Tomorrow is the 4th of July (for those of you who didn't already know this) and starting next week the countdown to football should really heat up. But before we all go into full on gridiron mode I'd like to take a moment to look ahead to basketball.
This week I made a trip over to St. Paul to watch some of our current and incoming Gophers play in the Howard Pulley Pro City League. I am not going to reproduce any game recaps done by Ryan James over at Rivals but I'm going to use my observations there to help form my thoughts on the 2008-09 season.
Starting Lineup (best guess)
PG - Al Nolen
I am a big fan of Nolen and what he brings to the court. Watching him play at Pro City League (PCL) reminded me how good he is defensively but is also reiterated that he is not much of a shooter. He reminds me of Eric Harris early in his career. Harris worked his tail off to become a better shooter and by his senior year shot nearly 39% from behind the arc. But I'm not concerned with Nolen's shooting (we have scorers), I love his defense and what he does to get the rest of his team involved. The PCL is great for a guy like Nolen who gets to guard guys like Troy Bell, Kammron Taylor and Ariel McDonald. For next season I am counting on a similar defensive presence and improved passing on the offensive end. He was able to penetrate the lane last year but often threw passes away or couldn't quite thread the needle in traffic.
SG - Devoe Joseph
I'm taking a shot here, but I think Joseph will be our starting SG by the time we get to the Big Ten season. I'm probably wrong as this spot could go to Westbrook, Hoffarber or even Bostick but I'm taking a shot here. Joseph as most of you know was allowed to try out for the Canadian national team. He did not make the team but is considered to be an integral part of Canadian basketball future. But again the competition and increased speed/intensity can only be a good thing for a kid like Joseph. Jason Thom has this to say about Joseph on his Inside Training Camp blog...
The kid is a shooter...more importantly, he is coachable. Mike Malone, Dave Smart and Leo all took him aside at different times to explain something in practice. He listens, asks questions and without the blank stare that many young players have. It was a glimpse into Canada’s future when he was grouped with Sammy D and Carl English during a few drills.HERE is a link to a short video of Joseph talking about the privilege of playing with Canada on your jersey while he shoots around.
Basically Joseph is a big time wild card. He could potentially come in and stand out early as a scorer or he could blend in with the handful of other perimeter players we have as he matures and fills out that thin frame.
SF - Devron Bostick
JUCO national player of the year and a big time scorer. After watching Bostick at PCL I'm really not sold on his jump shot. I watched him closely during warmups and was not impresed, but then questioned my original analysis when he drained a deep three early in the contest. But Bostick then went 2 for his next 9. This was just one game but to me he didn't have a great follow through and I don't see a consistent shot coming from him when the Big Ten season speeds things up a little bit. I could be completely wrong as Bostick shot 6/12 from NBA threes in his previous PCL game. And he did attempt 186 threes last year making 33% of them. But my hunch is that he will not be reliable or shoot that % next year in the Big Ten.
With that said the kid is a scorer. I envision him starting here in the small forward spot and getting plenty of minutes at SG throughout the game when Tubby goes bigger. At 6'5" he isn't ideally suited for SF but smaller lineups and three guard offenses are more the norm in college ball these days and I envision a small starting lineup.
Bostick will be our leading scorer.
PF - Damien Johnson
Again, smaller starting lineup will require Johnson to play PF which he often played last year when Coleman was on the bench. Johnson also played on Tuesday in PCL and he continues to amaze me in how far he has come since his freshman season. 15 pts, 16 rebounds, a couple blocked shots and an impressive put back dunk. I'm counting on Johnson to really be the heart and soul of this team. I don't know if he is ready or even capable of leading but if he lets his play do the talking others will follow. DJ will not be our leading scorer but will probably lead the team in rebounding.
C - Ralph Sampson
Big Jon Williams is the more experienced returner in the post but I think Sampson will earn the starting spot. This is the guy I was most looking forward to watching at PCL but he was not present. It is hard to gauge Sampson's impact on next season but everything I have read says that he is continually improving and will be ready for the Big Ten. I think his preferred position is PF, but until we have a center we can count on I expect he'll start at C. Envisioning a lineup where we have someone else at C and Sampson at PF is fun to think about but for now neither Iverson or Williams can be relied on to start at C.
His first PCL game has him scoring 20 and grabbing 6 boards. This was against a weaker team but encouraging none the less for a kid just out of high school.
BENCH (in order of who will enter the game first)
G-Lawrence Westbrook - will come in at either guard spot. Westbrook had an inconsistent season last year, but at times was our primary scorer. The kid isn't afraid to put the ball up, but he also was prone to some awful turnovers. An increase role in the offense and better decision making will allow Westbrook to be more successful this year but also with the incoming talent I see the offense being geared more for the likes of Sampson, Joseph, Bostick and Hoffarber. Westbrook should be used to adjusting by now. He'll be a key perimeter defender and an occasional offensive shot in the arm.
SG-Blake Hoffarber - needs to get better at everything except shooting. I don't think The Hoff is as stoic as others do, but he does need to do more than just shoot. The kid is arguably the best shooter in the conference and that will be his primary role. I don't care that he can't create his own shot or that he won't penetrate the lane. Not his role on the offense. What he does need to get better at is defending the perimeter and he needs to contribute as a rebounder. I do believe he is athletic and is capable of more than just shooting but at the same time his shooting is what other teams will fear and it is exactly what we need him to provide.
C-Jon Williams - Big Jon will likely see the biggest increase in minutes. I don't think you'll see much more scoring out of the big man but he is going to have to be a factor defensively and most importantly on the boards. As his minutes creep up to about 25 min / game can he average 5 of 6 reb/game? That will be significant.
C/F-Colt Iverson - I was able to see Iverson play this week at PCL. When he did not have the ball he looked like a plodding big white guy. But with the ball or attacking the glass Iverson displayed some athleticism and desire. The kid has 7 boards in each of his first two PCL games. Much like Williams I don't see Iverson as a scorer we will be counting on this year. Minimum shots and any points we can get will be a bonus but rebounds and defense will make a big difference for this team. I'm expecting 15-20 min per game.
F-Paul Carter - Our second JUCO commit but not yet on campus. Carter is another wild card who could really be a significant contributor or not. Carter and Johnson are probably our only true SF type players and will give us some size/length when playing at the SF spot. My hope is Carter is able to defend athletic SF's around the conference (think Raymar Morgan). He put up solid numbers last year as a first year JUCO. In an interview with his JUCO coach Carter's length and athleticism kept coming up as his strengths so hopefully he'll be a big boost in all areas off the bench.
G-Jamal Abu-Shamala - I have never been a supporter of JAS on this blog. I just don't think he is a Big Ten caliber player. This summer JAS has tried out for and made the Jordanian National basketball team. They did not qualify for the Olympics but JAS will get the opportunity to compete with and against a different level of competition which can only benefit him in preparation for his senior season in Minnesota. But he is essentially a less athletic and not as good a shooter as Hoffarber. Expect about 10 min per game.
G-Kevin Payton - again someone I do not endorse as a viable option off the bench. From my perspective Payton is taking up a scholarship I'd rather use on a PG for next season. There are rumors that his junior season will actually be his last as the staff is pushing for him to graduate this year and then possibly help out coaching (much like Ryan Saunders). I endorse this move. I am sure Payton is a great guy but he just offers very little value on the floor and that is what we are talking about here.
G-Travis Busch - another scholarship that belongs with someone more talented. Busch's scholarship is already in play to be yanked next year, but considering he is a walk on he has to know this was potentially coming. I love his hustle, when given minutes last year he outworked more talented players but that hustle is best utilized in practice to make others better. Glad he's on the team, don't want to see him in games.
Some random predictions...
Leading Scorer - Devron Bostick
Leading Rebounder - Damien Johnson
Steals Leader - Al Nolen
Assist Leader - Al Nolen
Blocked Shots - Ralph Sampson
All three-point categories - Blake Hoffarber
Final record? - can't give that without a schedule
Big Ten Finish - 3rd place behind Purdue and Ohio State. 3rd place will be a battle with Wisconsin and Michigan State
NCAA Tournament - YES
I am eagerly watching for the Gophers to release their non-conference schedule. Thus far all we know is that they'll be playing Louisville in the Stadium Shootout (Dec 20) and Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge (Dec 2).