Sunday, March 16, 2008

Offensive Woes End Minnesota's Run

Make it 20 straight times the Illinois Illini have beaten Minnesota. That's absolutely amazing.

But the loss on Saturday afternoon, in front of a nationally televised audience, was probably the most painful of any loss to the orange and blue during that stretch. A win and the Gophers would have taken on border rival Wisconsin for a chance to sneak into the NCAA Tournament and steal a Big Ten Tournament Championship. Instead, those opportunities go to Illinois.

The Saturday afternoon matinee was entirely painful to watch. Neither team played with much poise or crispness. The Gophers couldn't buy a basket for the first eight or so minutes of the game as Illinois built a lead. But the Gophers crept back, as Illinois went cold in the beginning of the second half. The Gophers eventually tied the game 32-32 midway through the second half, but could never take a lead.

Minnesota's defense was OK, in that it actually shut down Trent Meachem for the first time this season. The Gophers did this by abandoning their strategy in the first two games this season. Instead of playing a 2-3 zone, the Gophers stuck with their man to man defense. It was the right call, but on the other end of the court the Gophers continued to be stagnant.

I've tried to question how the Tubby Smith offense has presented itself late this year but I haven't given it as much play as perhaps it deserves. Our friends at Hoopraker, from their perch in Conseco during the Indiana game, picked up on something I had been mentioning in passing for awhile. And it deserves further thought. Here's what Hoopraker stated:

"Though it is premature to make any kind of final pronouncement about the nature of Tubby Ball in Gopherland, his team’s offensive characteristics seem to also be mostly freelance in nature. There is a lot of desultory dribbling, not a lot of movement without the ball, and more often than not, the offense is reduced to one player trying to make a play on his own.

Fortunately, rapidly emerging players like Damian Johnson are making their share of plays. Certainly McKenzie and Westbrook enjoy dominating the ball and also have the athleticism to play one-on-one offense, sometimes to good effect. Somewhat dispiriting however was the number of times the Gophers were reduced to awkward, disorganized sets out of timeouts.

For the forseeable future as Tubby brings in deeper, more talented rosters, the results may well be commensurate or better. Against Illinois today, though, a team that will bring one of the best team defenses to the battle, it will be interesting to see how Tubby’s offense fares."

Tubby's offense didn't fare very well against Illinois. The offense was relegated to one-on-one plays and high screen and rolls. For the game, the Gophers shot 39 percent from the floor.

What was more distressing, as Hoopraker mentioned, was the inability for the Gophers to get anything tangible coming out of timeouts. The Hoffarber Heave aside, the Gophers have been miserable scoring out of timeouts all season, and that trend hurt against Illinois down the stretch. Tubby might be a tactician, and he sure mixed and matched well against Indiana Friday night, but for the season, I have been less than impressed with his offensive schemes. I'm not sure there were any.

Lawrence McKenzie led the Gophers with 13 points Saturday, despite forcing his offense at times. Dan Coleman added six, but found himself in foul trouble again. Damian Johnson had eight, but had opportunities to be that second double-digit scorer the Gophers needed, but he couldn't deliver. Lawrence Westbrook, penetrating on isolations, added six points but was also out of control at times.

I tend to give Tubby a break on the offensive woes because the talent level is so lean. Aside from McKenzie, the Gophers don't have another pure offensive talent. Johnson is raw. Westbrook is maturing. Coleman disappears. Hoffarber and Abu-Shamala are one dimensional.

Finally, I'd just like to add that taking this team, almost the same team that was 9-22 last season, to the conference semi-finals is quite an accomplishment, whether or not the offense is pretty. Once again Tubby Smith has 20 wins an his team will get a chance to play postseason basketball in the NIT.

Let's just hope that the newbies coming in next season--Ralph Sampson III, Devoe Joseph and company--can find a way to beat Illinois.

5 comments:

The Sports Guy said...

I have to admit that w/o BTN, I haven't seen more than 8 to 10 games this season. But until yesterday, I didn't realize how inactive our offense was.

Here we were down six with a couple of minutes to play and McKenzie is dribbling at the top of the key, while the other four are setting unenergized picks and aren't even looking for the ball.

Soon, the shot clock is at 15 and we forced a bad shot.

I agree that it has to be the talent. If he had a team that could score 80, he'd open it up a bit.

On to the NIT.

Friend Of Tubby said...

9-22 vs tougher schedule, better Big 10 conference.

20-13 vs weaker schedule, weaker Big 10 conference.

Good but I'd bet any $ that Tubby is disappointed.

I learned (more than anything) how limited the talent level on Goophers roster is this year.

The Gophers COULD have 24 or 25 W today but don't.

PJS said...

Also consider that two of Minny's 10 contributors are walk ons--JAS and Busch.

Anonymous said...

Tubby's offense is complicated... perhaps overly complicated. Few players at UK ever excelled in it in their first or second year. It always seemed to take a while for the "lightbulb" to come on. In that context, I believe you will find the offense will run smoother next season with many of the players having had a year in the system.

Best of luck to the Gophers against the Terps!

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