January 30, 2008

the NEW Golden Gopher Era - Part 6

The NEW Golden Gopher Era - Part 6 of 8

What can we define as success in the short term for Tubby Smith?

I wanted to get back to this little series I started last spring. A quick recap...

2007 was certainly a turning point for Gopher sports. The hiring of Tim Brewster and Tubby Smith are going to be looked at as the defining hires by AD Joel Maturi. I think the Tubby hire may go down as one of the best coaching moves in the University's history. Clearly the Brewster hire has been suspect, but it will forever be tied to Maturi's name.

Intro - Turning point for Gopher FB and BB
Part 1 - What can we expect in 2007? - FB
Part 2 - What can we define as success (short term) - FB
Part 3 - How quickly can we win a Big Ten title? - FB
Part 4 - What are the long term expectations for success? - FB
Part 5 - What can we expect in 2007-08? - BB

As I looked back on what I wrote, I was rather wrong on the short term success of the football team. So far my early thoughts on this season's basketball season have been fairly accurate. I should have put my thoughts on Part 6 down much earlier but I am taking the time now.

By most standards this season could already be considered a success. We have surpassed last season's win total (which was done before the new year). That is not why this season has been a success.

This season can already be noted in the history books as successful for the following reasons...

1. Totally Irrelevant ---> Hottest Ticket in Town. Season ticket sales are significantly higher, attendance is up and national TV appearances are up as well. In fact early in the season when the Gophers were hosting national powers like Army, Central Michigan and South Dakota State attendance was up 1,500 from a year ago. That translates into real dollars for the athletic department. National TV appearances are up to 6 this year from 3 a year ago. By this measure even if the team loses the remainder of their season it has been a success.

2. Just Win Baby - Last year was forgettable (kind of like the football season) as they amassed 9 wins, 3 of those coming in conference and ending on a 9 game losing streak. This season so far has seen the team surpass last year's win total before Christmas. The Big Ten season may not be as kind as the soft non conference schedule but they should manage to finish near .500 in league play which is a giant success when remember how bad it was a year ago.

3. Get to a tournament - At this point the NCAA's seem out of reach, but the NIT will certainly be there and we should be able to have some success. This is getting ahead of ourselves but considering where things were a year ago playing games after the Big Ten Tourney is a success.

4. Ever heard of Gopher Basketball? - All of a sudden Minnesota Basketball is a recognizable name. Recruits who would otherwise have thrown the letter away now is calling back. Tubby is bringing in a top 20 (probably top 15) recruiting class and none are from Minnesota, and only one who shares a border with MN (2 if you count Canada I guess, but that's international).
  • Ralph Sampson III - Atlanta, GA
  • Devoe Joseph - Canada
  • Paul Carter - Missouri
  • Devron Bostick - Illinois
  • Colten Iverson - South Dakota
The fact that Tubby is able to bring a recruiting class that is getting national attention makes his hire a total success. Now that doesn't do much for defining this season's success but it will pay off almost immediately as the names above will be key names next season.

Of this little series this was the easiest to write. Maybe it helps to write it half way through the season, but I think the writing was on the wall for Tubby to succeed and succeed quickly.

Up Next: How quickly can Tubby win a Big Ten title?

Blog Poll - week 12

Here is the blog poll for Week 12. There is a little controversy, but you can see the votes HERE for yourself. For the record I was one of the 3 who had Kansas as #1.

1 Memphis (13)
2 Kansas (3)
3 Duke
4 North Carolina
6 Tennessee
7 Georgetown
8 Washington St.
9 Michigan St.
10 Texas
11 Indiana
12 Butler
13 Wisconsin
14 Drake
15 Xavier
16 Stanford
17 Marquette
18 Arizona
19 Ole Miss
20 Florida
21 Pittsburgh
Kansas State
23 Vanderbilt
24 USC
25 UConn

Big Ten Power Poll - Week 4

Here come the Boilermakers!

below, updated Blogger Power Poll (aka BTBBBPP)

This one will be quick. Interesting results though...

Avg Pts Tot Pnts
1. Indiana (6)
9.82 167
2. Mich State (9)
9.47 161
3. Wisconsin (1)
8.88 151
4. Purdue (1)
8.47 144
5. Ohio State 7.18 122
6. Minnesota 5.53 94
7. Iowa 4.88 83
8. Illinois 4.12 70
9'. Penn State 2.65 45
10. Michigan 2.12 36
11. Northwestern 1.18 20

Big Ten Chronicle - Big 10
Hoopraker - Big 10
Hoosier Report - Ind
Hoosier Fun Ball - Ind
Black Heart Gold Pants - Iowa
Maize n Brew - Mich
MSU Sparty - Mich St
Enlightened Spartan - Mich St
Gopher Nation - Minn
Down With Goldy - Minn
Paging Jim Shikenjanski - Minn
Lake the Posts - NW
Around the Oval - Ohio St
Eleven Warriors - Ohio St
Buckeye Battle Cry - Ohio St
Black Shoes Diary - Penn St
Nittany White Out - Penn St
Off the Tracks - Pur

January 28, 2008

GN Power Poll - wk 4 - Masters of the Universe



1. Michigan State - Beast Man - does the right hand man of Skelator look familiar? Beast Man is a "man-beast who can summon most of the wild creatures of Eternia to aid Skeletor's schemes." Now replace man-beast with Sparty and equate Spartan fans to wild creatures and I think you are on to something.

2. Indiana - Trap-Jaw - "a cyborg warrior with a mechanical, sharp-toothed jaw with a deadly bite, and a robotic arm onto which he can slot a wide range of different weapons." Having Eric Gordon out the outside and DJ White on the inside gives IU the widest range of weapons in this league.

3. Purdue
- Ram-Man - "He is portrayed generally as a comical character, slow and dim-witted with an almost child-like mentality." The analogy is based mostly on looks but I asked a Hoosier fan I know and he agreed, Purdue fans are slow and dim-witted. So based on that scientific poll, I'm right.

4. Wisconsin - Skelator - pure evil and nobody likes them (or ever will). "The Evil Lords of Destruction and is the greatest threat to present day Eternia."

5. Ohio State - Cringer/Battle Cat - sometimes appear timid and weak (when facing the SEC for instance), then later is ferocious and ready to take on anybody (what I saw on Saturday vs. MN).

6. Iowa
- Evil-Lyn - read Wisconsin (above) except bigger pussies.

7. Minnesota - Man-E-Faces - A team that is lacking an identity and has a "power" that is actually useless. Can change personalities to be smart, then strong, then human but never more than one at a time.

8. Illinois - Orko - "Orko is inept, with his spells often backfiring with humorous results." Sounds like coach Weber's recent recruiting efforts.

9. Michigan - Prince Adam - the alter ego of the powerful He-Man. This analogy is rather simple... Michigan Hoops is to Prince Adam as Michigan Football is to He-Man.

10. Penn State -Mer-Man - without Claxton the Nittany Lions are like a fish out of water (?, this one is bad but there are only so many He-Man character to work with here).

11. Northwestern
- Teela - looks good, but no real abilities.

Maybe next week a GI Joe post if I feel up to it.

January 27, 2008

Breaking Down the Box - Ohio State

Minnesota - 60
Ohio State - 76

This should be a quick one. Ohio State just has greater athleticism and talent. When the gophers played with some urgency and played together they were able to compete, but heart and playing together only gets you so far. We have guys who can shoot (The Hoff), we have guys that can jump (Johnson), we have guys that can handle the ball (Nolen), we have guys who are athletic (Coleman), you get the point. But what we don't have is guys who can do multiple things well. For example Butler can penetrate, shoot, handle the ball and pass very well.

I know that all season I have been pimping the Gophers and feel that they are capable of making the Tournament. I still believe that they are capable, but the fact does remain that there is little room for error because we are lacking true athletic ability and depth of talent. This team really isn't capable of recovering from 3 points in the first 10 min on the road. We were able to scratch and claw back into the game but OSU is talented enough to flip the switch and make a 4 point game back to 12 in a heartbeat.

In reviewing my keys to the game, it was #1 that killed us. I knew it would be tough for us to score consistently in half court game, so we needed to create turnovers AND get some easy baskets from them. OSU converted our 17 turnovers into 20 points while we created the same amount of turnovers into only 12 points. First of all we can't have 17 turnovers and secondly we needed more easy points.

Player of the Game - Jamar Butler

27 pts
9 asts
2 reb

Butler had a very good game, but I also would argue that his 5 turnovers and shot selection allowed the Gophers to get back into the game. But he made some big shots and had 9 assists to give them a real boost. When they needed it he was able to flip a switch and make a big shot or a big stop.

What Next?

We started 2-1 and then we all knew we had a tough 3 game stretch. So lets not overreact to losing at home to the best of the conference and then losing on the road to superior talent. What matters most is the next stretch of games. At some point we need to win a game that we shouldn't but there are still opportunities to do that.

For our next trick we can't suffer from a hangover from this game. There is no reason we can't win 4 of our next 5 games and get back to over .500 in conference. Road games at Michigan and Northwestern are road games we have to win. Then home games with Iowa and Illinois are games we need. There is a home Wisconsin game sandwiched in there as a potential game to steal but lets get the win at Michigan first.

January 25, 2008

Minnesota @ Ohio State - Preview

The recent home games against Indiana and Michigan State were big games last week. The Barn filled up and was electric for the first time in a long time. Those games had the potential to be big. But these were almost win-win games for Minnesota (or at least win-neutral). Losing those games but being competitive didn't hurt us. Had we pulled out an upset it obviously would have been huge, but losing doesn't hurt.

Tomorrow's game in Columbus is truly a big game. Win this and you are widely considered a top 5 team in the conference fighting for what will likely be the last Big Ten invitation to the Tourney. Lose this and you are widely considered on a tier below the top 5 teams and you are fighting with Illinois and Iowa for 6th and NIT home games.

Ohio State has been an interesting team this year. A year ago they had an outstanding freshman class that lead them to runner up in the SEC NCAA Tournament. Everyone knows that much of that team left for the NBA and that Thad Motta replaced that class with another top 5 freshman class. Where it gets interesting is that this freshman class is very good but it isn't exactly Oden and Conley so the Buckeyes are fighting to stay on the Tourney Bubble. Doug Lesmerisis of the Cleveland Plain Dealer had an interesting column on this earlier in the week.

Ohio State is very talented and this will be a tough road test for the Gophers, but they are not unbeatable.

Match Ups - on paper this is full of bad matchups for the Gophers. At every position the Buckeyes have more athletic and talented players.

PG - Westbrook vs. Jamar Butler - senior PG who is posting career highs in points, assists and rebounds. Butler is also shooting 42% from behind the arc. This is not an ideal match up for the gophers. If Nolen is healthy he has the ability to slow Butler down this advantage goes to Ohio State.

SG - McKenzie vs. David Lighty - one of the unsung freshmen from last season has doubled his minutes this season and is giving the Buckeyes early 10 ppg and 4.2 rpg. Lighty might not carry the scoring load but he is a very good defender and should keep McKenzie to his scoring average or less.

SF - Johnson vs. Evan Turner - based on Tubby's recent switcher-rooing this starter based on match ups, I'm guessing he'll go with Johnson to match the freshman's size and athleticism. Turner is one of two starting freshmen, he is a solid defender and capable scorer. Just last week Turner put forth his career game against Tennessee with 21 points and 10 rebounds.

PF - Coleman vs. Othello Hunter - Hunter is big, strong and athletic. Not a great match up for Coleman, but I'd argue that DC is a better basketball player. He (Coleman) has been very inconsistent this season and he could give an 18 pnt game just as easily as a he could contribute 5 pnts. As usual the team's chances are heavily reliant on Coleman's output.

C - Tollackson vs. Kosta Koufos - Koufos is going to be a lottery pick (this year or next), but he has struggled in conference play especially against teams with solid big men (Illinois' Pruitt, Mich St's interior and UNC's Hansboro for example). Personally I believe that Tollackson will be able to keep Koufos from taking over the game but I also will be shocked if Tollackson gets more than 10 or 12 point himself (especially if they put him on the line).

BENCH - both teams rely on some talented freshmen off their bench. Minnesota's have exceeded expectations while Ohio State's haven't quite lived up to expectations. Jon Diebler is the best example of this. Diebler is the state of Ohio's all time leading scorer and a tremendous shooter. But he has shot only 27% from three and hasn't hit double digits in conference play. He is capable of exploding and that makes me nervous but hopefully The Hoff is the best shooting freshman on the floor tomorrow.


1. Turnovers that lead to points - OSU is at or near the top of the league in FG% defense. Minnesota needs to shoot well to win but that may only come from creating turnovers and scoring in transition. Fortunately the Buckeyes don't take great care of the ball and we turn teams over better than anybody (especially if Nolen plays).

2. Control the boards - neither team is a great rebounding team. OSU has outrebounded only 2 Big Ten teams (Iowa and NW) while Minnesota has controlled the glass only once (NW) in their five games. Who will control the boards tomorrow? That might be a coin flip. If Minnesota can box out and get a few extra possessions on offensive boards that will go a long way towards stealing a road win.

3. Free Throws - we need to get to the line and actually make them. OSU is #1 in the nation in keeping opponents off of the line. We need to draw some fouls and make the throws that they call free.


Based on the individual talent on the floor this one should get ugly. But the Buckeyes have been inconsistent (individually and as a team) and the Gophers have played better as a team. They play very good team defense while Minnesota relies on pressure to cause turnovers. But when the pressure is broken I'm afraid Ohio State will find scoring rather easy.

I really do like our chances but my gut tells me Ohio State has a hot shooting 2nd half after a sloppy 1st and win going away.

Minnesota - 61
Ohio State - 70

January 23, 2008

Big Ten Power Poll - Week 3

Nothing too earth shattering about this week's poll. Indiana remained undefeated and #1 on our list but 1 blogger did drop them as they went from 12 first place votes to 11. While Michigan State picked up 2 first place votes. Should get interesting when these top 3 teams finally play each other.

Post of the Week: sticking with the theme of using a theme for your power poll rankings, Hoosier Fun Ball compared each Big Ten team to a CW show. I know you are all wondering so I'll save you the time...Penn State = Gilmore Girls.

Avg Pts Tot Pnts
1. Indiana (11)
10.59 180
2. Wisconsin (4)
9.29 158
3. Mich State (2)
8.76 149
4. Purdue 7.88 134
5. Ohio State 7.00 119
6. Minnesota 6.18 105
7. Penn State
3.94 67
8. Iowa
3.88 66
9'. Illinois 3.59 61
10. Michigan (-2)
1.76 30
11. Northwestern (-15)
1.12 19

Big Ten Chronicle - Big 10
Hoopraker - Big 10
Hoosier Report - Ind
Hoosier Fun Ball - Ind
Black Heart Gold Pants - Iowa
Maize n Brew - Mich
MSU Sparty - Mich St
Enlightened Spartan - Mich St
Gopher Nation - Minn
Down With Goldy - Minn
Paging Jim Shikenjanski - Minn
Lake the Posts - NW
Around the Oval - Ohio St
Eleven Warriors - Ohio St
Buckeye Battle Cry - Ohio St
Black Shoes Diary - Penn St
Nittany White Out - Penn St
Off the Tracks - Pur

January 22, 2008

GN Power Poll - week 3

I'll make this quick so I can get the official BTBBBPP out.

1. Wisconsin - still haven't played anybody in conference, but they are the team from a Gopher fans perspective that we have the least chance to defeat.

2. Michigan State - IU is undefeated but after seeing them both last week MSU impresses me more. The Iowa loss is unexplainable but it's my poll and I'll do what I want.

3. Indiana - 5-0 shouldn't be #3 (I know) but they don't seem all that powerful to be any higher on the power poll.

4. Purdue - is a lock for 4th place, really hard to put them any higher and even harder to drop them below OSU (who they beat).

5. Ohio State - back to back road losses (then a drubbing by Tennessee) but they crushed Iowa and I can't put MN ahead of them for back to back home losses.

6. Iowa - beating MSU was upset of the year and they are all of a sudden playing everybody tough.

7. Minnesota - back to back home losses, need to right the ship quickly.

8. Illinois - a decent week and they are in the W column

9. Michigan - 1-5 and likely going to get worse this week

10. Penn State - looking forward to Northwestern, they aren't the same without Claxton.

11. Northwestern - no comment necessary.

January 21, 2008

Breaking Down the Box - Michigan State

Minnesota - 73
Michigan State - 78

In my call to steal one of three straight tough games, we are left with the road trip to Ohio State to accomplish this task.

The Gophers (read, Tubby Smith) have revitalized the Barn and re-energized a dormant fan base by playing competitive basketball against a couple of the best teams in the country. The team is playing significantly better than they were a year ago, but the fact remains that the talent isn't there to knock off the best of the Big Ten. Defensive pressure is great, shot selection is vastly improved and a couple freshman guards are infusing some life into the team. The team is talented enough and controlling effort enough to compete with anybody, but a top 25 team we are not.

What has become painfully clear over the last week is how poorly coached the current upper class men have been over their career. On key possessions, late in tight games, playing against a quality opponent they are just unable to make good decisions or execute when they have to. The current roster are freshmen and upper class men who are lacking in basketball awareness. Jim Souhan's column in today's Star Tribune says it best...

"If this team were a car, though, the seniors would have been the passenger seats, not the steering wheel or the engine."
They just don't have the ability to exert their will in an appropriate manner on the floor. Dan Coleman is incredibly talented but when he needs to make a big basket he takes 14 ft fade away jump shots. Lawrence McKenzie can create shots for himself and his teammates but when the opponent goes on a little run he tries to stop it with an attempt from 24 ft. And Tollackson may be the smartest of the three, but he is the least talented. Unfortunately the things he can control (boxing out and free throws) seem to be beyond his grasp when needed most. Soph, Lawrence Westbrook, when called upon to take more minutes because of Nolen's injury he records a season high in turnovers.

The point is, these guys haven't been taught how to win and this will be most evident against quality teams. They are playing much better than most people anticipated, but lets not kid ourselves into thinking they are anything more than a bubble team.

Which brings me to another point. Let's not get too carried away with losing 2 games to two teams who will be high seeds in the NCAA's. After the Duel in the Desert everyone was down on this NIT (at best) team. Then a 2-1 conference start and a close loss at MSU had everyone talking about being squarely on The Bubble. Now, we are out of the conversation again. I've said it all year and I'll stick with it, we are going to be a bubble team. Losing to IU and MSU at home may have boosted our resume, it won't keep us out.

Game Ball - Drew Neitzel

19 pts
5 three pointers in the 2nd half

The stats don't do justice what Neitzel's did the the Gophers on Sunday. Big shot after big shot kept Minnesota at arms length and they were never able to close the gap in the 2nd half.

Tempo Free Zone

The Gophers have been very good defensively this year, but this game was lost on the defensive end. Giving up 1.127 points per possession and allowing Michigan State to shoot 57.1 eFG% (49% actual FG%), doomed us. Rebounding was bad, but that has been typical and it was actually better than the trip to East Lansing. But we didn't force enough turnovers and we allowed them to shoot too high of a percentage.

Up Next

This was an opportunity lost, but it isn't exactly a burden too great to bear.

The games that matter most are vs. the Ohio States, Purdues, Iowas (?) and Illinois' of the league. There is plenty of time left in the season and this team is still capable of winning 9 conference games. There is just very little room for error.

The team has the week to prepare for Ohio State on Saturday and that will be a big game. Here is what I see with the remaining schedule...

LOSSES (3) - Wisconsin, @Wisconsin, @Indiana

WINS (5) - @Northwestern, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Penn State

KEY GAMES (5) - @Ohio State, @Michigan, @Purdue, Ohio State, @Illinois

Those 5 toss ups are the key to the season. Win 3 of those and that gives you 10 Big Ten wins, which is probably enough to get into the Tourney with 22 wins. Win only 1 or 2 and it is the NIT for Tubby.

I enjoy looking ahead, but they have to play better if they want to win some of those key road games. The Gophers are playing at a level we haven't seen in several years but if they are disinterested or suffer any lingering affects from this little 0-2 homestand then the season will end sooner than we'd all like.

January 20, 2008

Michigan State @ Minnesota - (mini) Preview

These two teams played just a couple weeks ago. The match ups really aren't much different, you can find my thoughts from the first time around HERE.

Michigan State Minnesota
Record 15-2 12-4
RPI 8 63
KenPom 19 32
SOS 20 144

The two key matchups will be...

Whoever guards Raymar Morgan - 31 pt, 10 reb, and 2 asts just can't happen again. Hopefully Tubby will start Johnson on Morgan, but obviously there will be different people guarding him at different times. Keep him off the glass and keep him from carrying the Spartans again.

Whoever guards Dan Coleman - Coleman was the antithesis of Morgan, having a very below average game in East Lansing. I think if the Gophers want to pull of this upset then DC has to contribute significantly more than 6 points and 2 rebounds.

Keys to the Game

1. Stop Morgan AND Neitzel- I'm afraid that the Gophers will be so concerned with Morgan that they will forget about Neitzel. Final points for either of them isn't as important as letting them take over the game down the stretch. Both are capable of dominating, we can't let that happen.

2. Freshman Guards - Nolen/Hoffarber need to be a greater influence on this game than Kalin Lucas. Last game Lucas had 17 pts, 3 asts, 1 turnover. He needs to have several more TOs and under 13 points. On our side Nolen and Hoffarber need to do what they've been doing lately. Nolen needs to continue to be a mature PG who creates turnovers and the Hoff needs to give us a scoring boost off the bench.

3. REBOUND - last time around we were -17 in rebounding, including 6 offensive boards for Morgan. There is just no doubt that if we are outrebounded like that we won't have a chance to win. If we actually find a way to outrebound the Spartans I predict that we will win. Realistically we just need to keep it within 6 or 7 and we'll be in it till the end with a chance to win.


Like I said if we out-rebound them I think we win. I am supremely confident that this will be within a possession in the last couple minutes. I think we have learned from recent close losses and I'm going out on a limb to predict a win. This is more of me being hopeful than analyzing the game and seeing a win for the Gophers. There are things we will have to do and do well to win, but I'm going with my gut this time...

Minnesota - 71
Michigan State - 67

January 18, 2008

Breaking Down the Box - Indiana

The title of this post should really be something like "Emptying the Kleenex Box" or "Throwing the Box at the TV when we missed another %#C$ING Free Throw" Something like that.

PJS's title is also very apt...Pulling Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

Indiana - 65
Minnesota - 60

This game lived up to the hype and ended about the way it was expected. Ken Pom gave MN a 49% chance of winning, the Vegas line was IU by 1, so all in all things played about about right. It could have gone either way but in the end the better team pulled it out. Tollackson had the perfect quote to sum up this game...

"I'm crushed right now, heartbroken," Tollackson said. "I really thought we were going to win. I thought they played better than us, but I thought we wanted it more."
The Hoosiers are certainly more talented (thank you capt obvious), the Barn held true, the Gopher defense did their thing but when it mattered most talent won out.

The Good? - I love knowing that this Gopher team can compete with anybody. I absolutely love their determination and heart. And I love they way they play defense, Hoosier fans can claim it was just a sloppy or bad game by their players but the Gophers have forced teams into turnovers like that all year. Michigan State has a couple "true" point guards, 19 turnovers on their home court for example.

The Bad? - Free throw and three point shooting. Spencer going 0/7 from the line (including at least two 1-and/or-1s) was bad and the easy target for blame. But just as bad was the Big Ten's leading three point shooting team was 3/17! Including McKenzie going 0/5 most of them being wide open looks, like the potential tying basket with 0:14 remaining. Blame for this one extends beyond Tollackson at the line.

The Ugly? - Indiana's passing/ball control for one, but the L is the ugliest. Playing good teams close is acceptable for now, but how long? I am as optimistic as they come but I fully expect another close loss when Michigan State comes to town. Last season is fresh enough in our minds that being competitive is not just acceptable but it is applauded. This team is gritty, gutty and gosh darn fun to watch (needed something that started with a 'g'); but the loss still sucks.

Game Ball - Lawrence Westbrook
5 pts
3 ast
3 reb

Not the highest scorer or best player on the floor but he was more of a factor than at any point in his Gopher career. Westbrook played great D, got some key rebounds and played well on the offensive end. His shooting was not very good (1/7) but most were good shots that should usually go down for the former high scorer.

Others had better numbers but Tollackson couldn't make free throws, McKenzie couldn't hit a three and Coleman was solid but unspectacular.

Tempo-Free Zone

After creating 26 turnovers last night your Golden Gophers now lead the nation in defensive turnover %. We create a turnover on 27.9% of our opponents' possessions. Last night we turned the Hoosiers over on 37.9% of their possessions.

Unfortunately our problem wasn't on defense last night. We held IU to under 1 point per possession last night (they averaged around 1.14, last night were 0.947) and turned them over a lot. But we gave up too many offensive rebounds (40.7%) and had trouble scoring-especially when it mattered most.

Offensively, 42.2 eFG% and .870 points per possession were our lowest since Florida State.

Up Next

BREAKING NEWS: Raymar Morgan has just scored (again)!

No time to sulk about this one, we have Michigan State coming to town on Sunday. Another chance to upset a quality team at home. The Spartans should be fresh in our memories.

The Spartans have been hot and cold. I fully expect they'll take better care of the ball this time around so the Gophers may need a new formula to win this one. I predict more scoring and better execution down the stretch.

This team of "experienced seniors" has no experience closing out games and this has bit them @Michigan State and last night. They were able to pull it off at Penn State so hopefully the 3 recent tight games have helped them to learn on the fly. We executed very poorly in the last several minutes in East Lansing and we had 1 critical possession late vs. Indiana where we were unable to get a shot off (Nolen's shot clock chuck). This can't happen anymore and hopefully they have rehearsed this enough to better execute and pull out a close W on Sunday.

January 17, 2008

Hoops Blog Poll - Week 10

So Gabby at March to Madness has put together a college basketball blog poll. This is very similar to Brian's at MGO, but not as comprehensive. Anyway I was asked begged to be a part of it and I now am. Below is the consensus poll for Week 10.

HERE is the link to see how each individual blog voted.

1) Memphis (8)
2) North Carolina (6)
3) Kansas (2)
5) Tennessee
6) Duke
7) Washington St.
8) Indiana
9) Texas A&M
10) Michigan St.
11) Butler
12) Marquette
13) Georgetown
14) Dayton
15) Ole Miss
16) Wisconsin
17) Pittsburgh
18) Xavier
19) Vanderbilt
20) Texas
21) Rhode Island
22) Arizona State
23) Drake
24) Miami (FL)
25) Clemson

OVERRATED - Miami (FL), obviously they lost to BC last night and I bet they'll lose 2 of their next 3 to fall from the ranks of the ranked.

UNDERRATED - I still am shocked that Wisconsin isn't getting much credit for their fine season. They lost big at Duke and lost a close one to Marquette, but in my humble opinion they are the most complete team in the Big Ten. They lack a superstar, which I think hurts their national reputation, but I still think they'll be Big Ten regular season champs. Personally I hate the Badgers but they aren't getting the love they deserve this season.

A win tonight for the Gophers and I'll be sure they at least get a vote next week :).

Bring on the Hoosiers and Fear the Barn!

If you read this blog on a regular basis you know that I am often cautiously optimistic. I just couldn't rationally pick the Gophers to win. I am very hopeful and excited, I think we have a legit shot to pull off the upset, but it would be just that. An upset. IU is very good, but as I said (in my poorly written preview) they are not unbeatable.

* IU Blog, Inside the Hall, tries to convince us why an upset is NOT in the making. He says...

Nothing against Minnesota, I think they’re a nice story and a possible NCAA team if they finish fifth or better in the conference, but nothing about their resume screams: “We’re ready to knock off a top 10 opponent.”
I know that Indiana is currently ranked in the top 10, but he throws that out there like we are playing Duke or Kansas. There are a handful of legitimately great teams out there. Indiana is very good, but not great and certainly beatable in the Barn. AP and USA Today polls will tell you that IU is a top 10 team. But more scientific measures of team strength (RPI, KenPom) will tell you that the Hoosiers are not exactly a lock down top 10 team. Of course if we win, I'll point to us beating a "top 10 team" but we'll save that for tomorrow :).
"If you thought IU’s non-conference schedule was weak, Minnesota’s was flat out terrible."
This the pot calling the kettle black here. I'm not defending Minnesota's schedule but by most standards their SOS was slightly higher than IU's.

MN RPI SOS - 182
IU RPI SOS - 195

Other sources have IU's SOS slightly higher than Minnesota's, but the point here is that the difference is minimal and advantage in rankings depends on your formula.
Maybe I’m missing something here, but I like IU’s chances despite their 2-8 record in their last 10 games at Williams Arena. This stat is thrown around a lot, but do you think it means anything to Gordon, Jamarcus Ellis and Jordan Crawford? Wait, I can answer that for you: It means nothing.
In fact it may not mean much to the players mentioned above, but that doesn't mean it won't have an affect on them. The Barn is a very unique place to play and it is a really tough road venue when the place is packed. The Hoosiers' lack of "Barn Experience" may very well play into tonight's game. There is a reason that in the last 10 Barn trips, when the gophers have been very average (read not very good) they have beaten the Hoosiers in 8/10 trips. If the Gophers win it will not be on the Barn alone (playing good D and making some shots might have something to do with it), but it can only help them at this point.

Terry Hutchins covers the Hoosiers for the Indianapolis Star. In today's blog entry he listed the 10 toughest places for the Hoosiers to play over the last 10 years. In the top 4 were the obvious tough road venues like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Illinois (those teams have been kinda decent in the last 10 years). But #2 on his list? Minnesota, where Indiana has gone 2-8 in their last 10 trips to The Barn.

History has shown that they struggle in the Barn, but I don't see them overlooking this year's Gopher squad. They know that Tubby has them playing well and they know that they tend to struggle here. I am fearful that this will fire them up to come out and play great from the start.

In our favor, IU's two best players have played a combined 1 game in the Barn. DJ White is a senior but his only game in Minneapolis was a 65-70 loss in his freshman season. Obviously Eric Gordon has never played here, since he is a freshman. So there really is very little Barn experience on this Hoosier club, any player that is a junior or younger has made exactly 0 trips the Barn thanks to the Big Ten scheduling. This clearly will help the Gophers. A venue that is already a difficult place to play, should hold to form when the opponent hasn't spent a couple years adjusting.

SR - AJ Ratliff - 2 trips to the Barn (Fr and So years)
SR - DJ White - 1 trip (see below)
SR - Lance Stemler - 1 trip to Barn

Rest of Team - 0 trips to the Barn


This is also interesting that the key players in today's game have very little experience with each other.

DJ White over his four year career has played against the Gophers only 3 times. And only once since his freshman season. He has had decent success averaging 16.3 and 5.3 in three games.

Spencer Tollackson in his four year career has played the Hoosiers 4 times but before last season's game he averaged just 11 min per game against Indiana. Spencer's career totals against IU? 14 points, 11 rebounds and 12 fouls in 4 games played.

Lawrence McKenzie is a senior but has actually played IU only once as a Gopher. Last season's road loss he scored 20 points and made 3 from behind the arc.

Dan Coleman actually has the most experience with 4 games (3 of which he played significant min). DC has averaged 14.3 points and 4 rebounds, including a 20 point game last year @Bloomington.

What does all this mean? I think it means that even if the Hoosiers "think" they are ready for the Barn, they may not really be. And based only on last year's game with IU there is potential for Coleman and McKenzie (or another scoring guard) to have a big game.

I think this game is actually bigger for the Hoosiers than it is for the Gophers. A win for Minnesota would be huge, but a lose (unless it is a blowout) won't hurt them much. Indiana is supposed to win this one, they know that they struggle at the Barn traditionally but it isn't a secret and they need to prove they can overcome if they want to be considered a contender (or a tip seed). A loss for them does more damage than a loss for Minnesota.

I know it is really cold outside, but it is time for Gopher fans to TURN UP THE HEAT!

January 16, 2008

Indiana @ Minnesota - Preview

Remember the Gopher Nation mantra for the next 10 days..."STEAL JUST ONE." In my opinion this is the one to get because it is a decent match up for us and it would clearly have the biggest impact. Beating Michigan State at home would be big and beating OSU on the road would serve notice that we are the 4th place team to beat, but this is the one we want. (plus if we win this we have a chance to steal one more, but now I'm getting greedy)

OK, I believe this game is winable and a decent match up for us. Am I crazy? Maybe, but let me take you through why I think we can win this game.

We have two strengths on offense.

1. Power Forward - Dan Coleman is our best offensive player and Mike White appears to be a match up he can win. At home and against a shorter defender, if DC can get by with his quick first step this can be something we can exploit.

2. We shoot three's kinda good - #1 in the conference in 3 pnt FG% and 2nd in three made per game. Indiana also shoots fairly well behind the arc (2nd in 3%) but they don't have as many attempts. Statistically Indiana is average at defending the 3 (7th in B10) so this may be another area that we can excel.

Our Defensive Strengths

1. We turn teams over (and over and over) - This has been the key to several wins. Our defense creates turnovers (thank you Coach Smith) and we turn them into points. Al Nolen is one of the best on the ball defenders in the conference and he does great in passing lanes as well. Gordon and Jarmacus Ellis have had their fair share of turnovers this year. Hopefully we can turn up the heat on them a little bit and get some easy baskets.

2. Shot Blocking - DJ White is arguably the best post scorer in the B10, I'm not sure that we will get to many of his shots, but the hope here is that when their perimeter players get into the lane we can alter shots and get the rebound.

Of course IU has their strengths as well. The rebound well and we do not, but we'll let their fans blog about that.

Match Ups

PG - McKenzie vs. Air Gordon - Gordon has exploded into the Big Ten and surpassed his already high expectations. He leads the conference in scoring by a lot and ranks 5th nationally in Ken Pomeroy's Offensive Rating. McKenzie hasn't been the scorer he was a year ago but he is much more mature and leads the team in many ways. The real match up will be Nolen guarding Gordon. Nolen is 6th in the country in steal% and Gordon turns the ball over on nearly 21% of his possessions.

SG - Westbrook vs. Jordan Crawford - Jordan is IU's 3rd leading scorer. He doesn't shoot particularly well from behind the arc (2/9 in Big Ten play), but the freshman has been a regular contributor averaging almost 13 pts, 4 reb and 3.5 asts per game. Westbrook has been a non-factor for what seems like the entire season. He starts games but never finishes them, I look forward to the day when Nolen takes his place in the starting lineup.

SF - Johnson vs. Jamarcus Ellis - the junior doesn't score much but what Johnson will need to do is keep Ellis off his rebounding average. And this is the guy we really want to be in pressure situations cause he will turn the ball over. This is a match up Johnson can win but he'll need to box out and use his long arms to affect Ellis. Although I want Damian to do well, my head tells me last year's JUCO Player of the Year will win this.

PF - Coleman vs. Mike White - I said it above and I'll say it again this is one we not only can win, but we HAVE to win. If we are going to pull off this upset Coleman needs to have a big game. He needs to score, he needs to rebound and he needs to draw some fouls. He has a couple inches on White and DC's best move is his one big, quick step into the lane and elevating above his defender. He should be able to do this and hopefully DJ White will come over to help foul. Lance Stemler will also give a lot of minutes guarding Coleman, but he should be able to score on the blue collar Stemler as well.

C - Tollackson vs. DJ White - DJ is the best post in the league. Fortunately for Spencer, DJ isn't all that tall and he isn't incredibly athletic (he moves well for his size, but he isn't that 6'10" skinny athlete that kills Tollackson). White is an NBA prospect and he will likely approach his season averages, but Tollackson should be able to play solid D on White. He needs to keep White from offensive rebounds and do his best to get him in foul trouble.

BENCH - The Hoosiers will bring 4 quality players off the bench. Deondre Thomas is a massive power forward, Bassett is a very good PG, Stemler is a hard working rebounder/defender and AJ Ratliff is a senior guard who can shoot. While this is a nice, versatile bench I'm giving this to Minnesota. Nolen off the bench has been phenominal, Williams should have an opportunity to play well vs. the Hoosiers and oh ya this white kid from Hopkins can kinda shoot (take over a game). Hoffarber alone makes this one in favor of the gophers. There are not many freshmen bench players that now require the opponent to game plan for. While I don't expect a shooting clinic every time he plays he has gotten better and better as the season has gone along.


1. Rebound the basketball - we don't do this well, but we will have to limit their opportunities. These are the two highest scoring teams in the Big Ten so giving them more chances to score will kill us.

2. Help from the Barn - this is when we need the unique raised floor and the small confines to play a role for the Gophers. We need the fans to get loud and affect the Hoosiers. We need the raised floor (along with our pressure D) to knock them off their shooting rhythm.

3. Turnovers - since we have been so good at this, it will always be a key. If IU hangs onto the ball I don't know how we can win.

4. Dan Coleman - If DC has a great game (30 points, 12 reb) that will greatly open up outside shots for the Hoff, McKenzie, Nolen and Abu-Shamala. And if he is getting that many shots there is a good chance he'll have drawn plenty of fouls. If DC has a great game we can really win this game.


There are reasons that I am hopeful for this game. Defensively we have turned teams over and we do a nice job of rushing their jump shots (see NW and NDSU, both good outside shooting teams). But what makes IU so dangerous is that when they aren't shooting well they can pound the ball into DJ White.

If we shoot well, fluster the Hoosiers into turnovers and get their posts into foul trouble we could win this game. IU is not unbeatable and we don't have to play perfect to win, but we don't have a lot of margin for error. I think the crowd and the team will be juice for this game. But we haven't shown that we can go 40 min without a lull. That lull might kill us tomorrow night.

I think we play well and make a game of it. But in the end IU pulls out this road win.


January 15, 2008

Big Ten Power Poll - Week 2

The good news this week is that we are growing. Last week's poll had 13 votes, in one week's time we have added 5 bloggers giving us a more respectable 18 votes. The bad news is that we still have no representation from Wisconsin or Illinois, but on good note we added another gopher blogger (can't have enough of those)!

Post of the Week - This week Off the Tracks compared the B10 schools to Bands of the 90s. I'm not a huge music guy so I think I didn't get much of it but comparing Illinois to Britney Spears actually made me lol and I got looks from my co-workers.

Homer(s) of the Week - tie - Enlightened Spartan and MSU-Sparty. Despite Michigan State struggling in their home wins, then suffering the worst loss of the BigTen season @Iowa they still thought the Spartans were worthy of #2 in the power poll. Since we have only 18 voters, I think homerism should be encouraged but it won't go without recognition.

My Favorite Blogger of the Week - BlackHeartGoldPants, for putting Minnesota 3rd in their poll. Not even I was that bold, but they clearly recognize superiority when they see it.

I Hate my Rival Blogger of the Week - Eleven Warriors wins this hands down for giving Michigan their only last place vote, despite beating Northwestern at Evanston last week. I love it, don't give in to the pressure of actual results!

On to the Power Poll with 16 submitted ballots...

Avg. Pts
Tot Pts
1. Indiana (12)
10.75 172
2. Wisconsin (4)
10.06 161
3. Michigan State 8.75 140
4. Ohio State 7.25 116
5. Purdue 7.13 114
6. Minnesota 7.00 112
7. Penn State 5.00 80
8. Iowa 3.81 61
9. Illinois 3.13 50
10. Michigan (-1)
2.06 33
11. Northwestern (-15)
1.06 17

Michigan State lost their grip on 1st place this week. I guess losing to Iowa will do that. So the top 3 really is no surprise. Indiana moves up to #1, Wisconsin then takes #2 with a smattering of first place votes.

The interesting battle was for 4th place. Ohio State lost to Purdue but managed to hold on to 4th. Minnesota went 2-0 but actually dropped a spot to 6th (but gained votes on OSU). Purdue made the leap to 5th but was unable to overtake tOSU despite beating them. As I was entering the votes those 3 teams took turns in the coveted 4th position, but Ohio State managed to hang on for this week.

Big Ten Chronicle - Big 10
Hoopraker - Big 10
Hoosier Report - Ind
Hoosier Fun Ball - Ind
Black Heart Gold Pants - Iowa
Maize n Brew - Mich
MSU Sparty - Mich St
Enlightened Spartan - Mich St
Gopher Nation - Minn
Down With Goldy - Minn
Paging Jim Shikenjanski - Minn
Lake the Posts - NW
Around the Oval - Ohio St
Eleven Warriors - Ohio St
Buckeye Battle Cry - Ohio St
Black Shoes Diary - Penn St
Nittany White Out - Penn St
Off the Tracks - Pur

January 14, 2008

GN B10 Power Poll - week 2

So it is beginning to look like the beginning of every week is going to be chalk full of polls. My own B10 Power rankings, the Big Ten compiled power rankings, the GN top 25 and then the College Basketball Blogpoll top 25 compiled by March to Madness.

So I might as well get my B10 power rankings out of the way, many others are having fun with the B10 Power Poll giving it special themes. Too much work for me, maybe another week...

Gopher Nation's Big Ten Power Poll

1. Wisconsin (3-0) - The Badgers have yet to receive the credit they deserve. Everyone loves Michigan State and Indiana but nobody recognizes that the Badgers just might be the most complete team.

2. Indiana (3-0) - You want the hot and sexy pick? Here it is. Indiana is the tall blonde with big...well this is a family friendly blog but you know what I mean. Everybody loves the Eric Gordan show and Indiana basketball is hot. In conference they have two road wins (Iowa and Mich) then struggled to defend their home floor over Illinois. Fortunately for the Hoosiers their schedule remains relatively easy with only a trip to Minneapolis to test them before they head to Madison on Jan. 31st.

3. Purdue (2-1) - I realize that this pick might be a stretch, but I'll go with the Boilermakers for this week. Purdue took on Ohio State on Saturday in a match up of two very good freshman classes. The win over Ohio State was very good for Purdue and I'll give them the high ranking for a week.

4. Michigan State (2-1) - the loss to Iowa was bad. I know that it is tough to win on the road in the B10 and I know Iowa gave Indiana a run too, but if you want to be a Final Four team or even a B10 Conference champ then this loss is inexcusable. I was tempted to drop them lower but I don't have any delusions that Minnesota is better than Michigan State at this point.

5. Minnesota (2-1) - I can't be more pleased with their win at Penn State. Getting the win was one thing but battling back when down 16 with 13:00 to go says a lot about this team. A year ago they won 1 road game all season. Being down 16 to a good team on the road would have ended in a 25 point loss a year ago, but this team has learned some lessons and is applying them. I'm excited but tempered yet.

6. Ohio State (3-1) - Even though their record is better than Minn, MSU and Pur I don't believe in the Buckeye's yet. They are young and will be better by the end of February, but they haven't beat anybody yet. This week they go to Michigan State and then Tennessee, should be a rough week in Columbus.

7. Penn State (2-1) - probably 1 player away from taking a step up in the conference. They don't have time to feel sorry for themselves after they gave away a win to Minnesota. Wisconsin then at Indiana this week should tell us a lot about the Nittany Lions.

8. Iowa (1-3) - a huge win at home for the Hawkeyes. So far everyone who goes to Carver Hawkeye Arena has struggled (except Eastern Illinois and Drake), maybe I should be thankful that Minnesota doesn't have to travel to Iowa City this year. Anyway, a nice win but at best they are the best of the worst.

9. Illinois (0-4) - I don't like to brag, but I originally predicted an 8th place finish for the Illini (7-11 in conference). Things are not looking good for the men in orange. Most of their losses have come to good teams and they have some winable games coming up. They should go 2-2 over their next 4, but that leaves them at 2-6 with 10 games to go. They played Indiana tough, but a loss is a loss and 0-4 is 0-4.

10. Michigan (1-3) - a win, wooo-hooo. It was @Northwestern in a battle for the Big Ten lottery.

11. Northwestern (0-4) - Michigan at home might have been their best shot at a win, could we see an 0-18 season?

January 12, 2008

Breaking Down the Box - Penn State

Minnesota - 76
Penn State - 73

Well Gopher Nation, you are welcome. I was wearing a T-shirt during the 1st half, I then went to shower and came back for the 2nd half in a different t-shirt. The 2nd shirt obviously was NOT the right one, so once we got down by 16 I promptly switched back and you know the rest. You are welcome.

There are a ton of things to be excited about watching this game. The way they remained composed down 16 on the road is the most impressive to this blogger. Tollackson's efficiency and dominance in the paint, Nolen's saviness on defense and of course Hoffarber's incredibly hot shooting.

Through most of the first half the Gophers were following GopherNation's game plan exactly as it was laid out for them. Claxton was scoring at will and dominating while the rest of his team was rather silent. Then all hell broke loose as Morrissey and Battle both started scoring with very little resistance by the gopher defense. Those two combined for 35 points (32 in the last 30 min of the game) and nearly beat us with their hot shooting.

Minnesota scored early in the 2nd half but then let PSU go on a 17-2 run and take a 16 point lead. In that run we had 3 missed three's and 2 turnovers while it covered 5:20 off the clock. That's when the freshmen guards took over. Here is what I calculate their stats in the last 13:00 of the game...

Hoffarber - 14 pts on 4/6 from behind the arc
Nolen - 4 assists, 1 reb and 1 steal leading to free throws that iced the game.

Those two were a nice tandem down the stretch and keyed this win when McKenzie sat with fouls and Coleman wasn't much of a factor.

Overall, this was a fun game to watch. Penn State has some athletes. I'm sure they'd love to have a couple big guys like Tollackson or Coleman to go with their bulky and athletic forwards. And I know we could use a big strong kid to attack the glass like Cornley or of course Claxton.

Game Ball - Tollackson

19 pts, 5 reb, 2 ast

I know this should probably go to Hoffarber, but I would argue that Tollackson was the reason the outside shots opened up like they did. Remember that early we were 1/7 from behind the arc and our only scoring option was the steady Tollackson. His 11 2nd half points were just as important as Hoffarber's 14.

Tempo Free Zone

Obvious to anyone who watched, but Penn State killed us on the offensive glass. On the season they have only been rebounding 19% of their own misses. This afternoon they got the ball back on 38.2% of their misses. That nearly killed us, if you watch their last two possessions they had an extra opportunity to score with offensive rebounds.

The stat for the Gophers is that we turned them over on nearly 25% of their possessions. So a quarter of the time we stole the ball or they gave us the ball without a shot. We have been great at this all season and tonight was no different.

Up Next

The tough schedule continues with three very tough games in the next 10 days. We get arguably the two best teams in the conference coming here (Indiana, Michigan State) then we travel to Ohio State. Chances are pretty good that we lose those and move on with a 2-4 record. That doesn't sound great but the rest of the schedule is full of winable games and we should be able to get back to .500 rather quick with Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa and Illinois 4 of the next 5 games.

But if we can steal just one of the next three this team will start to look like an upper level team in the Big Ten and one who wants to play into March. That is my battle cry over the next 10 days...