Friday, December 30, 2016

Improved Gophers Team Runs Into Tom Izzo

Credit where credit is due: Richard Pitino's Golden Gophers were the superior team on Tuesday night at Williams Arena.

For the first time in who knows how long, the Golden Gophers appeared to be the more talented basketball team during a matchup with the Michigan State Spartans. Pitino's staff deserves credit for recruiting a roster that looks to be one of the more balanced, athletic and talented rosters in recent memory.

Credit where credit is due: Tom Izzo outcoached Richard Pitino on Tuesday at Williams Arena in a game the Spartans, from an on-the-court talent perspective had no business winning.

The first half of Tuesday's B1G opener featured an aggressive Golden Gophers team taking it to Sparty. Dupree McBrayer, Nate Mason and Amir Coffey slashed their way into the lane, pushed tempo (while at times out of control) and created efficient offense by getting to the charity stripe. Defensively, the Gophers rotated, closed out under control, challenged Sparty on the interior. Reggie Lynch and Jordan Murphy demonstrated they're B1G caliber rim protectors and rebounders.

Sparty was on its heels and all signs pointed to a Gophers victory in the B1G opener.

And then Tom Izzo adjusted, a minor adjustment though it was, and Richard Pitino's Gophers never retaliated. The Gophers entered the locker room at halftime feeling good about themselves, leading impressively 39-26. They shot 54.5 percent and held Sparty to under 35 percent from the field.

Things changed quickly. In an attempt to stymie Minnesota's trio of slashers, Izzo decided to play four guards and switch on all perimeter screens. This simple adjustment kept Minnesota's trio of effective slashers (McBrayer/Coffey/Mason) out of the lane and neutralized Minnesota's high pick and roll.

Whether by design or accident, the Gophers' first two second half posessions saw the maroon and gold dump the ball inside. Neither possession ended in a basket and quickly Sparty was cutting into the lead. But as the half continued, the Gophers attempted to rely on the dribble drive offensive tendencies that led to its first half success.

Problem was Izzo took that away and the Gophers never found an answer. Pitino needed his bigs to roll and seal after setting a pick and post Michigan State's little guards up in the lane.

Pitino could have featured Murphy in the roll part of the pick and roll or simply feature him in the post. Alternatively, Pitino's bigs could have slipped the screens and cut.

No adjustment occurred. And Sparty won a game that, talent-wise, it shouldn't have won.

Murphy was dominant in the paint and finished with 12 points and 21 rebounds. 12 and 21. 12 and 21. He was a monster. And on many of those wasted second half possessions, including the failed attempt in overtime at the buzzer, when Izzo had five guards on the floor, Pitino didn't look inside.

And if not Murphy in the post, Coffey's all-around game could have been featured under the basket.

Minnesota's perimeter-oriented focus contributed significantly to its decidedly awful 25 percent second half shooting.

Despite Minnesota snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the B1G opener, there's plenty of reason for optimism.

Minnesota's defense is the best I've seen in years. And Pitino and his coaching staff deserve significant credit for putting a team on the floor that is active, rotating well, closing out well, challenging shots and boxing out. This is no small accomplishment, and its aided by the Gophers' length, athleticism and interior girth.

While Pitino was outcoached in-game on Tuesday, the young coach and his staff have done well to put a team on the floor that is playing team defense better than any Minnesota team in years.

But this loss stings. It's not often an inferior Sparty team comes into The Barn. And the Gophers head this weekend to Purdue, where a nationally ranked Matt Painter team awaits.

The Gophers didn't get this one. And they'll be underdogs against the Boilermakers. But I haven't been more excited about a Gophers hoops team in years.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Two BCS Programs Holiday in Sunny San Diego

Late December. San Diego, California. A holiday visit for the University of Minnesota football team to the Holiday Bowl.

And for the Gophers football team, it's neither sunny, merry or festive. An 8-4 record and competitive B1G season seems like a distant memory.

Nearly 1,300 people have signed an online petition at calling on the University of Minnesota President to fire football coach Tracy Claeys.

Ten players are suspended, with five facing expulsion after an alleged September sexual assault. You know the details.

From the Star Tribune's Chip Scoggins:

The Gophers football team will play a game here Tuesday night, which can be viewed as either a relief or a meaningless diversion given all that has transpired the past 14 days.

Coach Tracy Claeys spoke openly about his uncertain job status last week. Athletic director Mark Coyle has remained mum. About 2,600 fans purchased Holiday Bowl tickets through the Gophers’ ticket office, compared with about 7,800 for Washington State.
“This feels like it could be a step back to 10 years ago, when they hired [Tim] Brewster,” Stepnick said. “We’re going to lose recruits. We’re going to lose everything. I don’t think we look very good on a national scale, but this is our team. What are we going to do?”
Over at The Daily Gopher, there are approaching 200 comments on an excellent post explaining the Title IX process.
Two weeks ago Governor Mark Dayton called this tragic episode a "black eye" on the state of Minnesota.

And the warmth and festivities of a holiday trip to San Diego hasn't reduced the swelling.


Late December. San Diego, California. A holiday visit for the Washington State University football team to the Holiday Bowl.

And for the Cougars football team, their 8-4 record is reason for sunny outlook on the season that was.

Coverage in Pullman and across the state of Washington tells the story of a program looking not for diversion, but for the final act in a positive season.

The Seattle Times writes about wide receiver C.J. Dimry fulfilling a childhood dream.

Some speculation surrounds whether today will be the last game as for Washington State's QB Luke Falk, perhaps the most heralded Cougar QB since Drew Bledsoe.

In the Pullman-Review, columnist Vince Grippi believes the Cougars' good season will continue today in sunny San Diego.

The warmth and festivities of a holiday trip to San Diego is a sign in Pullman that Coach Mike Leach has the Cougars and their Air Raid offense headed in the right direction.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Turning The Lights Back On

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, Paging Jim Shikenjanski is back!

Eight years after shuttering the lights here, it's time to re-launch this little maroon and gold outpost.

Running PJS always brought me great joy. Whether it was dissecting Tubby Smith's 5-in, 5-out rotations, sparring with Kentucky-based Tubby bashers, blasting Tim Brewster's inanity or complaining about Patrick Reusse's persistently negative Gophers' coverage, PJS became for me a fun hobby that combined a few of my passions: writing, journalism and Gophers basketball.

I continued those passions along with blogger GopherNation when we launched The Daily Gopher -- on of SBN's fantastic blogs -- in late 2008. But eventually the start of my own business and coaching various AAU basketball teams took up far too much of my time to consistently produce content.

But as 2016 has wound to a close, I've found myself itching to get back to this keyboard on this blog.

So, here we are, PJS is back. Just in time to see if Richard Pitino's 12-1 Gophers can find Big Ten success and if Tracy Claeys' Gophers can win the Holiday Bowl avoid scandal.

The design and look of this site will likely change, but I hope to provide the same coverage that earned PJS a loyal little following back in the mid 2000s.

And for any of you stopping by here for the first time, especially those younger millennials who are wondering who and what Paging Jim Shikenjanski is, here's some background.

Happy Holidays!