Even good shooting teams have bad shooting nights. What often separates good shooting teams from bad shooting teams is shot selection. Open shots won’t always fall, but they have a much better chance of going in than well covered, rushed or reckless shots. All too often last season, most possessions for the Gophers seemed to end in an off-balance heave with the shot clock winding down. Even great shooters aren’t likely to have much success without their feet set under them or without adequate time to get a good grip on the ball.
Last night, especially in the first half of Minnesota’s 87-50 first half win, the shots just weren’t falling. Maybe it was rust, may it was adjusting to the new baskets that there were part of the playing surface renovation over the summer, whatever it was, the Gophers just couldn’t score. They began the game shooting 3-10 from the floor, and finished the half shooting 5-10 to salvage a 43% performance.
The shots, other than the fact that they didn’t go in, were not the problem. The Gophers showed excellent ball movement and were committed to getting the ball inside. Communication seemed to be much better than last season, and the team as a whole found themselves in much better position to score. No one looked lost, even this early in the season. Both Al Nolen and Justin Cobbs, were regularly able to drive through the lane and kick the ball back to the outside which set up plenty of open three pointers. These were not marginally open three pointers, they were wide open and Minnesota’s outside shooters had little choice but to take the shot. Devoe Joseph in particular had several opportunities from the outside and just couldn’t find the right range, clanking several off the back of the rim. In the half the Gophers made only 2-14 three pointers.
In the second half the Gophers finally found the bottom of the basket. Led by another Lawrence Westbrook explosion, the Gophers shot 68% for the half including 7-11 from three point range. Paul Carter even knocked one in from the corner. If you haven’t seen the Gopher half court offense this season, you may not recognize it the first time you do. Last season I often questioned if the Gophers even had a plan on offense. They certainly do this year, and even know how to execute it.
The defensive effort was strong as always. Through much of the first half the Gophers forced more turnovers than they allowed points. A new feature at home games this season is a free Arby’s turnover every time the Gophers force ten turnovers. Thank god that these so called pastries look absolutely disgusting or there would be a diabetes epidemic in the Twin Cities. There will be plenty of turnovers given away this season. Last night the Gophers recorded 27 turnovers to go along with 15 blocks and 15 steals. Through the first weekend, no team in the country recorded blocks as often as Minnesota, on 39.5% of defensive possessions, and only four teams recorded more steals than the 20.3% of possessions in which the Gophers recorded a steal. More importantly, the Gophers limited Tennessee Tech’s outside shooting. Allowing 33% from three point range won’t set any records, but it will keep teams from getting too confident.
It was just one game in a marathon season, but the Gophers look much better than they did last season in similar games against similarly skilled teams. It remains to be seen how this will carry over into the 76 Classic and the Big Ten season, but it certainly a reason to be optimistic.
Who did what:
- Damian Johnson may have had one of his most ridiculous defensive games of his career with six steals and five blocks. His rebound total, 2, is a bit of a concern especially considering the size advantage the Gophers had last night. On offense he took an ill-advised three pointer to start the game but played within himself the rest of the night.
- Ralph Sampson III is finally learning how to use his size. His latest move is an almost Jordanesque turnaround jumper from about 12 feet out. He was consistently making it last night, and when he does, he can not be stopped. If Sampson is able to consistently add this to his already formidable hook shot he should have a breakout offensive season. On defense, most attention will go to his two blocks. In reality it should go to his foot speed. On several occasions he trapped and switched to guards on the perimeter. Unlike last year, he was still able to rotate back underneath before Tennessee Tech could realize there was a mismatch. Sampson also had a great rebounding night. He should have since he had at least a four inch height advantage last night. Last season , he never could manage to find a way to corral caroms off the rim.
- Al Nolen showed a few flashes of offense, scoring seven points. The shot total is a bit low, only four attempts, but one of his makes was a three pointer. Nolen doesn’t need to be a threat to shoot or score on every possession. He just needs to do enough to keep the defense close to so he can use his explosive quickness to get the ball to the rim. He still gets a bit panicky in the lane, which hopefully will improve. On defense it wasn’t particularly fair, as he recorded three steals, and allowed and frustrated the Golden Eagle guards all night.
- Lawrence Westbrook’s three-point shot looks smoother and more consistent than last season. This may be a direct results of his significant weight loss, as it seems he has much better range of motion in his arms. He led the team with 20 points and four three pointers, one from about 30 feet at the end of the first half and another from around 25 feet out on the wing. As long as they go in…. His defensive effort could still be more consistent. He was a bit slow on his rotations to cover three point shooters. On the ball he was excellent recording two steals for easy lay-ups.
- Paul Carter seemed to slow down a bit as the game wore on, and consequently his shooting improved. His outside shot is good enough to take uncontested three pointers, and he made one of two outside shots in that situation. He was his typical reckless self around the rim throwing his body around, grabbing, rebounds, and scoring put backs.
- Rodney Williams needs a nick-name, and I propose “real deal.” I saw him play a few times last season, and the criticism he received for being an athletic freak and incredible raw was well deserved. He looks like a completely different player. His three amazing dunks will get plenty of coverage as his youtube reputation grows. I was more impressed with his court awareness, especially within the half court offense. He didn’t drive to the basket when he shouldn’t have, and showed great passing touch. He recorded only two assists, but if this was hockey, in which two assists are recorded on each score, he would have had several more. His three point shot still looks good. If he can consistently make two or three three pointers each game, it could push the Gophers to a whole new level.
- Colton Iverson needed to improve after his struggles against Minnesota-Moorhead, and he did just that. He especially excelled on defense recording four blocks with only two personal fouls. Showing that he wishes he was a little bit shorter, he almost tried to lead a fast break after stealing the ball near the top of the defensive key, but quickly thought better of it. Why is watching tall people run so much fun?
- Devoe Joseph should have had more than seven points last night. He missed six three pointers, and I don’t recall one that he should not have attempted. Last season again Penn State he was making shots that no one had any business taking, and those all went in. Luckily Joseph has a shooters mentality and won’t let a silly thing like a horrible shooting night hurt his confidence. On the plus side he recorded four assists, playing extensive minutes at point guard. He may become a full time shooting guard by the end of the season, but Coach Smith is not ready to make that commitment quite yet.
- Blake Hoffarber was solid, but his outside shot vanished again, making only one of four three pointers. His all around game continues to improve though. Would Blake Hoffarber the freshman have three rebounds, two assists, and no turnovers?
- Justin Cobbs was once again the last player off the bench that played real minutes. He consistently got to the rim, but instead of dishing to an interior player or going hard to the rim himself he would lob it back outside. Those passes work against bad teams. Against better teams they will result in highlight reel dunks on the other end. Its hard to judge his development after only seven minutes of playing time, but such little playing time gives you a good idea of where Coach Smith thinks he is.