Did people care about strength of schedule in 1948? Is this Minnesota’s weakest non-conference schedule since 1948. I’m guessing the answer to both of those questions is no. Regardless of the Gophers’ non-conference opponents so far, they have started the season with twelve straight wins for the first time since the birth of Prince Charles, Dewey did not defeat Truman, and the Soviet Union withdrew from North Korea. Basically, its been awhile.
Minnesota’s victory over highpoint was not impressive because of the score. A top 25 team should always beat the 3338th ranked team by at least twenty points, and the Gophers did that rather easily. The way they did it though was impressive.
The Gophers have often been downright dreadful in their half court offense. Players often have been out of place, not ommunicating, or simply standing still. There has been modest improvement since the truely tedious games in early November. Last night it all finally seemed to click, and just in time. The Gophers shot 52% from the floor and 46% from behind the line, with nearly equal scoring inside and outside the three point line. They also recorded assists on 75% of their made field goals, and if WCCO’s announcers are to be believed, they recorded assists on 16 of their first 17 field goals. In total, Minnesota had 24 assists and 13 turnovers.
The Gophers defense was once again strong if not spectacular. There were no long stretches when High Point could not get the ball in bounds or across half court. Instead, the Gophers relied more on straight up man to man half court defense in preparation for the Big Ten season. The press will be crucial to Minnesota’s success the rest of the year, but they will not be able to rely on it against more skilled and athletic teams. And they can still force turnovers. High Point committed 19 turnovers with only nine assists, and wasn’t able to crack the 34% shooting mark.
The highlight of the night was undoubtedly the individual performances by Gophers who have either struggled or been enigmatic at times during the non-conference season. Damien Johnson, Al Nolen, Lawrence Westbrook, and Blake Hoffarber are known quantities, and are more or less proved and reliable. However, an NCAA tourmant qualifier needs more than four guys to be ready to go each night. Last night we may have glimpsed the future.
Who did what?
- Devron Bostick played the most minutes of his career, and played well enough to get quite a few more. The most enigmatic of the Gophers scored eleven points including 3-4 three pointers, and showed post moves that were much better than a 6’5” player should be capable of. Bostick has struggled at times this year, and it isn’t coincidental that his best game came when he wasn’t pulled out of the game after two minutes.
- Devoe Joseph isn’t a true point guard, though he will need to play a lot of minutes at that position. Last night he was able to focus more on scoring, and it resulted in 11 points. Like Bostick, he also made 3-4 three pointers. Its been a long time since the Gophers had instant offense in the form of back up point guard.
- Ralph Sampson played his best game as a Gopher. Not only does he continue to excel at shooting around 15 feet out, but he is playing more aggressively close to the basket. Against SE Louisiana he couldn’t make up his mind whether he wanted to shoot, lay-up, or dunk about three feet from the basket, and it resulted in a humorous only because it came against SE Louisiana missed lay-up sort of thing. Last night, dunk all the way.
- Paul Carter played his most extensive minutes since his ankle injury (meaning he played more than 45 seconds) and the rust was noticeable. He just couldn’t finish. Despite not playing in several games, he was still able to get to the rim, and get himself into positions to score that no other Gopher could except Damien Johnson. With a few more practices under his belt, those shots will fall, and even if they don’t he will get his minutes. How do you keep a 6’8” forward with the ball handling skills of a guard on the bench? Carter also showed last night he is not afraid of doing the dirty work, and was more than happy to throw his body after a loose ball.
- If Kevin Payton gets any extended and meaningful minutes during the Big Ten season, the Gophers are in big trouble, but maybe not necessarily because Payton is on the floor. He played seven minutes last night, and did an adequate job of running the offense and played hard on defense. He even took two three pointers, both of which missed but could have just as easily gone in. Payton deserves every minute he gets, but I wouldn’t even try to imagine a scenario in which the Gophers have burned through Nolen, Joseph, Westbrook, and Hoffarber at point guard.
- Damien Johnson was as steady as every with eight points, four rebounds, four steals, and two assists. Its a shame there isn’t an award for “utility” players like Johnson. I don’t think there is a player in America that fills the “other” columns in the box score like Johnson.
- Blake Hoffarber made two of four three pointers, which is no surprise. It may come as a surprise to some that Hoffarber, some how, has become one of the better finishers on the Gophers. He doesn’t get too many chances because he doesn’t beat many guys off the dribble, but he always seems to know where the basket and the defender are when he is cutting to the basket, and can the layups to fall.
- Colton Iverson played only 18 minutes, but did not commit a foul. He will need to play careful defense in the Big Ten without a suitable back up. He did do more than not foul of course, and finished with a game high 7 rebounds to go with seven points, two of which came on soaring put back dunk that may be the play of the year so far.
- Lawrence Westbrook is streaky, and may be getting hot at just the right time. He made his first three field goal attempts, all three pointers, on his way to 13 points.
- Al Nolen didn’t score, but his seven assists and no turnovers provided plenty of offense on their own.
- Travis Busch was absolutely dreadful. Although he only officially recorded one turnover, there were at least two others that were his fault. He also uncharacteristically missed a couple of lay-ups, and could be in danger of losing his spot on the depth chart.
- Jamal Abu-Shamala has been passed on the depth chart.
- Jonathan Williams should not even be on the depth chart. During his seven reboundless minutes, he was consistently beaten down the floor, pushed under the basket, committing unnecessary fouls, and doing a better job of boxing out his teammates than his opponents. He is more than wide enough to get a rebound or two because of physics alone, yet he doesn’t. Those with coaching experience, what advice do you have for him? I’m seriously interested.