What better time to look back at the season that has been than a week without any Gopher basketball. Without a game until Saturday, the Gophers have an opportunity to look back and learn what they need to improve on if they are going to make a legitimate run at the NCAA tournament. I’ll be doing the same in the coming days if all goes as planned (of course if you read this often enough you’ll see that I my timing has been a bit off on previews and reviews of the teams latest games. You can thank Ikea and their inability to cut pieces of bed-frames to the right size. Jerks.)
With classes starting at the U this week, I thought it would be appropriate to grade the players on an A-F scale. However, to give each player an opportunity to score well, I will be basing my grades on my pre-season expectations. Otherwise, Dan Coleman would get a much better grade than he deserves because of skill-level and experience even though he should be playing much better than he has.
And feel free to add your own grades in the comments section.
Dan Coleman: C+ Arguably the Gophers best player, Dan Coleman has solidified his place in Gopher-lore as the most frustrating player in team history, or at least since Michael Bauer. He has the talent, size, and skills to play in the NBA, but an inability or unwillingness to use his many gifts. I wasn’t expecting great things from Coleman this year, but am happy that he is occasionally willing to attack the basket (even if he fades when he gets there) and that he has shelved his three-point shot. If I thought I he would have a break out year, I would have graded him much lower.
Lawrence McKenzie: B I suppose I could give Lawrence McKenzie two grades, one for individual play and the other for team contributions. I can’t believe I am writing this, but the team contribution grade would probably be higher. No other Gopher has sacrificed his own statistics more than McKenzie. He has been asked to be more of a true point guard, run the offense, and distribute the ball, often to detriment of his scoring numbers. While clearly learning a new roll, he hasn’t complained or blatantly disregarded the instructions of the coaching staff. He is still a work in progress (never good for a senior) but he seems willing to learn. That being said, there have been times when McKenzie’s “look at me Lawrence” persona of last year has been missed. Every team needs the overly confident guard willing to take a game over. We saw it last year when it didn’t matter, and against Michigan State in garbage time. Against Indiana it was nowhere to be found. He is the Gopher most likely to be the go-to guy in crunch time, and they will need him to be as the season goes on.
Spencer Tollackson: D With drops in nearly every statistical category, Tollackson has been woefully disappointing. Like the other two Gopher seniors, he has had his best games against bad competition, and been simply bad against every one else. One season of good coaching won’t overcome 3 seasons of bad coaching, but some responsibility must rest on the players’ shoulders. No one tries harder and wants to win more, but effort doesn’t make lay-ups or free throws.
Blake Hoffarber: A Sure he is still a one dimensional player, but after the two exhibition games, I was expecting him to be a no-dimensional player this year. He has the sweetest shot in the conference, and oozes confidence without turning into J.J. Redick. If basketball IQ actually existed, he would score around 150. Now only if he could create his own shot.
Damian Johnson: A No player has benefited more from the hiring of Tubby Smith. His long limbs and fast reaction time make him the perfect player for coach Smith’s defensive system. While he isn’t at his best on offense, he is more than willing to throw his slight body around to grab rebounds and go up for the put-back.
Lawrence Westbrook: B How many 40 ppg scorers in high school are able to morph into a shut down defender in college? Besides his defense, he has also done a decent job of distributing the ball (1.61 A/TO ratio) and is fourth on the team in rebounding despite being listed at 6’0″ (and he is probably shorter than that.)
Al Nolen: A Another victim of Dan Monson related low expectations, Nolen has asserted himself as the most important player on the Gophers. Whether running the offense, guarding the opponents best player, or knocking down jumpers on the rare occasion it is necessary, he is the key to the Gophers season. As we saw against MSU on Sunday, things are ugly when he is unavailable. If you saw this coming, please send me some lottery lucky numbers.
Jamal Abu-Shamala: D Obviously a great kid, but not obviously a D-I player. His numbers have dropped along with his minutes, despite starting most of the season. With the emergence of Hoffarber, he is redundant at best, unless he can get his three point shooting percentage back to last years level. If he did that, the Gophers would be hard to defend with Jamal and Blake on the court at the same time.
Jonathan Williams: D I wasn’t exactly expecting a breakout year for Williams, but I was expecting an noticeable improvement. He is still extremely raw, and more interested in highlight reel blocks than playing solid defense and avoiding fouls. For a team that is desperate for rebounding, Williams has been disappointing.
Kevin Payton: C Was anyone expecting him to be a serviceable point guard?
Travis Busch: C I didn’t have expectations regarding the former Mr. Basketball, and I still don’t. He was hurt during the non-conference season and hasn’t seen the floor much during the conference season. He does bring energy to the game without disastrous results. You can’t ask much more from the last guy off the bench.
Ryan Saunders: Make it work.