Friday, January 18, 2008

Pulling Defeat From The Jaws Of Victory

That's what Tubby Smith's Golden Gophers did Thursday night in a raucous Williams Arena. The Gophers forced the Indiana Hoosiers into a mind-boggling 24 turnovers, made Eric Gordon look human and had numerous chances down the stretch to hand the highly ranked Hoosiers their second loss of the season.

But it was for naught.

The Gophers themselves didn't play great basketball. We shot horrifically in general, and from beyond the arc specifically. Spencer Tollackson had his hands firmly wrapped around his throat all evening, shooting a forgettable 0-7 from the free throw line. Those factors enabled the Hoosiers to steal one in The Barn 65-60.

There is reason to be upset this morning. The Gophers had every opportunity to win against a top-1o opponent for the first time since 2005 and to deliver Tubby Smith his 400th career win in front of a national audience. Had that happened, the Gophers would have risen from bed this morning with national recognition and a position firmly planted on the inside of the NCAA bubble.

As Gophers fans, we can hold our heads low and grovel about what ifs—like shouldn't Tubby have left Blake Hoffarber in the game down 63-60 with 30 seconds to play instead of inserting Lawrence Westbrook. But we shouldn't be down on our maroon and gold basketball team this morning. Instead, we should look at the stomach-churning loss to IU as a sign that better days are on the horizon—both in the near and long term.

Consider that through four Big Ten games the Gophers are 2-2, which includes two hard-fought losses against nationally ranked foes. Consider that we have scratched and clawed in these games, and during an amazing 16-point second half comeback at Penn State. For the immediate future, we know we have a Gophers team that is going to be competitive night in and night out in the Big Ten. If that's not a drastic improvement over the previous regime, I don't know what is. And the Gophers still have a chance to secure that signature win needed to find themselves dreaming of an NCAA Tournament come March. A win against either Michigan State on Sunday or at Ohio State on the road next week would allow us to dream such dreams.

And PJS readers, take note of the atmosphere in The Barn last night. It was tremendous and as long as Tubby Smith roams our sidelines, I predict it will stay that way.

And that brings me to our future. No one dared to suggest at the beginning of the season that this collection of players that finished 9-22 last year was NCAA material. But I'm a believer. So, let's think about what's to come in future years, when Tubby, Vince Taylor and Ron Jirsa deliver even slightly better talent to Williams Arena. Where Spencer Tollackson can't quite compete with the best in the country, someone like Ralph Sampson III might be able to. When we need that big shot from someone like Lawrence Westbrook, right now it's not there. Imagine what Tubby will do with a back court of Al Nolen, Devoe Joseph and Blake Hoffarber.

Consider that the Gophers are playing toe-to-toe with the best in the Big Ten right now, with minimal talent, and then close your eyes and imagine a day when The Barnyard will be cheering on one of the nation's best recruiting classes, because that's just around the corner.

Thursday night was a heart breaker, no doubt. But considering what Tubby has done with this group only lends itself to realistic dreams of a competitive 2008, and a perennial spot in The Dance in years to come.

26 comments:

alex said...

I can't believe how full the Barn was last night. For the past year and a half, I've gone to as many games as I could and have showed up an hour early (when the doors open) every time. Last night, we got there at 7:05, just 5 minutes after the doors opened, and had the worst seats I've ever had in the student section, 5 or 6 rows behind the band. The section was filled 30 minutes before game-time, and it was the loudest I've ever personally heard it.

All of this during a game which is technically still over break, with the dorms not even open yet. The days of getting prime 4th row seats like I always got for showing up an hour early are gone it seems, and the Gopher basketball team is no longer a small thing. It's great to see, but at the same time, a bit sad in a very strange sense.

PJS said...

That's funny, Alex. A good friend of mine sent me a text message last night about an hour before tip. It read "These games were a lot less hassle when the Gophers sucked."

He was apparently trying to get himself some tickets.

So, I believe my buddy shares your selfish, misguided pain!!!! :-)

alex said...

Well, the only reason it's upsetting is because my seat is being taken by the people who know nothing about the team other than Tubby and "that Jamal Abu something guy" (at the first home game of the year, the news interviewed some idiot outside the stadium asking him if he knew any players on the team, and that was his answer). But I guess that's the price to pay for wanting a good team..

From The Barn said...

I still can't decide if The Gophers gave the game away, or Indiana failed to give the game away, even though they certainly did everything they could to lose. More later at some other website.

Mark said...

I was at the game also and the Gophers gave it away. But like PJS said, I'm trying to focus more on the good things to come than the disappointment with how things ended last night.

One plus is that I think it's a done deal now that Eric Gordon goes pro after his freshman year if for no other reason than to avoid ever making a return trip to The Barn. :-) Reminded me of the good old days when I was a student and we heckled the crap out of Michigan's Maurice Taylor.

PJS said...

I was almost completely unimpressed with Gordon last night. I hope the TWolves stay away from him during the lottery. Then again, I'm slightly bitter at the moment.

TSAX said...

PSJ...I am really trying to stay positive, I am! I really am, and I love your blog I read it everyday but I must interject. Spencer is not the only person to blame when it comes to free throw misses. This team has missed at the line HORRIBLY all season, while I am overjoyed to see my favorite team and alma mater be competitive against a top 10 team, I really get frustrated to see easy opportunities wasted away at the line. When a team like the gophers forces that many turnovers they HAVE to capitalize, whether from the field or at the line. They didn't do that last night and it cost them, having said that it was so fun to actually watch the entire game and not know FOR SURE that they would lose! Tubby has brought this team a long way. Keep up the good for PJS, you are ALWAYS on top of it, and though I may not be as positive as you are, I am a gopher fan for life and I am glad I can actually read about them here. By the way, Myron Medcalf has to step it up! I go to the strib everyday and they hardly EVER talk about this team. What a shame.

PJS said...

An everyday reader/first time commenter. Sweet.

Anyway, TSAX, you're right that it's not all on Spencer. But 0-7 deserves a calling out. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but shooting something like 17 percent from three didn't help. Prior to last night the Gophers led the conference from three. Had they shot even 30 percent, and Tollackson shot 50 percent from the line, the game would have been ours.

Stay postive tsax. It's good for you.

alex said...

Watching Eric Gordon was hilarious, because you knew he could always explode, but he just never got under control. I tried starting some "Freshman" chants directed towards him, but no one around my group picked it up.

And tsax, yeah, everyone deserves blame. But for a senior center like Spencer to miss every chance he had on the free throw line is inexcusable. He deserves all the heckling he can get for last nights performance at the line (and in the first half for that matter), it was horrible.

lurker said...

Leave Spencer alone. About a week ago everyone was all excited about how well he played at Penn State.

Spivey Jr. said...

PJS, love the blog, though I would've termed it "Paging Willie Burton" as part of the (OVERDUE!) campaign to retire #34 immediately. Am I stupid, or is Abu Shamala the worst man defender we've seen since J.R. Rider was in town with the Wolves? He constantly loses his man, fouls up colleagues trying to front, and seems completely behind the ball movement. Ball-line defensive obligations have exposed this (probably quite nice and well-meaning) kid as a DII talent, at best.

W/R/T Spencer, your takes are on point. The last three attempts resembled nothing so much as public prayer; I thought Tubby was going to put a hit on him after staring holes in him early in the second half. If J. Williams had anything to offer offensively last night, Spencer would've sat more than Travis, and appropriately so.

On another note, has any player improved more over the last four years than D.J. White? He was a complete beast last night in the set offense. What a horrible loss, to be in front of a legitimately great team, with two certain NBA mainstays, and get nothing better than a clean three and four empty drives in the last 90 seconds. Uff da.

PJS said...

Spivey, You're right about A-S. He's defintely a well-meaning, good kid. When I went to the PSU game, I was very impressed how he was the team's biggest cheerleader from the bench, despite playing the fewest minutes he had all year.

But there is no question he is one hell of a liability defensively. Tubby has to mix and match a lot. Damian gives the team defense and some athleticism at the 3 spot. And Hoffarber can shoot the ball and handle the ball all right, but even his foot speed is suspect.

I have a (hopefully) entertaning post coming soon on Spencer.

From The Barn said...

Does Kelvin always let his teams freelance? I could count on one hand the number of Indiana possessions that looked coordinated. Add in who Indiana fans are now calling "the undisciplined one" and Indiana's offense belongs in the NBDL (assuming it still exists). An incredibly talented team that could be incredibly good with some decent coaching.

And of course wolves will draft gordon. Have they every passed on an undersized cocky shooting guard?

John M said...

I think the Minnesota defense had quite a bit to do with the appearance of IU's offense. Including this year, Sampson's last four teams have ranked in the top 25 in Division I in offensive efficiency, so scoring doesn't appear to be a weakness. You've made clear that you don't like him, but if you don't think Sampson is an above average coach then I think your dislike is clouding your judgment.

Who are Indiana fans calling "the undisciplined one"? Eric Gordon? If so, you are talking to some dumb Indiana fans. Consider that in the worst game of his college career, he still managed 1.5 points per field goal attempt. He's averaging 22 points a game on 13 field goal attempts.

NateMpls said...

I'll also say to leave Spencer alone. I think something should be said for his improvement throughout his career here at Minnesota. He came in with little expectations hanging over his head, and has turned into a very serviceable player for this team.

There's truth to both teams having "given away" this game, so I'm also still stuck on who to blame more.

However, being an alumni, it's great to see the energy and passion instilled back into the barn, and into this program. My freshman year was Clem's final push, and I was a student and at the last game in which the Joel Pryzbilla-led Gophers took the victory from the Hoosiers...

As PJS said, we might not be making the sweet 16 trip yet this year, but hold on to your hats, because as long as Tubby's in town, year in and year out we'll have a handful of games just like this each year that will fall our way.

Oh, and whoever was complaining about not getting their usual seat for last nights game... I'm crushed you had to sit further up in the student section. =) I recall my first year's tickets were in the last row of the student section... during the years in which even the poe-dunk nonconference games were sellouts! Stay true, my friend.

Go Gophers!

Tubtastic said...

One issue that worries me going forward: Hoffarber cannot create opportunities for himself. He may be the best "catch and shoot" shooter in the Big Ten but he has absolutely no ability to get himself open for a three off the dribble. Indiana's guards were all over him and he was just to slow to create his own shot. I hope Tubby teaches him a few moves (and quickly) because we need his 3-5 three pointers per game.

PJS said...

The quotes in today's paper of Spencer made me feel sorry for the lad. He seemed to be taking much of the blame on himself. He seems like a great kid, but I think it's OK for everyone to point that out.

And Tubtastic, I think you're right about Hoffarber. That's why the GOphers were pounding the ball inside, hoping that if Spenced could create a little the outside defense would sag to give Hoff and others a chance. Spencer didn't get on track. Hoffarber needs to work on jab stepping and attacking once in awhile. Triple-threat position! Too often when he's pressured he falls back in a NOT offensive position.

PJS said...

*** I meant to say "I think it's OK for everyone to point out that he played poorly."

alex said...

NateMpls: I'm not complaining, so to speak. Hell, the more fans the merrier. It was just very strange to get there at the standard time and find myself a good 15-20 rows behind and to the left of where I normally sit.

From the Barn said...

I'd say 6-10 from the field is on track. I've given up on him making free throws.

TSAX said...

Hey PJS thanks for answering my comment... if that makes sense? Anyways, I still have one more question, why is it so hard to find information about the gophers in our local newspapers? You seem to know so much about this program, is there any reason why strib and pio press blogs are so lifeless? I mean the beat writer for the strib has to have the best job on this planet because, it seems like he NEVER works, at least not as much as the hockey beat writer? Even online at this hour, almost 24 hours later they dont have so much as a RECAP of the game, only the preview. Please if you could let me know how this team is not in the paper or even a BLOG for days on end? But let me reiterate I am thankful that you keep us so informed. I'll be looking out for you when football signing day comes! Stay warm!

PJS said...

Tsax, I don't really know what to tell you about our papers. We know a few things. The STrib and PiPress emphasize coverage of the Vikings. We know that both newspapers have had to downsize because newspapers in general are selling out on a massive scale to bottom-line oriented conglomerates.

I used to work in the newspaper business, primarily covering politics. In all honesty, the newspaper industry is dying. Ad revenue is declining as fast as subscriptions. There used to be a day when publishers would swallow hard and deal with minimal profits to serve the public and deliver news. Those days are gone.

On Myron at the STrib? He's been a topic here and at From the Barn. Frankly, if you read his bio at GopherGold, it should be obvious he doesn't have experience. He came to the STrib from an internship at ESPN the Magazine! I'm not sure ESPN teh MAgazine is a beacon of good journalism.

It's kind of you to say I know so much about the program. But I'm not sure I know any more than any other diehard fan. I follow the GOphers religiously. I've followed them since I was a boy and I pretended with my mini Fisher Price hoop I was on the WIlliams Arena floor. So, I'm passionate about it. And that can't be said for our friendly reporters at the STrib and PiPress. For them, it's a job. And honeslty its one they aren't doing well right now.

But as I've said before, that only benefits bloggers==and that in itself is ironic because blogs and Web sites are one reason the newspapers are dying in the first palce.

SOrry for the rant :-)

From the Barn said...

Tsax...really, just watch the last episode of The Wire. I know it sounds dumb but it will make sense after you do.

Toby Ritt said...

"Al Nolen, Devoe Joseph and Blake Hoffarber?"

Arent you kinda jumping the gun assuming thsis trio is better than Nolen, McKenzie, and Hoffarber?

McKenzie is a pretty good player, I think we would all be happy if Joseph was comparable...

PJS said...

Devoe is more highly ranked coming out of high school then McKenzie was. Devoe had offers from teams likie Kansas, Va. Tech, as well as interst from Connecticut, Ga. Tech and others. Devoe is a 4-star Rivals recruit. McKenzie was a 3-star. So, I think the ceiling for Devoe is higher than it is/was for McKenzie.

That said, you're right Toby. Devoe might not end up being as good a player as McKenzie--though scouts seem to think Devoe's a very good prospect.

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