Maybe, at the conclusion of an extraordinary and historic elections, it is appropriate to think of exhibition games as the equivalent to the primaries. They are an opportunity to test a strategy, learn about strengths and weaknesses, and work out the kinks. Last night the Gophers learned they have plenty to learn and more kinks than they probably realized. But they beat Saint Cloud State 88-80, and the season is underway.

As should be expected of a team with so many new faces, the Gophers looked terribly out of sync. Slowly developing offensive sets and more than occasional bad passes were the norm. Turnovers were rampant in the first half, and assists were almost nonexistent. The Gophers turned the ball over 20 times while recording only 16 assists. In comparison, Saint Cloud State turned the ball over 22 times and recorded 17 assists. This should not have happened.

Even though the passing was not there, the shooting for the most part was. The Gophers shot 52% from the floor, including 46% from behind the three point line. Most of their 88 points were scored by penetrating to the basket, taking advantage of their superior athleticism, as the offense stagnated and the shot clock ran down. It certainly was not pretty, but it was uplifting to know that the Gophers, if they need to, can attack the basket and get results.

An offense can take time, but defense should not. Unfortunately for the Gophers, what had been one of their staples appears to be more of liability this year. Time after time the Huskies shredded the Gopher press, often right down the middle. When they were not making easy lay ups or knocking down outside shots they forced the Gophers to foul. Andrew Bernstetter took particular advantage of the Gophers broken press, as he knocked down three three-pointers and scored 15 points, all in the first half. I could point out several caveats explaining why the defense struggled, ranging from Damian Johnson’s injury to Travis Busch and Jonathan Williams playing a combined 34 minutes, but  the players are the floor need to produce, and they did not.

Regardless of the outcome, and more than a bit of ugliness, the game served its purpose. Tubby Smith was able to give everyone a chance to play, and in a few creative lineups. Don’t expect to see four guards and Paul Carter on the floor in a game that matters, but you saw it on Monday night. Everyone played more than 10 minutes, except Jamal Abu-Shamala who played three minutes and Kevin Payton who did not play. While the multiple line-ups most likely helped to prepare the Gophers for the rest of the season, it added to the ugliness and disjointedness of their Saint Cloud State win. Expect a bit more of this until the rotation is solidified.

Who did what

  • Ralph Sampson looked lost in his first game for the Gophers. His energy level was low, and his decision making was not the best. However, word from Marcus Fuller is that he’s been sick, which could explain a lot about his performance. He was much better in the two scrimmages I’ve seen, and an exhibition game should not be seen as a predictor of his freshman season.
  • Paul Carter did not shoot particularly well, but once again showed off his ball handling that is a sight to behold. He also led the team with three offensive rebounds (six total), and scored 6 points on 2-7 shooting.
  • Colton Iverson did what he needs to do all season, namely, to not mess up. He didn’t try to do too much on offense, but took his shots when he had them. He made 3 out of his 4 shots, scored 7 points, and stayed out of foul trouble.
  • Lawrence Westbrook continued his steady play and improved offense from last year. He finished the game with 15 points, added 3 assists, and also had three steals.
  • Al Nolen, for better or worse, appears to have transformed himself in Lawrence McKenzie. He scored a lot (17 points) made plenty shots (7-11) had one of the best rebounding games of his career (7), and forgot that a point gaurd needs to take care of the ball (6 turnovers).
  • Blake Hoffarber, believe it or not, has learned to create his own shot. He consistently attempted to penetrate and got to the basket once in a while. Unfortunately, despite playing against an unathletic team, he was unable to get himself open on the outside.
  • Devoe Joseph is the fastest Gopher in years. He should be able to beat most of the Big Ten down the court. Alas, he is a freshman, and despite 9 points, his 4 turnovers were bad.
  • Jamal Abu-Shamala played for less time than it took to call the west coast for Obama.
  • Jonathan Williams is a slower, more awkward version of Spencer Tollackson. He will be undergoing an MRI on his groin. Don’t tell anyone, but his groin isn’t why he was dreadful. It is his state of being.
  • Devron Bostick looked better than he did during the two scrimmages, but he only played 12 minutes. If I had to give him a grade, it would be incomplete.
  • Travis Busch scored 13 points, and showed once again he would be a decent player in Division II.