JF

Better late than never.

It is amazing how quickly that overwhelming feeling of dread can lift. Twenty-fours hours after we found out that Devoe Joseph would be suspended indefinitely, we found that Chip Armelin is more than ready to fill in the gap while he is gone, helping the Gophers beat Wofford 69-55. Coming off the bench, the lightly recruited freshman guard scored 11 points in only 12 minutes on four of five shooting. Throw in a pair of double-doubles by Ralph Sampson III and  Trevor Mbakwe in his Gopher debut, and the 2010-2011 Golden Gophers basketball season couldn’t be off to a much better start, at least on the court.

Minnesota’s 14 point victory accurately reflects what in the end was a rather comfortable victory. The Gophers jumped out to a 19-9 lead after a three-pointer, one of only three by the team, by Chip Armelin. The lead slipped down to 6 after three straight turnovers, but slowly grew right back to 10 over the final five minutes of the first half. A three-pointer to start the second half by Wofford cut the lead to seven but only briefly. Ralph Sampson and Rodney Williams hit a pair of jumpers and the lead was back to 11 with 17 minutes left in the game. The lead never fell below double- digits the rest of the way.

It is hard to overstate how Minnesota’s over-sized front line dominated the Terriers. Unable to defend the Gophers on the inside, Wofford let Sampson catch the ball at the top of the key uncontested nearly every possession, and time after time Sampson would either make a long jumper, or Mbakwe or Iverson would be there for the rebound. The Gophers totaled 12 points off  of their 13 offensive rebounds. Minnesota’s interior defense was just as dominant. Noah Dahlman, the reigning Southern Conference player of the year, was held to 15 points on 12 shots. The Gophers had 6 blocks officially, but many more shots were altered.

Minnesota’s perimeter play was solid even if the shooting was not. The Gophers made only 3-15 three pointers. Wofford decided to focus on preventing open outside shots, which they did, but it left the inside wide-open. The Gopher guards, particularly Armelin and Maverick Ahanmisi did an excellent job of moving the ball and getting the ball inside. The Gophers have been guilty of excessive dribbling in the past, but tonight that was not an issue.

Wofford is a quality team that still has a good chance to make the NCAA tournament, either again as the Southern Conference champion or even as an at-large team. They still have upcoming games against Clemson, Air Force, Xavier, and South Carolina, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they pick up at least one big win. More importantly for the Gophers, even if Wofford doesn’t score an upset, their RPI will remain respectable just by playing those quality opponents, and that should guarantee that tonight’s victory will be considered a quality win as the NCAA tournament rolls around.

Who did what:

  • Rodney Williams looked much more comfortable with the basketball, driving towards the basket and dribbling freely on the perimeter. He still isn’t the slashing scorer that so many think he can be , but he was a far cry from the panicky freshman who was afraid to dribble at all a year ago. He scored only 4 points on 2-7 shooting, but had 4 assists.
  • Ralph Sampson III was dominant on both ends of the court. He was dared to shoot from the outside by the terriers, and shoot he did on the way to 20 points on 7-14 shooting including a three pointer. The key to Sampson’s outside shooting success seems to be shooting without thinking. When he took his time to shoot, he seemed to miss more often than not. When he shot before he could think, more often than not he hit nothing but net. He is best when he is aggressive. That doesn’t mean he needs to drive to the basket and dunk on someone. All it means is that he needs to avoid hesitating. Wofford has an exceptionally short front line, so we should all use a bit of caution in using one game to predict an entire season, but Sampson didn’t play this well against the smaller teams the Gophers played a year ago.
  • Colton Iverson had a more difficult time with Wofford’s refusal to guard big men on the perimeter, and he was suckered into a few shots from around the free throw line that didn’t look good. He had much greater success using his size advantage, shooting over and bulling over the shorter defenders. He nearly supplied the third double-double of the night with 8 points and 9 rebounds.
  • Blake Hoffarber drew plenty of attention from the Terriers, and couldn’t get open all night. He scored two points on a medium-range jumper and missed both three-pointers that he attempt. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t deserve to be on the court. All that attention focused on Hoffarber left his teammate open, and Hoffarber was able to dish out 6 assists. If only a certain football coach could understand the concept of stretching a defense. Hoffarber did tweak his ankle late in the second half and left the game, but he likely could have returned if he was needed.
  • Al Nolen had a very Al Nolen type game. He played excellent defense, generally took good care of the ball, and scored 8 points on 3-6 shooting. Unfortunately, he made only 3-6 free throws. With Lawrence Westbrook gone, Nolen will be called on to make those late game clutch free throws. He is not off to a good start.
  • Trevor Mbakwe is living up to the hype. He had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds in only 8 minutes. I’ll let you math people extrapolate that out to a full 40 minute game. He is simply stronger and can jump higher than just about every player the Gophers will face. If only he could have played last year…
  • Austin Hollins was Chip Armelin’s biggest victim. Tubby Smith threw both freshman out there, and who ever played better played more. Hollins didn’t score in 9 minutes.
  • Maverick Ahanmisi committed one bad turnover in seven minutes, but also had a nice assist. Any neutral night for Ahanmisi is a good night.
  • Chip Armelin demonstrated perfectly why I try to avoid discussing recruiting on this website. Ratings don’t matter if the recruits haven’t played. No one wanted Armelin out of high school, and he scores 11 points in his debut. He continues to show that he is very athletic, and he also showed a nice shooting touch both from the outside and in making acrobatic floaters around the basket.
  • Mo Walker got open plenty of times underneath but couldn’t manage to either catch the ball, or do much once he did catch the ball. He doesn’t look comfortable quite yet. When he does, watch out, because he is too big to guard.

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