Payton would see less playing time now that the Big Ten season has begun would be wishful thinking.

** 11:32: Minnesota 13, MSU 14 — Minnesota's back-up group held their own, even though they struggled mightily getting good looks on offense. Jon Williams and Damian Johnson saw multiple shots rejected on the inside. But Michigan State is playing rather sloppily. Once Spencer Tollackson re-entered the game, he began to assert himself under the basket on offense and on the glass on defense. These last three minutes are the best I've seen Tollackson play this season. Contrarily Dan Coleman seems a little out of control and he has picked up two fouls.

** With Coleman in foul trouble, Johnson has joined the starting five to begin the second 10 minutes of the first half. We need something out of Lawrence McKenzie right about now.

** 9:49: Minnesota 16, MSU 17 — On call, McKenzie delivers a triple. But moments later Abu-Shamala is abused in the post by Morgan, which for some unexplained reason resulted in the Gophers bringing in Travis Busch. With the Gophers playing the 2-3 zone, Busch is playing on the block. I'm not liking this development.

** 7:33: Minnesota 20, MSU 19 — Now this is getting fun. On a great inside feed from Tollackson, the man Travis Busch scores. But the Spartans—for probably the third time tonight—push the ball up the floor very quickly for an easy two. But, and here's the good part, a minute before the Busch basket, Damian Johnson took a charge. A moment earlier Tollackson took a charge. The call on the Tollackson play was a good one. The call on the Johnson play was a reach. It was way under the basket and Johnson was sliding when he was hit by Marquise Gray. So, Izzo blows a gasket and gets hit the a technical. Way to stay composed there, Izzo!

The Gophers continue to get burned on the fast break, almost exclusively by Raymar Morgan who is releasing on any outside shot. Morgan has 13 already.

** 5:08: Minnesota 20, MSU 26 — The Spartans go on a 7-0 run for three reasons. One, Minnesota is failing to get back on defense. Two, all five of our reserves are in the game and when that has happened tonight the offense has disappeared. Finally, decision making. Al Nolen just took a contested three from NBA range with about 5 seconds off the shot clock.

** 3:20: Minnesota 24, MSU 26 — After a well-timed Tubby Smith timeout, Spencer Tollackson enters the game and things all of a sudden calm down. First, Jon Williams makes a nice baby hook from the paint. Then after Suton picked up his second foul on offense, Tollackson scores underneath again. These last few possessions Nolen has calmed down and there has been a concerted effort to get the ball into the post. The Gophers continue to primarily play a 2-3 zone and have been much better tonight at contesting all perimeter shots.

** 1:30: Minnesota 26, MSU 33 — On consecutive possessions, Al Nolen has made poor decisions and again they've led to points in transition for Michigan State. The Gophers are winning the war when this has been a half-court game. When the Gophers get into a run-and-gun affair, the Spartans are dominating. I'm not exactly sure why, but Al Nolen has been on the floor most of the first half and Lawrence McKenzie has not. McKenzie isn't in foul trouble.

Halftime: Minnesota 26, MSU 33 — Well, we're in the game. After lousy first halves at Florida State and UNLV, the Gophers at least go into the locker room at the Breslin Center with a fighting chance. The Gophers have shut down Suton and Drew Neitzel, but Raymar Morgan (15 points) and Kalin Lucas (12 points) have carried the Spartans. Much of Morgan's damage has come either in transition or by abusing Abu-Shamala. Lucas is the only Spartan hitting from the outside, and if the Gophers stick with the 2-3 zone, they'll need to find Lucas on their rotations. The Spartans have turned the ball over a surprising amount of times, but they have won the war on the boards and in the transition game.

The Gophers have hung around here despite getting few minutes and just one three pointer from McKenzie. Likewise, Dan Coleman, after getting two fouls, has zero points. Tollackson has led the way with six, and has played with energy. But he's 3-10 from the floor. On many of those misses he's had his shots at least partially blocked on the interior. This is where he needs to initiate contact (and he needs to quit bringing the ball down to his waist).

To win this game, the Gophers desperately need to limit MSU's fast-break opportunities and play under control offensively. And Coleman or McKenzie need to join Tollackson in playing with the heart and intensity required to pull off this kind of upset on the road. And one more thing ... the Gophers are shooting a lousy 29 percent from the field compared to 50 percent for the Spartans. For the Gophers to beat the #6 team in the land, the margin in between those numbers needs to dwindle.

Second Half:

** 18:53: Minnesota 26, MSU 38 —
Bad beginning to the second half. Drew Neitzel hits a runner. On the next possession McKenzie turns the ball over trying to penetrate. Quickly down on the other end of the floor Morgan scores again in transition and goes to the line for three. All of a sudden the Spartan lead is 12.

** The mysterious decision to limit McKenzie's playing time continues. He's on the bench again after less than two minutes have gone by in the second half in favor of Nolen.

** 15:39: Minnesota 34, MSU 46 — Fundamentally, the Gophers aren't playing well right now. After finally getting back on defense and forcing Morgan into a tough shot, Coleman in this case, turned around and watched as Morgan followed his own shot and got the put-back. That's just one example. Also, our 2-3 zone is now getting destroyed by very good ball movement from the Spartans. Five, six passes or more quick, crisp passes are leading to easy layups for Morgan and others. Morgan now has 22. It would behoove the Gophers to change things up defensively, because the Spartans have solved the 2-3 zone despite shooting poorly from the outside (well, other than Lucas).

** The Gophers have gone to a man-to-man defense, with Hoffarber, Johnson, Westbrook, Williams and Nolen on the floor.

** Two things: Raymar Morgan is playing insanely well. Second, Al Nolen and the Gophers are fighting and scrapping. That's good to see.

** 12:13: Minnesota 37, MSU 48: Wow, that was a Tubby stare. I'm not sure exactly what happened. But the Gophers were setting up their offense after an offensive rebound and Abu-Shamala had the ball on the wing. Tubby called a time out and about ran across the floor glaring and yelling at Abu-Shamala. Hopefully this can lead to Johnson or Hoffarber entering the starting lineup at some point. Also, a minute ago McKenzie re-entered the game for Nolen.

** Whatever Tubby said, it worked. A-S nails a three and then grabs a defensive board. MSU's lead is down to eight. The Gophers are hanging around.

** Tubby's clearly pissed. After Tollackson bricked two free throws and then played poor defense in fouling Suton (who made his) Tubby yanked Tollackson, stare included.

** 8:19 Minnesota 48, MSU 54 — The Gophers continue to hang around. Dan Coleman finally made his first field goal of the game on an up-and-under at the 10 minute mark. The Gophers will not be a top 5 or 6 Big Ten team with weak output from Coleman. Minutes later Coleman scored again with a nice move on the inside. Add a couple deflections on defense and the Gophers are back in it. Of note, right now the Gophers have both Nolen and McKenzie on the floor and have played their most poised basketball. Nolen just took the ball to the basket in a drive that brought back memories for me of Bobby Jackson.

** 7:31 Minnesota 51, MSU 54 — A quick TV timeout here after McKenzie nails from the outside. The Gophers have tipped a handful of passes here in the last five minutes and are doing a very good job right now of interrupting MSU passing lanes. The Gophers might not win this one. But it's been a fun game and it's too bad all of you back in Minny can't see it. 9-0 Minny run here.

** To note as we head down the stretch. Both teams are in the bonus. Suton, Gray and Naymick have three fouls for MSU. Coleman has three for Minny. Morgan has a career high 26 points (and 8 rebounds). Correction, Naymick just picked up his fourth.

** Naymick just fouled out with 6:15 left. This is big because Naymick has been a pain in the ass all night. He's blocked God knows how many shots tonight and has grabbed his share of offensive rebounds.

** 3:52 Minnesota 57, MSU 58 — The Gophers are playing really good basketball right now, and for the last five or six minutes with Al Nolen and McKenzie on the floor. Nolen has done well running the break on a recent possession and he just caused havoc on the most recent MSU possession, ending in an MSU turnover. The Gophers have the ball down by one on the road in a hostile environment down one with a chance to pull off the first win on the road against a ranked team since the freaking 80's.

** As soon as I start riding Nolen's jock, he throws a lackadasical pass to McKenzie. Lucas picks it off and gets fouled on the other end. Shit. He nails both for a three point MSU lead.

** 2:49 Minnesota 57, MSU 60 — Quick Tubby timeout as the Gophers force another turnover to get the ball back. Tubby is diagramming something. We'll see who he goes to. It'd be nice to see Coleman inside right now. .... What'd we get you ask? A lot of pointless dribbling by Nolen and then a rainbow three over a big man that bricks for McKenzie. Shot clock violation.

** The Gophers just forced two MSU misses but rebounding has been killing us. Morgan goes over Tollackson and grabs the last one and is fouled to shoot two. Morgan is playing unbelievably. If he was having just an OK night, the Gophers would have this game. Morgan makes one of two. 61-57, MSU lead.

** 1:10: Minnesota 57, MSU 63: The Gophers try to go inside to Coleman, but he reverts to old ways and fades on a jumper and misses. On the other end, the Gophers don't matchup, and somehow Morgan gets free. Neitzel finds him and he slams it home. Meanwhile, Tubby just called a time out and is up in McKenzie's face. It has to be about not getting back on defense and not pressuring Neitzel on that bullet pass from about half-court.

FINAL: MSU 65, Minnesota 59 — The Gophers' offense wilted down the stretch. Coleman and Tollackson both had the ball in the post at cruicial points but took weak fades. Rebounding down the stretch also hurt a lot. We had one final chance, after almost forcing a shot clock violation. Neitzel heaved one up and it ricocheted. The Gophers watched as the Spartans corraled in the rebound. This brought about yet another Tubby stare.

Overall, this was an exciting game and it shows some significant growth from UNLV and FSU. The Gophers were down 12 midway through the second half and could have quit. They didn't. That says a lot.

I think we also learned that the Gophers are at their best when both Nolen and McKenzie are on the floor together. Nolen was up and down tonight, but overall he was impressive. Some of those mental mistakes will disappear as he matures. We also learned that we can play on the road with some of the best teams--in fact with Coleman doing relatively nothing. This was not a good game for Coleman. He got in foul trouble in the first half and never really made his presence felt.

That's all for right now. I'll be back sometime tomorrow with more coherent, less passionate thoughts. As a Gophers fan, I would have loved a win tonight. But to be down 1 point with less than three minutes to play on the road against the 6th ranked team in the country tells me this team has grown by leaps and bounds since last year. But that's not saying Tubby doesn't have a few reasons to be upset. The Gophers could have had this game, if it were not for a good lot of mental mistakes.

One more thing, hats off to Raymar Morgan. He played out of his mind, scoring a career-high 31 points. He battled and completely impressed me. The Gophers will need to have an antidote to him when the Spartans come to The Barn in late January.


alex said...

I'm not watching the game thanks to no BTN, so it's great to see you live blogging it. A couple of comments:
-- Great to see (er.. read about) the gold uni's. I was a big fan of them last year, it's good to see them back this year.

-- Although this game is far from over, it's nice to see the Gophers keep it competitive for what appears to be most of the first half. It's encouraging for sure.

-- It's nice to see Nolen getting a fair amount of playing time, but I can't say I like seeing it come out of McKenzie's time. We don't have many pure scorers, and McKenzie is one of the few that we do have. I'd like to see Tubby try keeping them both on the court, using L-Mac more as a 2-guard as opposed to the point.

PJS said...

Alex, Interestingly on the final possession of the half L-West played the point. It resulted in an ugly possession.

alex said...

Yeah, I can't imagine Westbrook playing the point would work out too well. He's one of our other 'scorers'.

Also, it's great to see the defense apparently keep Neitzel down. He's one of the best guards in the Big 10, so keeping him to 1/6 shooting in the first half is huge.

And on a final note, the fact that we're still in this game despite shooting 29% is pretty impressive. Last year, this team would have been blown out of the building by now. That's the different Tubby has meant for our program. Even when the offense stutters, our team has a chance in the game due to the increased defensive intensity.

lurker said...

Here I was trying to follow this game on ESPN, not knowing you were doing this.

I'm not understanding playing Nolen so much instead of L Mac. Couldn't we have them both on the floor together at the same time?

alex said...

The Tubby stare at Abu? Interesting, especially considering what's happened to L-Mac since he received the stare earlier this year. I definitely wouldn't mind seeing Damien or Hoff taking some of Abu's playing time.

And lurker, I'm trying to find that out too. Nolen is clearly our best pure point guard, and McKenzie is our best scorer. They should be on the court together, not on different line shifts.

alex said...

With ESPN Insider Realtime telling me the score is 58-57 with 3:52 left, I'd like to take this time to say fuck the BTN. I want to watch this game, damnit.

PJS said...

It's great. Al Nolen right now is playing great. Smart in transition. He just biatched Kalin Lucas, almost picking his pocket..It didn't happen but the possession ended in a turnover. Nothing easy right now for MSU.

Friend Of Tubby said...

Tubby and Izzo have had some great games since 1999-2K season.

This sounds like another one.

alex said...

Well, shit. At least we were in it late, which is more than I expected before the game started. Hopefully tonight leads to Tubby using L-Mac and Nolen at the same time, as the Gophers seemed to play their best when they were both on the court.

Also, and this is mostly for you PJS since you were able to watch it, where was Hoffarber? ESPN only had him taking two shots (making both), which leads me to thinking that he wasn't on the court that much. Was this the case?

PJS said...

Yeah, I would say that was the case. He certainly was in when the entire second team was in, but he seemed to get lost in the rotation after that. A-S, despite causing Tubby a heart attack, played significantly more minutes. Down the stretch, it was Coleman, Tollackson, McKenzie, Nolen and Johnson.

Hoffarber didn't seem to do poorly tonight when he was on the floor. He didn't force anything.

lurker said...

I hate Raymar Morgan.

Friend Of Tubby said...;_ylt=AuStE5l3lbZs15b1ZTlstrrevbYF?gid=200801050358 The Yahoo! boxscore.

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