Sunday, February 24, 2008

Back To .500

It was as if two different Minnesota men's basketball teams took on the Penn State Nittany Lions during a matinee at Williams Arena Sunday afternoon.

One group of Gophers made me want to toss my remote control in disgust. After a decent start through five minutes, the Gophers went ice cold from the field. After a couple shots rimmed out, the Gophers sped things up a little too much offensively. Perimeter shots were settled for without any semblance of ball movement. Transition threes were launched under duress. Meanwhile, on the other end of the floor, the Nittany Lions moved the ball crisply. They created wide open three point shots and hit an astonishing percentage to build a double-digit lead.

Then something changed. The Gophers calmed down. A couple threes fell and, most importantly, the Gophers began taking the ball to the basket. By halftime, the Gophers had trimmed the Nittany Lions lead to two. And as soon as the second half began, the Gophers took over. Lawrence Westbook penetrated and drew fouls. Dan Coleman finished with a dunk instead of fading on layups. On offense and defense, the Gophers were the aggressor.

The Gophers eventually won 75-68 to climb back to .500 (7-7) in the Big Ten. But the game went down to the wire partly because the Gophers are playing very inconsistent. After the lackadasical first 15 minutes and the high intensity end of the first half and beginning of the second half, the Gophers let the Nittany Lions hang around. I'm not sure the Gophers have played a full 40 minutes of smart, crisp, tenacious basketball all season. It was the same story against Penn State

Westbrook's aggressivness helped him lead the Gophers with 15 points. He shot 6-6 from the free throw line. Also in double figures were Dan Coleman with 10 points (on 4-13 frm the floor), Lawrence McKenzie with 11 points (on 3-12 from the floor including 3-9 from three) and Blake Hoffarber, who finished with 10 points on 3-5 shooting (all outside the arc).

Other Observations:

** Jon Williams played his second straight very solid game spelling Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson. Williams slammed home a couple buckets with authority. It's cliche, but Williams has tended to play "soft." He was anything but Sunday.

** Jamal Abu-Shamala found himself in Tubby's doghouse midway through the first half and didn't return. A-S launched a three early in the shot clock (this was during the period when the Gophers were slightly out of control on offense). Tubby yanked A-S right after the shot and he didn't return.

** I'm really tired of watching during every Gophers telecast a highlight of Blake Hoffarber's off-his-butt shot during the Minnesota high school tournament. Unfortunately, I think we're in store for three more years of seeing this highlight.

** What's with Minnesota's free throw routines? The Gophers catch the ball from the referee, take a look at the rim and shoot. As a coach, I preached that the players needed a routine. But I've never seen an entire team employ the same routine and have it be as simple as catch, look shoot. For some this might work fine, but I don't think it gives the player time to clear his head after a miss. The Gophers shot 57 percent from the line Sunday. Coleman was 2-6. Damian Johnson was 0-3. Williams was 0-2.

UP Next: The Gophers have four regular season games remaining. And I believe the Gophers will be underdogs in each. Starting Wednesday, the Gophers travel to face the upstart Purdue Boilermakers. Then the Gophers return home next weekend to face Ohio State, before finishing the conference schedule with games on the road against Indiana and Illinois. If the Gophers want to find themselves in bubble talk later on in March, they must win three of these four games. I don't think it's likely.


snyde043 said...

I was at this game and pleased to see Spence and the other bigs more active with the boards. I think that was what helped keep the Gophers in the game early when they couldn't hit any shots.

I have no idea what to suggest for the players that are struggling with free throws, but if I'm remembering correctly, they seem to have all adopted what was working for Spence after he had that horrid 0-7 performance against Indiana. Still seems to be working OK for him, but I guess the others need to find their own approach.

Friend Of Tubby said...

I think Gophers W 3 of the next 4.

Tubby wins almost 80% (career) in March.

Maybe not likely (3 of 4) but what the heck?

lonebadger said...

If you guys could, it would be nice if you guys could beat those two teams from Indiana. Of course I'm only thinking about the positive effect it will have on your team, with confidence and the like.
With regards to free throws, Steve Alford's routine was 'One, two, (dribbles) follow through.' Enough movement to get a rythym but short enough not to overthink it.

Eric said...

The funny thing with the Gophers is they could go 4-0 or 0-4, or any record in between.

Maybe we should have a poll? 0-4, 1-3, 2-2, 3-1 or 4-0? See what people think?

Zombie Nation said...

This was just an example of Big Ten basketball futility. We should just stick to football, which actually hasn't even been that great lately. Give it a few years--hopefully fewer than greater--and the conference will rise in both sports. The Big Ten got comfy with itself in the late '90s, and is now paying for it. Is this the Big Ten's version of a recession?

PJS said...

lonebadger, don't make me come over there!!!

Eric, I'll work on a poll. I'm on the road for work today so I likely can't get it up until later tonight.

zombie, good to see you buddy. I'm tired of the Big Ten is down talk. It seems like every year people say that and the Big Ten routinely sends teams to the Final Four. I think the rough and physical conference season gives Big Ten teams a leg up come tournament time. Teams like Tennessee and Memphis (great game btw) typically are surprised by the physicality of Big Ten teams come tourney time. We might be down talent wise, but I predict MSU, IU, Purdue and [redacted] perform well in late March.

kj (spartans weblog) said...

Also, for all of Tennessee's and Memphis' offensive talent, note that neither team reached the point-per-possession mark in Saturday's game (66-62 score in a 67-possession game). Big Ten basketball may seem boring to the outside observer, but we don't take a lot of bad shots or turn the ball over with frequency (my Spartans excluded on that last one).


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