Friday, January 6, 2017

Minnesota's Perimeter Defense Carries Gophers Past Northwestern

On multiple, crunch-time second half possessions, Northwestern got the matchup it wanted. Running a high pick and roll for star guard Bryant McIntosh, the Wildcats forced a switch that found McIntosh on the wing one-on-one with Minnesota's power forward Jordan Murphy.

Advantage McIntosh, NU Coach Chris Collins must have thought. Wrong.

Murphy showed just why this Minnesota team is so dangerous. The first time McIntosh squared up on Murphy, the Minnesota's sophomore power forward kept NU's guard in front of him, behind the three point arc and forced a contested three pointer. McIntosh missed.

The second time Murphy found himself in space against McIntosh, NU's guard used a quick first step to penetrate. But Murphy was game here too. He moved his feet, regained defensive position and blocked McIntosh's layup attempt.

Minnesota's ability to defend the perimeter was why it won at Welsh-Ryan arena on Thursday night and it's why the sky is the limit for the Gophers in the Big Ten conference.

Northwestern shot 23 percent from three on the night and a dismal 6.7 percent (1-15) in the second half. This wasn't a case of a capable NU team simply missing open looks. The Gophers' perimeter defense was excellent. And it was excellent because of its versatility.

Think of Minnesota's versatility a bit like you'd think of Golden State's defensive versatility in the NBA. Draymond Green at the 4 or 5 can capably play against smaller, quicker guards when forced into the situation. Same here.

And credit Coach Richard Pitino for using his team's athleticism and length to his team's advantage defensively. It wasn't just Murphy. Pitino occasionally went small in the second half, playing freshman forward Eric Curry alongside Murphy, giving Minnesota 5 players on the floor who can capably defend the perimeter.

Minnesota's defensive fundamentals, especially on the close out at three point line, have also been excellent. Players are closing fast but getting into defensive position, with short, choppy steps to stay under control as they close, and challenging with their hands up. Good close-out technique isn't sexy to discuss, and it doesn't show up individually in a box score, but it makes a world of difference defensively. And when combined with a long, athletic, versatile roster, it can stifle good-shooting teams.

That's why Minnesota won 70-66 for its second consecutive Big Ten road win.

Offensively, Minnesota was balanced. After a scorching hot start to begin the game, Minnesota cooled off. Nate Mason, a game after catapulting himself into All Big Ten conversations, was quiet. But to his credit, he didn't force his shots and he came up huge with 8 consecutive free throws in the final seconds. Yes, 8. He finished with 12 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds to only 1 turnover.

Amir Coffey's 17 points paced Minnesota offensively. Reggie Lynch added 12 points and 8 rebounds. Coffey's play on both ends of the floor -- his length and anticipation defensively and his ability to finish in transition and create his own shot offensively -- was fun to watch. He's looking increasingly like a star in the making as just a freshman.

For Gophers' fans shrugging their shoulders at a win over Northwestern, don't. Collins' Wildcats are 12-4 and will, at worst, be on the bubble come March. Other Big Ten teams will fall in Weslh-Ryan arena.

Other notes:

  • How good must have it felt for Michael Hurt to hit that impactful second half three? Hurt has played meaningful minutes but had went just 1-12 from 3 before his make Thursday. Big time confidence boost for a needed bench contributor.
  • A game after almost single-handedly carrying the Gophers in overtime at Purdue, Eric Curry was quiet. He didn't score. But he played 16 minutes and helped the Gophers field an athletic defense that helped Minnesota defend the perimeter.
  • I thought Bakary Konate's 8 minutes were again very good. He rolled on high screens twice and presented himself for Nate Mason to find for easy dunks. Konate as a back=up big man is pretty good.
  • Dupree McBrayer struggled from the field. 3-10 and 0-3 from 3. McBrayer forced his offense a couple times and he occasionally gives me Carols Morris flashbacks.
  • Free throws. Ugh. Minnesota didn't get to the line at the rate it has during the first two Big Ten games, but when it did the Gophers shot 14-22. Prior to Mason's 8 straight to ice the game Minnesota was a ghastly 6-14.Gotta make FTs.
  • Minnesota won the turnover battle again, this time just by a 9-8 margin. But winning that battle on the road is always a win. On the season Minnesota has 255 assists and 191 turnovers.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Program WIth A Black Eye Needed A New Leader

It's not every day a Governor weighs in to the goings-on of a college football program.

But there we were on December 16th, Minnesota's Governor Mark Dayton was forced to make a statement. The Gophers football team had given the state a "bad black eye."

And he was right.

So on Tuesday, Athletic Director Mark Coyle and University President Eric Kaler dismissed Head Coach Tracy Claeys.

Upset players took to Twitter and other platforms as the news of Claeys' dismissal became public. They weren't a happy bunch. The Daily Gopher has a number of reactions posted here.

It's no surprise that players are rallying around their just-fired coach. It was the Gophers players, after all, who made national news -- and not the kind a University or state wants -- during their misguided boycott over what they perceived as a lack of due process.

The players didn't have all the facts. And perhaps neither did Claeys when he Tweeted out his pride for his boycotting players. Those facts later trickled out to KSTP, and they were awful.

But there are times and places to take stands. It's understandable the teammates will be inclined to charge mountains for their brothers. But adults, and especially leaders of young men, which is what the head coach of a college football program ought to be, needs to set an example both on an off the field.

Tracy Claeys led the Gophers to a 9-4 record and an upset victory in the National Funding Holiday Bowl over Washington State. On the field, all things considered, it was a pretty good season for the maroon and gold.

Off the field, both Claeys, and the players he's charged to lead, gave the state and its flagship University one big, unexcusable self-inflicted black eye. The players can be excused for taking an ill-advised stand too far with their public-facing boycott. But Coach Claeys either acted without the facts or failed to lead his players. Neither is excusable.

And that gave Coyle no choice.

Claeys had to go.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Mason, Gophers Thrive Under Pressure In Upset Over Purdue

They could have come out flat days after letting a win slip away in overtime against Michigan State.

They could have lost confidence on New Year's Day as Purdue erased an early 13 point deficit and took a second half lead.

They could have surrendered when both Jordan Murphy and Bakary Konate fouled out with 4 minutes left in the game.

And they could have wilted in overtime.

Instead, the Gophers responded. Time and again. In doing so, the Gophers earned what national pundits are calling Richard Pitino's marquee win as head man at Minnesota in a 91-82 overtime win over Purdue at raucous Mackey Arena.

Winning on the road in the Big Ten is no easy task. But the Gophers didn't just win on the road Sunday, they beat a Boilermakers team with Big Ten title hopes. And there was nothing random or fluky about the win.

Nate Mason was brilliant.

31 points. 11 assists. 6 rebounds. 2 steals. 11-18 from the field. Only 1 turnover in 38 minutes.

31 and 11. Apparently, the first Gophers player in history to drop 30-plus and record 10-plus assists. Think about that. Not Bobby Jackson. Not Ariel McDonald. Not Mychal Thompson or Flip Saunders. Not Sam Jacobsen. Not Al Nolen.

Let it settle in.

Mason's great game almost wasn't enough. Purdue's Caleb Swanigan looked every bit the part of a dominant Big Ten big man. Swanigan had 28 points and 22 rebounds. And as the game entered its final stretches, Swanigan's dominance forced both Murphy and Konate to the sidelines with five fouls.

That meant the Gophers would have to prevail in overtime with freshman Eric Curry playing alongside Reggie Lynch. Curry stepped up in a huge way. He was active defensively and on the  and , scored 7 points, including a clutch three pointer. Curry finished with 10 points and 7 rebounds in his first Big Ten road game.

The Gophers had survived all afternoon without much bench production. Heading into overtime, the Gophers had a whopping 5 points from its bench. Curry alone had 7 in overtime.

Other notes from Minnesota's upset over Purdue:
    • Lynch's interior presence, while overshadowed by the monster games from Mason and Swanigan, continues to be excellent. 10 points. 6 rebounds. 5 blocks.
    • 17 fouls from Minnesota's frontcourt against Purdue's Swanigan and Haas. 14 fouls from Minnesota's frontcourt earlier in the week against Michigan State. Some of the foul trouble is understandable given the competition. But at least a handful of the fouls for Minnesota's bigs have come 90 feet from the basket. And others have been unnecessary. The Gophers need to keep their bigs out of foul trouble moving forward.
    • Amir Coffey was quiet most of the afternoon against Purdue. He finished with 8 points, including 2-2 from three, one of which came at a crucial moment down the stretch.
    • Bakary Knoate fouled out. He didn't score. He had three rebounds. Not a sexy box score. But Konate's minutes were solid and the Gophers needed all 20 of them to stay stout enough against Purdue's interior.
    • An active defense helped push the Gophers' to victory. The Gophers had 8 blocks. Pudue 0. The Gophers had 9 steals. Purdue had 1. Purdue had 14 turnovers. Minnesota had 7. More times than not, that type of discrepancy will lead to victories.
Finally, Dupree McBrayer gets the highlight of the day:

Up next, the Gophers head to 12-3 Northwestern. These aren't your father's Wildcats. They're 1-1 in the Big Ten and Coach Chris Collins has the program turned in a positive direction chasing its first NCAA Tournament.

What They're Saying About Gophers' Win At #15 Purdue

When you climb to 13-2 with a win on the road at Mackey Arena against the #15 Purdue Boilermakers, the national media types take notice. Here's a round-up of what they're saying about Richard Pitino's Gophers outside of Dinkytown.

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!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A New Home And Partner

This will be the last post in PJS history. (Tears).

We're ready to launch a new Web site dedicated to Minnesota Gophers sports. It's

While I'm pleased to be shedding the aesthetically-challenged Blogger platform, what I'm most excited about is the partnerships that will be on display at I'm teaming with Tom from Gopher Nation, who in my opinion does a downright fantastic job covering the Gophers. I believe our differing approaches will bode well for the reader. We have different strengths, weaknesses and writing styles.

The new site will be on the SBN platform. That means we'll be joining talented bloggers like A Sea of Blue, Black Shoe Diaries, Black Heart/Gold Pants, Burnt Orange Nation, and many others, including The Daily Norseman (one of my stops for Vikings coverage). Combine that with our friendships with the Big Ten Bloggers Group, and we should be able to bring our readers the best college sports coverage from around the blogosphere.

The SBN sites allow for tremendous reader interaction with the site, giving you the ability to create your own posts or add video, links or other items you'd like to share with the Gophers community.

We hope you'll join us at, because Tom and I are both looking forward to analyzing, opining, and even reporting a little on the Gophers at our new site. We've been looking forward to this all summer and it's finally here. Hope to see you over at The Daily Gopher shortly.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dominic Jones Is A Number

Excellent article today by the Star Tribune's Rochelle Olson on life in prison through the eyes of former Minnesota Gophers defensive back Dominic Jones.

Choice quote from the lede: "Number 00425759. That's my number," Jones said. "My name now is Inmate. It's not Dominic Jones."

I highly recommend you read the entire article. Great reporting by Ms. Olson.

In this case, I believe the punishment fits the crime (though I could argue it could have been more harsh), but I do have one question. Does reducing one's existence to a serial number work towards rehabilitation?