Saturday, March 8, 2008

Tactics Against Illinois Fail Again

Make it 19.

Tubby Smith has done some good things in his first year at Minnesota, but finding a way to beat Illinois obviously isn't one of them. The Illini beat the Gophers for the 19th straight time Saturday, a streak longer than any similar on in the Big Ten. It was the second time this season the Illini beat Minnesota, an astonishing feat considering Bruce Weber's fledgling squad heads into the Big Ten tournament as the 10th seed.

I'm not in the mood to get too riled up about this loss, considering it meant nothing other than bragging rights. But what surprised me is Tubby didn't take a different tact than he used to poor results in the first meeting of the year between the two teams. After that contest, I wrote:

When have the Gophers been at their best this year? When they've been harassing 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.

First, I'll just say that the defensive tactic makes some sense. Illinois is a poor shooting team, and came into Saturday dead last in the conference in three point percentage (30 percent). So, Tubby brought the same defensive scheme at the Illini --massive amounts of 2-3 zone. The Illini weren't as devastating from the outside as they were in Minneapolis in mid-February.

This time around, Illinois shot 53 percent from beyond the arc. Even worse was the large number of offensive rebounds the Illini secured because the Gophers were unable to box out in the zone. So, for the second time against Illinois, the Gophers abandoned their strength in trying to take advantage of the Illini's weakness. For the second time, it backfired.

The loss was also eerily familiar to the game earlier this week against Indiana. For three-fourths of the game, the Gophers hung around, traded leads and looked like they could win one on the road. But during the stretch drive, the Gophers went silent offensively and wound up losing 67-58. After putting in his best all around game of the year at Indiana, Dan Coleman went quiet, finishing with just four points. Lawrence McKenzie went 3-10 from the floor for 10 points.

So, anyway, that's how the Gophers lost for the 19th straight time to Illinois and fell to 8-10 in Big Ten Conference play.

Other Tidbits:

Johnson Developing: No player has drawn more praise from Gopher Nation than Damian Johnson. Much of that praise has been due to his hustle, his offensive rebounding and his ability to impact the game on the defensive end with his shot blocking and length. But in the last few weeks, Johnson has been shooting the ball with confidence from three point land. He's hit a few and missed more, but he seems to have the green light. If he can add a decent outside shot to his game.... watch out.

Starting Lineup: Tubby Smith continues to befuddle with his starting lineup choices. Today it was the four regulars (Tollackson, Coleman, McKenzie and Westbrook) and freaking Kevin Payton. Sheeeeesh. The abysmal Big Ten Network broadcasting crew suggested that Payton received the starting nod as a way to combat Illinois' height advantage. My wishful thinking theory is Tubby decided to give Payton the nod, knowing this is his last Big Ten game, seeing as he'll be transferring to Bighamton University.

Best Lineup: The lineup that was most effective for the Gophers was, IMO, Coleman, Westbrook, McKenzie, Johnson and Nolen.

Boxing Out in the Zone: Second chance opportunities have killed the Gophers this season. Many of these second chance shots come when the Gophers play a 2-3 zone. On numerous occasions Saturday the Gophers turned and went to the basket when an Illini shot went up. But that's not enough. It sounds so elementary, but you actually have to find a man, put your ass into them and box them out. The Gophers gave up 11 offensive rebounds in the first half. Cutting that in half would have meant a nice halftime lead, instead of a one point deficit.

Love Thy Basketball: During the early portions of Saturday's game, the Gophers treated the basketball like it was something not to be coveted. Al Nolen and Blake Hoffarber, who are both unfortunately still playing like freshman at times, both threw lackadaisical passes that ended in transition points for the Illini. That's one thing that so impresses me about Wisconsin. Every pass is crisp. They pass the ball to the correct hand of post players. The Gophers, meanwhile, seem to just hurl passes.

UP Next: The Gophers are the sixth seed in the Big Ten tournament and will face 11 seed Northwestern Thursday. A win would give the Gophers a second crack at Purdue in the tournament quarterfinals.


Friend Of Tubby said...

$55 to see 9 PM game between my alma mater and Tubby/Gophers is my destiny.

At least I don't have to buy both sessions ($110).

Anonymous said...

I'd settle for Damian Johnson learning how to shoot a free throw. With his ability to get offensive rebounds, he's going to get to the line a lot the next two years.

Friend Of Tubby said...

Correction. If Gophers W, they play IU (not Purdue) as it turns out.

So I'll get to root for W-ers in both night games next Friday.

Friend Of Tubby said...,CST-SPT-big09.article Good article on B10 season and more...

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