Friday, January 20, 2006

Michigan Game Preview

It's only the 1st week back at school for me, but I'm already up to neck in homework, so I'll be back sometime around 5:00 this afternoon with a brief Michigan game preview.

-Grant Peterson

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Hawkeyes 76, Gophers 72 (3OT)

It doesn't get more frustrating then this.

This game didn't get into three overtimes by itself. The Gophers let it get that way. They had the last possession in regulation and the first overtime, and held a four point lead midway through the second overtime. And yes, a four point lead in a game like this, where both teams are playing outstanding defense, is a big deal.

What baffles me is why Dan Monson called timeouts on the team's final possessions in overtime and regulation. Both times, the ball was given to Grier at the top of the key, and he tried (extremely unsuccessfully) to create his own shot. I don't have a huge problem with Grier taking the final shot, even though he has been awful during the Big Ten season. But what is the point of calling timeout if you're not going to design any kind of a play? At least if Monson would have just let them play, Iowa wouldn't have had the chance to get its defense set up.

If the Gophers ever came out of timeout, with something that resembled a play designed to get an open look, I would have no problem with them calling a timeout. I just don't understand why it's necessary if you're probably going to do the same thing either way. But enough with that.

Last night's game marked the emergence of Jonathan Williams as an option on the offensive end. A good option? Probably not. Williams essentially has no back-to-the-basket moves and no range, but he showed the ability to move without the ball and aggressively attack the basket. He also showed a nose for offensive rebounds, gathering six offensive rebounds. If J'son Stamper is going to make a habit of setting the course record (fouling out without scoring a point), Williams may be able to replace what Stamper brings to the table as a solid rebounder with limited scoring ability.

However, Williams is a brutal free-throw shooter, as he went 3 for 7 last night and is 4 for 13 on the year. He might have better luck if went to the line with a blindfold.

Speaking of brutal free-throw shooting, the Gophers continue to get worse and worse from the line as a team. At 63.1 percent, they rank 302nd in the nation. When the team already has trouble scoring, bad free-throw shooting can cost them games. You could argue that it did the trick last night.

The Gophers were quite successful in getting offensive rebounds, as Grant P. mentioned that it would be a key for the Gophers if they wanted to win last nights game. The Gophers rebounded 18 out of 53 possible boards on their end of the court. However the also gave up 16 offensive boards on 44 rebound opportunties to the Hawkeyes and Greg Brunner grabbed seven of them on his way to a 17 point/16 rebound double-double.

Last night's game had to have had a terrible effect on this team. They have to be wondering exactly how they are going to win a game, after having so many opportunities to do so last night. With Iowa's lockdown defense, I thought this would be an impossible game to win, but somehow the Gophers managed to put up enough points to almost pull off the upset. They just couldn't seal the deal.

It will be interesting to see how the team reacts against Michigan Saturday, which I believe is a very winnable game at the Barn. While there's pretty much no hope for the team making the tourney (at least the big one that people actually pay attention to), I'm hoping that the team hasn't completely given up, and maybe win a game or two that they probably shouldn't. We'll see if the Gophers can get past this loss, and the three before it and give a decent effort against the Wolverines.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Iowa Game Preview

When the Golden Gophers take on Iowa this evening at Carver-Hawkeye Arena they will begin a rebuilding stage of sorts. The task is somewhat unclear for the Gophers for the rest of the season, but one thing is for sure, they need to start something positive on the offensive end. Needless to say, playing the best defensive team in the Big Ten won't help. Grant suggested that the over/under on the Gophers offensive output be 42 points. If Minnesota didn't create so many turnovers on the defenisive end, I'd be tempted to take the under. But with a game that should see about 60-65 possessions per team, I think 40 points or under would be a performance even this offense is not capable of.

Statistical Matchup

Offense
Iowa 95.6 Offensive Efficiency (10th in Big Ten, 210th in nation)
Minnesota 97.4 Offensive Efficiency (8th in Big Ten, 181st in nation)

Defense
Iowa 81.0 (1st in Big Ten, 1st in nation)
Minnesota 88.8 (3rd in Big Ten, 32nd in nation)

Glancing at the numbers it becomes quite obvious that this is going to be a low scoring affair. While Minnesota has been the slightly better offensive team throughout the year, that certainly hasn't been true as of late. Minnesota's offense has completely dropped off a cliff feature offensive efficiencies of 74.5, 81.7, and 81.4 in their last three games.

Meanwhile Iowa continues to play stellar defense, holding Illinois to an offensive efficiency of just 70.5! in a 63-48 Hawkeye victory in Iowa City. In their last game however, Penn State, while narrowly losing 80-76 was able to post a respectable 102.7 offensive rating. For the rest of the preview I will focus on how they did that as it is what I feel the Gophers must do if they have a shot to win this game.

Basically Iowa's bread and butter on defense has been field goal defense. The Hawkeyes have held opponents to a 41.6 eFG% which ranks 4th in the nation. A close second to that performance in importance has been their dominating prescence on the defensive boards, led by Greg Brunner and Doug Thomas. Iowa is rebounding 73.1% of their opponents misses which ranks 15th in the nation. Given Minnesota's poor shooting on the offensive end, I think they need to focus on trying to get some offensive boards. That means J'son Stamper, who is still bothered by injuries, needs to get some minutes and be effective.

This, however, was not the approach that Penn State took as it was able to shoot at a reasonable rate against Iowa. The 47.6 eFG% that they posted might not look that great, but against Iowa that is an accomplishment. Couple that with the fact that they only turned over the ball on 12.2% of their possesions, and that was enough to bring them up to respectability even though they didn't get to the line very much and didn't get any more than Iowa's average number of offensive boards allowed.

How were they able to shoot so well? Looking at the box score it appears that a balanced attack from the inside and the outside was the key. Forwards Travis Parker, and Jamelle Cornley both had big nights from the field shooting 7-13 and 6-12 respectively. All of Cornley's shots came from two point range, while Parker was actually 6-8 from inside the three point line. As for the outside attack guards Ben Luber and Mike Walker both provided plenty of production. Luber was 2-5 from three point range and Walker was 4-8. Can Minnesota follow this model?

Well not if they keep playing like they have. But I hope Dan Monson has been paying attention and is finally ready to mix it up. Here's the game plan. Minnesota needs to get the ball to the post and then pass it out. I think that means force feeding the ball to Spencer Tollackson and running the offense through him. That means having Abu-Shamala on the court for at least 15-20 minutes so that they have a legitimate outside threat. That means kicking the ball out to Adam Boone and yes even Rico Tucker and hoping they make shots. It's not a great option, but I think it is the only chance they have. So far Monson has shown a complete unwillingness to chance his offensive game plan despite any real results. Let's hope the desperation will change his mind.

Prediction: Iowa 60, Minnesota 52

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Boilermakers 72, Gophers 55

While I was relegated to watching Saturday's game in the suburbs at Joe Sensor's (yes, nowhere on campus has spent the money to buy ESPN Fullcourt, even a recently reopened bar that obviously has spent an inordinate amount of cash on dozens of new televisions), two of our good friends made the trip to Mackey Arena.

Scott McDonald, a Gopher fan exiled in Indianapolis, has decided to take on the somewhat unpleasant task of rehashing this ugly contest. Therefore, I'll turn it over to him to tell his story. Scott has never been one to bite his tongue, and because of the magnitude of the loss, I will publish what he sent me virtually unedited

-Grant Boelter

The Minnesota Golden Gophers remained winless in the Big Ten after a 72-55 loss to the Purdue Boilermakers, Saturday night in West Lafayette, IN. The Boilermakers were led by Marcus White’s 17 points and Adam Boone’s 11 points paced the Gophers. The Gophers are now alone in the cellar in the Big Ten standings with an 0-3 record. This was very disappointing for me because Ben Butzow and I witnessed it first hand at Mackey Arena. It was the first Gophers game I have seen all year and I was extremely pissed.

This game was clearly a game of two of the worst teams in the Big Ten. There were stretches in the game where it looked like an eighth grade girls' game. The Gophers looked good coming out of the gate and surprisingly jumped to a quick 9-2 lead. A fiery defense caused 17 turnovers on the night, but that was not enough as the Gophers continued to have very long dry spells on the offensive end. The Gophers were able to hit some open threes and capitalize on some turnovers in the first half. They went into halftime knotted up at 33 a piece.

The second half was a different story. The Gophers shot a disgusting 9 percent from 3-point land and were out-rebounded 26-12. The Gophers came out and hung tough for the first 10 minutes. Then they hit the inevitable Gopher Road Wall and were stuck on 47 points for nearly six minutes in the second half. When all was said and done the Gophers were outscored 26-8 in the last ten minutes of the game. Matt Kiefer had a solid 13 boards and 12 points for the Boilers, while nailing some timely treys. Purdue was just more disciplined and a balanced second half scoring attack just crushed the Gophers.

The Gophers continued to time and time again Saturday night leave a wide-open shooter for a triple. Dan Monson continued his mutiny of a down-low game and went to Spencer Tollackson only for a brief three minutes to begin the second half. In this 3-minute time framem I saw the best looks from the Gopher offense and we scored almost at will. Nevertheless we broke away from this pattern and decided to become a one-dimensional team. Tollackson played a very solid game and it was the only positive in the game for the Gophers.

In order for this team to win the Big Ten tournament, which is likely the only way they are going to make it to the NCAA tournament, is to play as a team. Vincent Grier needs to quit having delusions of grandeur. Dan Monson needs to realize that Tollackson can score on the block and has a great eye for the open man. Dan Coleman and Rico Tucker need to wake up and take a shot selection class. Most importantly the Gophers need to keep up their intensity and continue to create turnovers while developing some sort of offensive game plan. This team has the talent to be an alright team but just lacks the cohesion and discipline.

-Scott McDonald

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Minnoy Out

We mistakenly penciled Nate Minnoy into the rotation for Purdue in our preview. He injured his knee and is out for the season. If anyone sees this before the game, feel free to make a recommendation as far as a bar to go to watch the game, since it's only on ESPN Fullcourt. Hopefully we see a solid win.

-Grant Boelter

Friday, January 13, 2006

Purdue Game Preview

If last Tuesday's game was a must-win for the Gophers, then Saturday's tilt at Purdue is do-or-die. Only two games into the season, I'd already put Minnesota's chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament at slim. With Purdue opening the Big Ten season 0-3, they are the only team looking up at the Gophers in the standings. If they lose this game there is NO chance. We'll have two of our best friends in attendance this weekend in Mackey Arena so we hope to get some insight from them which we will include in our recap on Monday. For now onto the preview.

Purdue Boilermakers
Offensive Efficiency:93.8, 11th Big Ten, 231st nationally
Defensive Efficiency:100.1, 9th Big Ten, 199th nationally

Starting Backcourt

G Bryant Dillon, Sr. 30.4 mpg, 4.7 ppg, 2.4 apg, 2.6 topg, 1.05 ppws, 49.1 eFG%
G Korey Spates, Fr. 27.4 mpg, 11.1 ppg, 1.8 apg, 3.2 topg, 0.95 ppws, 43.4 eFG%
G Kris Lutz, Fr. 28.6 mpg, 10.9 ppg, 1.4 apg, 3.1 topg, 1.08 ppws, 51.2 eFG%

As was stated in our preview of the Boilermakers, they have been seriously depleted by the loss of David Teague and Carl Landry. These injuries have left them forced to start the above three guards. it's not clear that any of them deserve to be there and its obvious why Purdue has struggled. The best performance so far has been by freshman Kris Lutz which bodes well for the future, but in the here and now Purdue guards are turning it over at alarming rates and not hitting many of their shots. While Minnesota guards are actually protecting the ball fairly well as of late, they also are not hitting any of their shots. In the preseason against less experienced guards Minnesota performed much better, however, and I expect them to bounce back against the young Boilers.

Advantage: Minnesota




Starting Froncourt

F Nate Minnoy, Fr. 26.0 mpg, 11.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.9 topg, 1.13 ppws, 57.8 eFG%
F Matt Kiefer, Sr. 26.4 mpg, 11.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.6 topg, 1.14 ppws, 55.4 eFG%

In contrast to the backcourt the starting frontcourt has produced rather efficiently for Purdue this season. Led by Matt Kiefer, a senior who I've always thought was a nice player, the starting frontcourt has combined for an average of 11.9 rpg while each only averaging around 26 minutes. The two froncourt mates also lead the team in ppws and eFG%. With the recent disappearance of Spencer Tollackson and the inconsistent play of Dan Coleman it would be easy to give the advantage to Purdue in this aspect, but Minnoy is only 6'3" and with Minnesota's big guards and tall forwards there will be a mismatch somewhere. My guess is that Dan Monson will try to exploit the matchup with whomever Minnoy is guarding man-to-man. Of course if Purdue has been paying attention they will probably try to play zone against Minnesota most of the time. The Minnesota guards need to stop taking so many shots and get the big men involved, but I just don't see them making a complete 180 in this game.

Advantage: Purdue

Bench

F Gary Ware, Sr. 13.9 mpg, 3.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.00 ppws, 50 eFG%
G Marcus Green, Fr. 19.4 mpg, 5.6 ppg, 1.1 apg, 2.0 topg, 1.06 ppws, 46.9 eFG%
G Chris Hartley, Sr. 12.9 mpg, 1.4 ppg, 1.6 apg, 1.01 ppws, 41.2 eFG%

The Purdue bench is full of guys who don't score efficiently. Ware provides some good rebounding and Hartley some assists, and Green some scoring, but none does more than one thing well. Minnesota on the other hand has Rico Tucker, who can come off the bench and play some defense but, excepting last game, is a liability on offense. They also have Jonathan Williams who likewise plays defense and can rebound, but provides nothing on offense. Finally, if they choose to use him, they have Abu-Shamala who can come of the bench and hit a few shots.

Advantage: Minnesota

Obviously Minnesota offense is struggling, but the key to this ball game is still defense. Right now it is the only thing keeping them in games, and if it falters than the offense cannot bail them out. Against what will be the easiest opponent that Minnesota faces the rest of the way the offense should get healthy, provided they can move away from such a guard oriented attack. I have high hopes that Rico Tucker will find new confidence with his last performance and that Abu-Shamala will get about 15 minutes to give the offense some help.


Prediction: Minnesota 70, Purdue 55

-Grant Peterson


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Breaking It Down

So let me get this straight. I leave the country for five days in Mexico City, and I return to this. A humilating home loss to Northwestern (again) and ever so close but not quite loss to the rival Badgers. I'd have to say starting 0-2 at home in the Big Ten is pretty much the doomsday scenario for the Gophers. If the Gophers lose this weekend at Purdue the tone of this blog could get ugly. Since I didn't get a chance to see either game, except for the last 1:44 of the Badger game while I was in the Phoenix airport, I'm simply going to give my thoughts about the games by looking at the box scores.

Northwestern

Definitely the Gophers worst game offensively, its easy to see why it happened: guard play, guard play guard play. Every Gopher guard had a horrible shooting night. All of our three starting guards played 38 or 39 minutes and had the following shooting lines: Boone 3-10, Hargrow 3-9, Grier 6-16. During the non-conference season I was concerned about Grier taking a lot of shots against the likes of Grambling and NDSU, and now I believe my concerns were well founded. My thinking at the time was that, yes, we know Grier can score 25 against Grambling. Big deal, pass the ball. But he didn't and it seems he didn't much in this game either. 16 shots is alot in a game that featured about 66 possesions. Grier accounted for 31.3% of the teams 51 shots. I think this is especially troubling since he also did not record a single assist. During the preaseason Grier took a lot of shots which were not in the framework of the offense. I was told that this was the case in this game as well.

Favorite Gopher Hoops whipping boy Rico Tucker also contributed greatly to the losing of this game although he only played 15 minutes. He took three shots (two three-pointers) and missed all three. He managed to turn the ball over four times, didn't record any steals and also missed one of his two free throws.

The one aspect of this game that sticks out to me is that Jamal Abu-Shamala only played ten minutes, making a lone three pointer. It often seems to me that Dan Monson does not know how to manage his personnel and this move only furthers that thought for me. Grant B. tells me that Abu-Shamala has looked a little overmatched against the more athletic Big Ten opponents and his three personal fouls in this game certainly attest to that. But if there was ever an opponent where I think that Abu-Shamala's skills would matchup well it would be Northwestern. Against a slow down team that plays a zone, you don't want to turn the ball over and you want to be able to shoot over the zone. Shamala does both of these things well. Also Northwestern is one of the least athletic teams in the conference, so he would be less of a defenseive liability than in other games. Given the shooting percentages of the guards I think they should have found him more shots.

As for the defenisve end, there's really not a whole lot to criticize. Defending the three pointer is still a problem for this team (Northwestern shot 56%) but when you do everything else right and post a defensive efficiency of 86.6 you should win the game. The offense simply did not come through.

Wisconsin

Another very solid defenisve performance for naught as the Gophers came up two points short in this game. Once again I can not criticize the defense. Before the season started we must have heard this line about 100 times from Dan Monson, "We're going to score no doubt, but defense will be a concern." I was skeptical at the time, and it seems that I had ever reason to be. After early season games in which the Gopher defense looked a little suspect, it now appears that the defense may actually be better than last year's. In 2005 conference games the Gophers posted a defensive efficiency of 0.92. In two Big Ten games this year the Gophers have posted defensive efficiencies of .866 against Northwestern and .843 against Wisconsin. That's incredibly good.

The only problem is that the starting guards somehow managed to shoot even worse against Wisconsin than they did against the Wildcats. If you'd ask me if that was possible I'd say no, but here it is: Grier 6-18, Boone 2-9, Hargrow 4-13. I'd tell Grier to pass the ball, but right now I really don't know who he should pass it to. Tollackson shot 0-2 in the game and Coleman shot 2-8. G.B. tells me the problem with this offense is that the simply are not working together at all. No one is creating shots for anyone which leads to a ton of bad shots. Looks that way to me from the box score. This game must have been incredibly ugly. I'm glad I missed it.

This game would have been completely out of hand if Rico Tucker hadn't actually decided to show up. He scored 17 points on 5-9 shooting only turning it over twice. I'd be happy to eat crow and have Tucker play this way every game, but I doubt it will happen.


There is some good news though. Apparently former Golden Gopher and Australian NBL All-Star Dusty Rychart is reading our site. He offers the following endorsement: "Good Reading." Thanks for the plug.

I'll be back tomorrow with a preview of this weekend's matchup in West Lafyette.