It didn’t strike me how odd the NABC classic truly was until Dick Jankowski, the Gophers’ public address announcer mentioned that fans should stay in their seats for the trophy presentation and the announcement of the all tournament team.
First of all, rewarding a trophy in round-robin “tournament” can be more than a little complicated. If the Gopher’s had lost to Georgia State, there would have been three teams finishing the tournament with identical records, and only the BCS computers or King Solomon would have been able determine who got the trophy.
After vacating most of the 1990’s, the Gophers have plenty of room for trophies, but a round-robin “tournament” featuring two mid-majors and a D-II team doesn’t need a trophy. It doesn’t need a microscopic participant trophy, similar to third place trophy my baseball team won when I was 11, still the only hardware I’ve ever accumulated. It certainly doesn’t need a poorly constructed, obviously cheap former bowling trophy. But what absurd non-tournament wouldn’t have a grotesquely flamboyant trophy for the team pre-destined to win the thing. So I was unpleasantly surprised when this thing was trotted out.
And if there is a championship trophy, the all tournament team needs a trophy and so does the MVP. The former was crystal, the latter was a brass basketball bigger than Lawrence Westbrook’s head, Westbrook being the MVP.
The fans who stuck through all three games, all three of which started well after their scheduled times, were just as enthused. The first game of the non-tournament went to overtime, which led to one of the better student section moments in years as they booed mercilessly and chanted a phrase that would rhyme with casseroles if it wasn’t for that darn middle syllable.
The pep band was also gone for the tournament, so instead of the typical pre-game songs that tend to get people in the mood for college basketball, we were serenaded with “Jock Jams Volume I” and a piped in version of the rouser, including stentorian chanting from what I am guessing is the marching band circa 1975. Nothing like prerecorded chanting! The crowd took the hint from the NBA-like atmosphere, and promptly sat on its hands for three days. Realizing that someone, somewhere must have an I-pod with better music, on Saturday and Sunday Michael Jackson and Prince (Prince!!) were added to the rotation. Sadly, “Sweet Child of Mine” did too, and it is still playing in my head. Not even the alumni band, who were no-doubt hastily called into service on Saturday, could get the crowd to stand for the rouser. With such overwhelming excitement, the crowd had no reason to stick around past half-time any of the three nights. Those who did had the distinct pleasure of sitting through 10 minutes of clock problems during the then-out of reach Georgia State game. Most felt like they were watching “Krapp’s Last Tape“, in which the real star of the play is a tape-recorder. I felt like “Mersault” after he had given up on life, trapped in a nightmare that was all too real.
There was some basketball played too, and the three meaningless games against sub-par competition will be beneficial in the long run.
In Minnesota’s win over Concordia-St. Paul, the Gophers dominated the boards and played excellent half-court defense. Concordia shot less than 30% from the floor as the Gophers out-rebounded them by 22. With so many potential offensive rebounds for the Golden Bears, they missed 38 shots, Minnesota gave up only 8 offensive rebounds. On the other side of the court, the Gophers had 19 offensive rebounds on their 39 missed shots. The big concern of the night was lack of offensive efficiency. The Gophers had 16 turnovers, compared to 18 assists. At about the 15 minute mark of the second half, the offense metamorphosized (absured reference three!) into an offense only Dan Monson could love, but by then the game was all but over except Michael Cunningham’s cowardly pugilism.
In game two against Bowling Green, the Gophers rejected the Falcons attempt at an upset. Led by Colton Iverson’s 9 blocks, and a team record total of 17, the Gophers were able to jump out to a 20 point lead before eventually winning 7. Once again, the offense hit a bit of a wall in the second half. This phenomenon is now a trend, and if it continues could grow worrisome. This offensive fall off was created as much as the Gopher defense as anything else. The Gophers had been very successful forcing turnovers and scoring in transition. However, faced with the prospect of manufacturing points, the Gophers wilted. It is unclear of Tubby Smith turned away from the press to conserve energy, or if he was satisfied that the Gophers could score in transition and he needed to see what they looked like in the half court. Regardless, he’ll have plenty to talk about this week in practice. The final glaring statistic in the box score is Bowling Green’s offensive rebound total. They had 17 offensive rebounds, getting second chances on nearly 35% of their missed shots attempt. Obviously not good totals for the Gophers, but the offensive rebounding is not the whole story. The Gophers appeared to make a conscious decision to block shots instead of rebound, and there was plenty of room underneath as Iverson, Paul Carter, and Ralph Sampson III flew after the shooters.
For the third time in three games, the Gophers built up an early lead against Georgia State, and slowly let it slip away until they put the game away. Rebounding was again a concern as they were out-rebounded by 5 against a team that had neither the size or the bulk to have a reasonable chance to gain an advantage on the boards. They hit the second half offensive wall again, shooting only 7-21 for the half. If the bad shooting was not enough, they had as many turnovers as assists. But in the early season, especially with five new faces, winning at all matters more than the point spread.
A super-three-game-combined who did what?
- Paul Carter largely struggled on the offensive end averaging 6 points and shooting only 22% from the floor. The offense will likely come around, but excelled at what can not be taught: pure, unadulterated athleticism. He averaged 4 rebounds, a steal and nearly two blocks.
- Jamal Abu-Shamala is clearly more confident, and even more clearly wishes he was back in highschool. Forced to play inside more than he is used to, he demonstrated decent post up moves, and averaged 8 points and 4 rebounds while shooting 56% from the floor
- Colton Iverson is the real deal. Yankton, as he will occasionally be known from now on, had 9 blocks against Bowling Green and is averaging 5 rebounds per game. His offense, which is raw but workable, is still mostly put backs and extremely close in shots. Though, last year the Gophers had a center with a goofy name that missed those same shots. In the “is he really a freshman” catagory, he is averaging only one turnover and is making great decisions, especially not forcing the ball down court after a defensive rebound.
- Lawrence Westbrook continues to be option #1 for the offense, averaging 16 ppg. He made 7-8 free throws against Bowling Green and followed that up with 5-5 against Georgia State, most in the final minutes of both games. He will need to cut down on his turnovers though, of which he had 7 in three games compared to only 5 assists.
- Al Nolens offensive exhibition explosion has faded against D-I competition, though he is still averaging 9 ppg. However, he won’t need to score if has more three game stretches in which he averages 5 rebounds, 7 assists, and 4 steals per game while averaging only 1.3 turnovers.
- Ralph Sampson did a bit of everything making 18 foot shots from the corner, getting in foul trouble, nailing hook shots, landing on his eye brow, and establishing a low post presense on both ends. He is still raw, but so was Greg Oden.
- Blake Hoffarber’s shot is still on summer vacation, but I’m not worried. I wonder if I should be worried about his 12 rebounds against Concordia, or that he leads the team with 5.7 rebounds per game.
- Devoe Joseph is having tunnel vision problems. He will occasionally make a brilliant no-look pass, but most of the time he can’t see his obviously open team-mates. As a result, he only played 9 minutes in each of the final two games, and may be slowly sliding his way to the Tubby dog house.
- Devron Bostick is slowly but surely getting better, at least on offense. Defensively he still looks a bit lost. He scored 4 ppg over the weekend, but won hearts and minds thanks to what I am guessing is his family, unless he has already made a lot of friends in Minneapolis. His two brothers/nephews/cousins may have their own TV show by the end of next season.
- Travis Busch continues to play well, and get a lot of minutes (is this a good thing?) On Sunday he shot two three pointers, neither of which hit the rim. Only one went in.
- Kevin Payton played 10 minutes against Concordia, and may get an extra look or two in games when the score isn’t close. He had three rebounds and two assists with no turnover and of course no shot attempts.
- Damian Johnson dressed but did not play. He is expected to be back though against Colorado State, and not a moment too soon.