March 28, 2008

Minnesota Golden Gopher basketball wrap up

Thank you Tubby for making Gopher basketball relevant and fun to watch again.

The NIT was about as anti-climactic as it could possibly have been. Tollackson was slower than his usual slowness, McKenzie was unable to play, Coleman wasn't even in the gym and Hoffarber had a boo-boo on his shooting finger.

Tough to beat a decent ACC team when your top four scorers are playing with some form of an injury (whether that injury is physical or mental).

I'm not going to dwell on the NIT loss, let's do a quick recap and a look into next year.

The Non-Conference Season - was relatively uneventful. There was an extra buzz around the team but it was based largely on curiosity and people trying to get their seats reserved on the bandwagon. A win at Iowa State was the "signature" win as it showed this team was actually capable of beating a BCS conference team on the road. The other nine wins were nothing to put on your Tournament resume, but they were wins none the less. In recent seasons some of those games (North Dakota State is the best example) would not have been the certainty that they were this season.

Two games stood out from the beginning as key games; at Florida State and at UNLV in their New Year's tournament. We were flat in both games and lost to more athletic teams. I was fortunate enough to attend the Florida State game. While it was a great experience, the game itself was lackluster and uneventful.

The Big Ten Season - a trip to preseason favorite and #6-Michigan State was not the ideal scenario to ease into the Big Ten. But the Gophers played one of their best games of the season and nearly pulled off the upset. We beat everyone we should have beat, we nearly won a couple of home games (Ind and MSU) and we meandered to an 8-10 record. This is pretty average but considering where we came from a year ago this has to be considered a huge success.

The Tournament Season - The highlight of the year was without a doubt the Hoffarber shot to beat Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament. It was all down hill from there. But the effort put forth to kick a team that was already down defined how this team has improved in just one season. Then we lost our 73rd consecutive game to Illinois and our 38th consecutive loss to an ACC team (NOTE those numbers are ball park guesses!).

Players Leaving Us

Lawrence McKenzie - while McKenzie didn't exactly carry this team or lead this team like many of us hoped, imagine what we would have been like had he stayed at OK State? McKenzie is a good scorer, average defender and an average decision maker. But when he was "on" he was a lot of fun to watch and carried us to a few wins on his back.

McKenzie finished his Gopher career 3rd all time for three's made and did so while only playing two full seasons as a Gopher.

Dan Coleman - another hometown kid who left but came back. Coleman originally committed to Boston College and took a redshirt year out there before transfering back to be a Gopher. Another player with frustrating talent that was inconsistently utilized.

Finished his 4 yr Gopher career with 1,317 points (15th all time), 614 rebounds, and 114 blocks (8th all time). Also tied with Quincy Lewis for 2nd all time in games played (127), three games ahead of Ernest Nzigamasabo (I just wanted an excuse to type Nziggy's name). Coleman never had that outstanding season but was a solid contributor for 4 full seasons.

Spencer Tollackson - Solid big man who was limited with limited athletic ability. I have always been in Tollackson's corner and last year proved to me how valuable he was to this team as a leader and a reliable player. But this year proved that he just can't compete with more athletic big men and his inability to rebound hurt us at times. He will be missed as a leader on this team.

Finished his Gopher career just shy of a couple milestones. 935 points and 438 rebounds.

Returning Players to be excited about - we have five guys returning who will be in the mix for playing time with the five incoming players.

Damien Johnson - I was very skeptical about Johnson heading into the season, but for the most part I was wrong. Nobody questioned his shot blocking ability, but I was unsure he'd be able to guard guys or contribute at all on offense. Offensively he was surprisingly productive scoring 241 points and finishing second on the team in offensive rebounds and total rebounds. I am still not sure of his 1-on-1 defensive ability but it is adequate and I look for Johnson to be a significant core of next year's squad.

Lawrence Westbrook - if polled I bet most would give a most improved award to Johnson, but I'd argue it really belongs to Westbrook. From his freshman season to this he scored 200+ more points, tripled his three point baskets, nearly 100 more rebounds and his assist total increased from 13 to 82. The most concerning portion of his game was the turnovers, which seemed to get worse as the season progressed. But Westbrook will be relied upon heavily next year to be a primary scorer and leader.

Blake Hoffarber - excellent shooter who is on pace to crush the career 3-pnt record. Hoffarber should have a solid career and should only enhance his numbers as more athletic and dynamic player come into the program to open up shots for the Hoff.

Al Nolen - I could not have been more impressed with Nolen's defensive ability. He has a knack for steals and is on pace to be top three all time in steals and assists. Nolen's downside was his lack of offensive production and his turnovers. His knack for steals was equaled only by his knack for turning over the stolen goods. I am a big fan of Nolen, I look forward to him improving and seeing him play the PG over his next three seasons.

Nolen came in with question marks surrounding his ability to stay academically eligible and whether or not he was capable of playing at the Big Ten level. But he proved both wrong by working hard to keep his grades up to par and by showing that he was arguably one of the best freshman PGs in the league.

Jonathan Williams - big man who can rebound very well. Williams is very limited on offense but he did show improvement as the season went along. Williams ability to defend and rebound will keep him in the rotation next year and he'll likely open the season as the starting center.

Others Returning
- these guys will be back and have a chance to contribute but they need to improve if we want to be more competitive.

Jamal Abu-Shamala - the soon to be senior will probably contribute initially but I wouldn't count on him to help us much. Shamala had a solid sophomore seasons but his junior year saw a major dip in his production. If Abu-Shamala isn't hitting threes he has very little to offer the Gophers. I am not a fan of JAS and strongly feel that is we are going to be an improved team it will have to be without him.

Kevin Payton - another player who saw a major dip in his production in the transition from the Monson to Tubby era. Payton as slow feet and offers very little on either end of the floor. If anybody in this category were to improve and surprise all of us Payton is the only one who has a chance. OR the rumors could be true that he is a candidate to transfer.

Travis Busch - works hard, probably does a solid job making his teammates better in practice, but should not be on the floor when the point differential is under 20.


Lets be honest, while most programs need an NCAA Tournament bid to have a successful season, this was without a doubt a successful season. With Tubby in town and more talent coming into the program the standards need to raise. This season was successful, but how long before we can see the Gophers playing in the NCAA Tournament? Soon, very soon (I hope). Detroit here we come!

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