Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Tubby Ball Year In Review Part 4

PJS Note: Since we're approaching summer, I think I really need to finish this series! There will be one final post after a look at the offense here. In the three previous posts in this series we looked at the defensive improvement, the three departing seniors and player progression. Early next week (hopefully) I'll wrap this up with some thoughts on each of the returning players.

Part 4: Offense

As a former AAU coach, I always preferred coaching defense. Simply put, it was easier to take a group of 13 year olds with average talent and make them a tenacious defensive team than a well-oiled machine offensively. I thought about this a lot while watching Tubby Smith try and take the leftovers from the Monson and turn the program around.

Why? The defense took tremendous strides? The offense? Yeah, sorta ugly. But until we have a higher caliber of talent on the roster, it's premature to blame the coaching staff, the schemes or anything else.

Perhaps the strangest thing statistically is the reduction in production for the trio that was to be the team's workhorses. Dan Coleman, Lawrence McKenzie and Spencer Tollackson each saw their points per game decline by about three. If you had told me that at the beginning of the season, I would have guessed that the Gophers would have been worse offensively as a team than they were in 2006-07. Not the case.

In the Monson/Molinari farewell tour, the Gophers put up 60.6 points per game on average. Then juniors, the big three accounted for the vast majority of that. So, while we saw surprising reduction in offense from three seniors, Tubby Smith was able to find more offensive threats. Blake Hoffarber certainly helped in this department. He led the conference from three point land, and despite being one-dimensional, averaged more than 8 points per game.

But more importantly than Hoffarber's impact to the offense was Lawrence Westbrook, who made up for the loss in production from Coleman, Tollackson and McKnezie. He went from a player averaging 10.8 minutes per game in 06-07, to a full-time starter who became a top three scoring option.

So, Westbrook, Hoffarber, and even Damian Johnson, more than made up for the offensive regression of the three seniors to help the Gophers average about eight more points per game in Tubby Smith's first year. And that's great, but it was still ugly!

Why did the three seniors regress then, with others stepping up around them? Well, in McKenzie's and Coleman's instances, it was partially to do with a new offensive direction from Tubby Smith. It was no longer OK for Coleman to be an outside-oriented player. Tubby wanted him to attack the basket, post up and be physical. Coleman never adjusted and his numbers suffered for it. Same can be said for McKenzie who went from primarily a scoring threat to a guy Tubby needed to play some point. It wasn't ideal and McKenzie's numbers suffered for it.

Aside from individual numbers, the Gophers were an average offensive team in the Big Ten. Their 68.3 points per game was good for 5th in the conference. As a team the Gophers shot 43 percent, good for 6th in the conference. Going a little deeper, however, shows that the Gophers offense, while average by typical metrics like points per game, looks weaker on closer inspection.

Using Ken Pomeroy's tempo-free stats, we see that the Gophers' offense, when looking at efficiency--which is basically found by looking at how many points a team scores per 100 possessions--was relatively weak. The Gophers scored 104.7 points per 100 possessions, good for 127th in the country. For a team that tried to push tempo and create offense via turnovers, that number isn't very good.

Taking a break from the statistical analysis, I want to concentrate for a moment on the overall philosophy change. Dan Monson came to Minnesota from Gonzaga where he ran a, if memory serves, run and gun, three point launching offense. He soon figured out that didn't translate as well into the point guard/big man oriented Big Ten. Monson never adjusted, wasn't adept at coaching defensive basketball and didn't have a knack for developing post players. So, in the Monson-Molinari era, the Gophers were largely a perimeter oriented team that didn't force turnovers, didn't throw the ball inside at a great rate and shot mostly jump shots.

Tubby didn't have the personnel to drastically change the results, but he immediately changed the mindset. His pressure man defense created offense. His desire to pound the ball inside to Coleman and Tollackson didn't produce offense, but it was the right strategy with his team. He needed to create an interior presence to open up the outside game. One concern I had when Tubby was hired was the reputation UK fans gave him for playing slow offensively. I found it encouraging that he tried to push tempo when possible.

Like many of you, I cringed during long stretches when the Gophers' offense was woeful. For now, I'm going to write that off to a change in philosophy, a lack of talent, a lack of athleticism and his attempt to fit square pegs into round holes.


Dave said...

Insightful analysis. I had a hard time figuring out that offensive disconnect, but you interpretation makes a lot of sense PJS. Another reason to be patient and see what happens as the talent level rises.

PJS said...

Thanks, Dave. Unfortunately next year might be just as ugly with all of the new parts. The athleticism should surely improve, but maybe not offensive efficiency.

Clem's Nuts said...

PJS, thanks for that. I am just catching up on some of your posts. My thought as I read this is that

1. I became a Gopher Basketball season ticket holder in 2007-08 because Tubby is our coach (and Monson wasn't). Solely.

2. "Thanks, Dave. Unfortunately next year might be just as ugly with all of the new parts. The athleticism should surely improve, but maybe not offensive efficiency." I am sooo OK with this...I liken it to a down year for a Woog (mostly) or Lucia coached Gopher Hockey team...entertaining, often excellent, always competitive.

Under Monson none of that was the case, or at least for much of his tenure.

Clem's Nuts

Friend Of Tubby said...

Tubby liked high temp offense at Tulsa, Georgia, and UK. His Tulsa and Georgia teams (77) averaged more PPg than his UK teams (75).

Given the right talent, his Gopher teams will average in the mid to high 70's (PPG) too.

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