Obviously some time has passed since the Gophers won on Tuesday against the Virginia Cavaliers. Just as obvious is the fact that I haven’t yet written anything until now. My apologies. The game ended very late, and I decided to be selfish and sleep before writing anything. I was planning to write last night, but it became painfully obvious that a freezer that was quickly freezing itself out of existence had reached a critical point, and if drastic action was not taken, it wouldn’t be able to freeze, or for that matter fit an ice cube inside of it. With the freezer looking mighty glorious if I don’t say so myself, and the crisis averted, I can finally review the game. And if you were wondering, pots of boiling water work much better than a hair dryer, a screw driver, and a hammer. I’d tell you how those three seemingly disparate items can defrost a freezer, but then you might be tempted to try to replicate my defrosting technique, and that would be problem.
I also have a confession to make. I am about as good at remembering details from big home games as I am at defrosting freezers. I will never be one of those level headed writers that can maintain a distance from what they are covering. The closer the game, and the wilder the crowd, the worse I am. I’d like to think I can remain objective, but if you ask me at the end of a time out who knocked the ball out of bounds to force the time out, I’ll have a good guess but not much else. So if you are looking for extremely detailed blow by blow analysis of Minnesota’s big win, google will help you find something out. Now that the confession, the apology, and the better homes and gardens advice column is out of way, there was a basketball game the other night.
In beating Virginia on Tuesday night, Minnesota secured their biggest home win since 2006. The Cavaliers are not world beaters, but they are the type of team that gave Minnesota fits all of last year. Most of Minnesota loss, especially the blow out came against tall, long, quick athletic teams such as Maryland, Illinois, Florida State and UNLV. If last night is any indication, Minnesota should be able to holds it own against every team on their schedule. They will lose some of course. At least this year though, the outcome won’t be determined solely by size and athleticism.
As has become their trade mark, the Gophers won with a tough and at time frenetic defense and an offense that did just enough on its own, and did wonders with the help of defense to win rather comfortably by a score of 66-56 to improve to their best start since 1976.
Suddenly Minneapolis is a college basketball town again. People watched the game on national TV, saw what they liked, and are having a hard time keeping it to themselves. We learned a lot Tuesday night. It was the Gophers first meaningful game (sorry Colorado State, your great, really, go Rams!) in front a crazy crowd on National TV, and they passed the test. The question is no longer if the Gophers are good. They are, and are definitely better than last year, but how good are they?
On Tuesday we learned the Gophers have a way to go in the rebounding department. Virginia was able to grab 40% of their offensive rebound opportunities and were able to keep Minnesota from hitting the glass. In past years, especially against athletic teams, this has been the Gophers death knell. Against Colorado State, where they barely escaped, the Rams pulled in 44% of their offensive rebounding opportunities. Last year Maryland came away with 46%, Indiana 42%, Illinois with 57%, Michigan State 47%, and Florida State 40%. The only win among these, was against Indiana, and anyone who watched that game can tell you about the importance of keeping the opponent limited to once chance. A great defense can only get you so far if the other teams keeps on shooting. On Tuesday night, Virginia was able to get the ball and get second chances with 14 offensive rebounds. Fortunately, Minnesota’s defense was able to erase the mistakes.
And how about that defense. It was solid in the half court, it was great in the press, and it was best inside. Remember those 14 offensive rebounds? A lot of teams easily could have turned those in 20 points. Had the Cavaliers done that it would be Minnesota with a disappointing loss. Despite those many second chances, Virginia came away with only 5 second chance points. With either of the twin towers in, there are no easy baskets. Think about what Sylvan Landesberg faced Tuesday. He came into the game as one of the most impressive freshman in the ACC if not the country. He left The Barn a mere mortal Freshman. Blake Hoffarber, who has sure learned to slide laterally, gave him fits most of the night, and knew when to switch. Landesberg then had to deal with Lawrence Westbrook, who is shameless about his in your face defense, or Damian Johnson, who is as long and lanky as ever. Damian Johnson had three blocks and three steals. Landesberg had one made field goal. If that is not enough, Mike Scott, who averaged a double double, only pulled in 6 rebounds to go along with his 0 points and three turnovers. Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson completely clogged the lane, leaving Virginia with little else to do but shoot low percentage floater or even lower percentage mid-range and longer jump shots. Then again, a pair of nearly 7 foot tall player, each who already have a reputation for blocking shot can do that. Even more impressive than the half court defense was Minnesota’s press, which tore away several of the Gophers 10 steals, but also wreaked havoc with Virginia’s ability to get the ball in bounds, or if successful with that, getting across half court. Which game the offense just enough chances to succeed.
The offense still needs some work. Other than Colton Iverson and Blake Hoffarber, who excelled in the half court, the offense struggled. The Gophers shot only 40% from the field and a much worse 25% from behind the three point line, even though they played one of the worst defending team against the three point shot. Take away Hoffarber, and the percentage drops to an even worse 12.5%. This isn’t too alarming though, and many of the shots were taken within the context of the offense, but just didn’t fall. Let’s just hope it does not become a trend.
Whether Minnesota is for real is still up in the air until the Louisville game. The offense is good enough to get by, and with more practice and more time together, passes will get crisper, the players will know where each other are, and the pieces will fall into place. The defense is already more than enough to erase mistakes and create offense. At this point of the season, the Gophers are ahead of schedule and the bandwagon is open.
Who did what?
- Jamal Abu- Shamala just looked bad. He can have big games against slower or smaller team, but Virginia is neither. His Paytonesque number include 2 points, a rebound, an assist, a foul, and a turnover.
- Damian Johnson decided he could shoot three pointers. Not so much. Then he decided that he could block shots, do rebounds, and be the most valuable player in the Big Ten who has no hope to win any post-season awards. His 6 points weren’t great, but scoring isn’t why is he is great. He led all players with three blocks, setting distance record on at least one, had three steals, including a tear or way or two that made Virginia just look silly, and added 3 assists. Not a bad night for the best player no one has heard of.
- Colton Iverson scored 14 points on 6 shots, and we get him for almost 4 more years. Its hard to believe that this kid is only 18 years old and was living in Tom Brokaw’s home town a year ago. He scored 14 points on 5-6 shooting, led all players with 7 rebounds, made clutch free throws, and committed only 2 fouls.
- Al Nolen had 5 steals, one which led to a thunderous dunk (well, as thunderous as Al Nolen can manage, and had 9 points and 5 assists. Even though the Gophers offense struggled, it looked much better when he was in the game, and incredibly imperfect when he left. In short, he is the Gopher offense.
- Blake Hoffarber figured to have a big game with poor perimeter defense by the Cavaliers, and he did with 4 three pointers. He also had a block. Who knows when that happened?
- Travis Busch continue to get his minutes, and somehow avoid disaster. Down with Goldy may disagree with the disaster part.
- Devoe Joseph was great when he wasn’t shooting, so we’ll just ignore that for now. With Al Nolen in foul trouble and out of the game Devoe Joseph was a stabilizing force, and save the Gophers with a driving lay up late in the game. He is still more of a shooting guard than anything else, but he showed last night, that at least for a few minutes, he can hold his own.
- Lawrence Westbrook symbolized Minnesota’s shooting woes, but was steady every where else. He made 6-8 free throws, and iced the game at the free throw line.
- Devron Bostick scored two points, but looked silly trying to defend Virginia’s pick and pop. He played a team low 7 minutes (sorry Kevin Payton, you’ll get in next time!)
- Ralph Sampson’s biggest number in the box score was 2, as in 2 blocks. If there was an intimidation index, it would be off the charts. Virginia didn’t want anything to with him, and he is the main reason they only made 16 field goals.
- The Barn was alive like nothing since the Indiana game, and that was a much hyped nationally ranked opponent. There was as much energy in the building as I’ve seen in a while. It was especially encouraging that the occasionally non-vocal crowd was especially appreciative about the little things, the good hustle, the strong defense, all the things that all too often get overlooked. Good work!