Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Illini Rout 'Casual' Gophers At Home

Yeah, so, say goodbye to any dreams of a March Madness bid. Such a happening was a longshot as it was--as emailers have very pointedly informed me. But this scribe, and most importantly the amateur athletes who call the raised floor home, still had hope. Until Tuesday anyway, when the Gophers lost for the 18th straight time to Illinois. Yes, 18. Not kidding.

The game itself was not close. The flannel and sweatshirt wearing season ticket holders filed out early. Tubby Smith looked bewildered. Hell, I had this article completed with more than 5 minutes left in the game, at which time it was 73-47 (I'll update with the final in the morning).

It sounds cliche, but Gene Keady put it well on the BTN tonight: "Illinois is playing hungry and Minnesota is playing casual."

This could be seen everywhere from second half loose balls that were fought for by Illinois and watched by Minnesota. It could be seen in the first half when the Illini were moving the ball crisply on offense while the Gophers were sitting back in a yawn-inspiring 2-3 zone. While the Illini were flying around picks and slashing with authority on offense, Minnesota guards were jogging.

The question is how can this happen? It seemed to begin in the first half for two reasons. First the Gophers new fangled starting lineup turned the ball over (more on the lineup below). Second, poor shooting (2-15 to start the second half) didn't help. But most importantly, I think, Tubby's defensive choices took the aggression away from the Gophers.

When have the Gophers been at their best this year? When they've been harrassing opposition guards, creating turnovers that lead to easy baskets. But Tubby had the Gophers play the majority of the tone-setting first half in a back-on-their-heels- 2-3 zone. The typically cold shooting Illini started hitting from the perimeter. While building a double-digit first half lead, the illini moved the ball quickly on offense. They penetrated, kicked, rotated and found easy, open looks on our 2-3 zone. And when they missed, boxing out was a problem in the 2-3 zone.

So, the Gophers decided to take away their own strength by looking to exploit Illinois' weakness. And it backfired in more ways than one.

While the Illini were working hard for their shots on offense, the Gophers' laid back defense translated into offensive stagnancy. Like they were on defense, the Gophers on offense were standing around, waiting for something good to happen. While Illinois guards were sprinting around picks, the Gophers were playing at a pace more likely to be seen from Pam Borton's squad.

Beacuse of this the Gophers established nothing on offense. As the game began, Tubby's lineup which consisted of guards Westbrook and Hoffarber, couldn't get big men Spencer Tollackson and Dan Coleman into the game. Possessions were sloppy. Turnovers weren't abundant, but possessions were nowhere near crisp.

Let's look a little more at that lineup

That Starting Lineup:

For the third straight game Tubby Smith started an unconventional lineup: Blake Hoffarber, Lawrence Westbrook, Jamal Abu-Shamala, Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson. That's two relatively slow-footed outside shooters, a still maturing two-guard in Westbrook and our two senior big men. Let's go over the good and bad of this lineup.

** This lineup forces Blake Hoffarber to play point guard to begin games. This is troublesome because he's far too left-hand oriented, he is occasionally careless with the basketball and is wont to look for his shot more often than we might like a point guard to at the beginning of a game. We can't get Coleman and Tollackon early touches if Westbrook and Hoffarber are also looking to get their stroke going.

** With both Hoffarber and A-S on the floor at the same time, the Gophers have fewer options defensively, at least fewer effective options. They still toyed with full-court pressure, but Hoffarber and A-S are less adept at pressuring ball handlers than other guards.

** On the positive side, this lineup gives the second team a scoring punch. Bringing Lawrence McKenzie off the bench allows him some room to maneuver offensively. If we need his offense, he can look for his shot.

Final Thoughts:

This was easily the most frustrating loss of the season. The Wisconsin game was painful, but at least explainable. This loss was much tougher to swallow because it seemed like the Gophers took themselves out of the game with the decision to play soft defensively to begin the game. It would be much preferrable, at least for this fan, to see this Gophers team apply the type of defensive pressure that caused Indiana, Michigan State and others to turn the ball over in large numbers.

Individually, it's hard to praise or blame any one or two players. This was a team loss, from the coaches on the sidelines on down. And it was unfortunate because now the only thing the Gophers can play for is an NIT bid. And, oh yeah, that game this weekend at Wisconsin means a whole lot less. You can't get trounced at home by Illinois and have any hopes to pull that type of upset on the road.

*On a brighter note, Obama dominated today in the Potomac Primary! After the Illinois loss, I now know what Hillary Clinton feels like today!


Jason said...

This was a weird one. I think you're on the money with the HRC analogy, though.

Anonymous said...

I think this will be a learning experience for the young guys for next season.

I thought Nolen and DJ were the only ones that played anything close to a good game. Nolen has definitely lost that deer in the headlights look he had in the beginning of the year and has begun to develop a good point guard's attacking mentality.

alex said...

This was the worst Gopher game I've watched over the past 2 years. Disgusting.

Whogoofed said...

I thought that the game was lost in the second half. Spencer scored to open the second half to get the score within 4. After that I believe the gophers played mostly man. I thought that the guards for Minnesota played hard defensively in the second half expecially Westbrook. The problem was similar to the UNLV game(which I was at by the way)in that the Illinois guards were not bothered by minnesota's pressure Illinois as a team had more team quickness than we did. That was my impression. Perfect example was Spence and Dan unable to handle the size and quickness of Illinois inside as he needed help inside as the Gophers had to double Spence's man several time.

PJS said...

I think you guys have made good points. Nolen did seem to attack a little, but he needs to penetrate more.

As for the second half, I'd argue that the defensive approach in the first half contributed to the second half doldrums.

Friend Of Tubby said...

Tough L for Gophers. The only L this season that really surprised me (so far).

Clem's Nuts said...

I would like to formally announce my candidacy as Douchebag Gopher Prognosticator Extraordinaire. My credentials: I ACTUALLY (put down your food, water, etc while reading) predicted a win on Tuesday night, then wins at home against Michigan and Penn State and ANOTHER victory on the road in Champaign cinching for them their way back to the dance. Pass the Kool-Aid and bong. My seatmate at the Gopher games and I actually sat stupefied in our seats until there were 35 seconds remaining in the game trying to figure out how bad this loss was? Worse than home loses to Utah State in 97-98, UNC Wilmington in 01-02 (I know, I know they won a game in the NCCA tourney that year), other? It was a tough call. I believe we settled generically on this being worst game we had seen in person together (my guess is about 60 games) dating back to mid to late 90's.

Reminder, they were actually down by 4 (four) early in the second half…not sure how to even diagnose such a debacle. But I think Whogoofed is on to something—our pressure does not work (or not as well) when we encounter marketedly more athletic teams. I will be watching Bucky maul the Gophs with melancholy.

PJS said...

Excellent take, Clem's Nuts, and I love the moniker.

lonebadger said...

Is 'nuts' an adjective or a noun?

Clem's Nuts said...

Mostly an adjective, but if it was a noun I would be using my size 12s on those tea bags to remind Clem how bad he Monsoned us...ugh. Go Gophs, beat Bucky.

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