The first exhibition game is in the books, and Tubby Smith got exactly what he wanted: areas that need improvement. Minnesota’s 71-58 victory isn’t indicative of much, and isn’t a cause of concern, yet. The game featured unrealistic Gopher line-ups in unrealistic situations that kept the game close, and gave the players and coaches a chance to learn what they have to work with.
Gopher fans are more accustomed to 30 and 40 point victories in exhibition games, and if the starters played typical minutes, the game would have been a massive blow out. Besides the 13 point margin of victory, other alleged areas of concern are three point defense, the lack of three point shooting, turnovers, and free throws. The Gophers do need to improve in all these areas, but the box score reveals that things aren’t nearly as bad as they seem.
Throughout the game the Gophers rotated line-up, with all starters and all reserves during most of the game. During the 20 or so minutes that the starters played together, they outscored Bemidji by 18 points. When it was exclusively substitutes, BSU actually outscored the Gophers 13-9. The Gophers committed 14 turnovers as a team, and eight of these were by the substitutes.
Three point shooting continues to be an Achilles heal. The Gophers made only one three pointer, but my real concern is the seven total attempts. This team is still unable to use the biggest offensive weapon in college basketball. BSU was able to use it, to great success. Exhibition games and to a lesser extent games against lower level Division I teams tend to produce strange match-ups that lead to a lot of three-pointers, mainly because of the undersized post players. Most of Bemidji’s three pointers came from these undersized interior players able to utilize their relative quickness to hang out on the perimeter when Minnesota’s post players were caught down on the inside. Tubby Smith was aware that this would happen, as he stated before the game.
“It’s always a challenge when you have your big man try to go out and guard perimeter guys who can put the ball on the floor and shoot with range,” Smith said. “They’re a team that has guys that can do some of those things.”
And that they did. Tubby Smith teams will always struggle to defend the three, and this team is likely to go through some growing pains. There were too many open shots even with the match-up problems. There are a lot of new faces that are unfamiliar with his system, and last year’s freshman didn’t play much of the much maligned ball line defense. Minnesota played a 2-3 zone almost exclusively last year, and for the now sophomores, they missed out on a full season of learning to play man to man with the automatic collapse on the post and rotating perimeter defenders. They’ll get better, but it takes time.
The final area of concern, which is always an area of concern for someone, is free throw shooting. It was pretty awful in the early going, with the Gophers making only one of their first six or so free-throws. Ralph Sampson and Joe Coleman each went 1-4, but each are better shooters than that. Trevor Mbakwe, Austin Hollins, and Rodney Williams were a combined 9-9.
The final score doesn’t matter in an exhibition game, and a semi-close win is arguably more valuable in the long run than a 60 point blow out. The players know what they need to work on. The coaches have some areas to focus on. Everyone needs to get better, and with time, hopefully they will.
Who did what:
Andre Hollins answered many of the questions surrounding the point guard position with his play. His shooting was a bit rough, but he did manage eight assists and no turnovers along with a couple of lightning quick flashes to the basket. He was especially effective creating opportunities for his teammates to score early in the possession, which is the exact opposite of what we saw last year.
Rodney Williams played within himself. Both of his baskets came on dunks, and he only attempted one jump shot. He didn’t make it, but his form looked much better. There was none of the typical drift that tended to send his shots spiraling out of control. His 6-6 free throw performance should be heartening for anyone who watched him brick his way through last season at 49% from behind the free throw line.
Trevor Mbakwe was his typical dominating self with 17 points on 8-9 shooting and 11 rebounds. He made a 16 footer without hesitation on a secondary break, which is hopefully a sign of things to come.
Austin Hollins looks to eventually fill the role of Damian Johnson as a do everything player and semi-reliable scorer. He appears headed in that direction with seven points, four rebounds, and three assists. He made Minnesota’s lone three pointer, but also missed some shots badly.
Ralph Sampson III played well when it mattered, making several hook shots and turnaround jumpers in the post. As the game drifted into meaninglessness, so did his mind, and the shots came quicker as if he just didn’t want the ball in his hands. He finished with 15 points on 7-13 shooting. His 1-4 free throw shooting was ugly.
Chip Armelin played a little point guard with the second unit, and did more to help BSU than his own teammates with four turnovers in 15 minutes. He scored two points, missing three shots from the field and two more from the free-throw line.
Andre Ingram made a lay-up and missed a lay-up in extremely limited action as he continues to recover from off-season hip surgery. The explosiveness is clearly not back, but he did show that he knows where to be on the offensive glass to get easy buckets.
Joe Coleman scored six points in his debut, and scored on a nice post-up move on his first possession in the game. All of the baskets occurred while he was attacking the rim, and it will be interesting to see if he can score any other way. If only his brother had aggressively attacked the basket…
Oto Osenieks made a lay-up and didn’t do much else. He certainly didn’t benefit from the turnover-fest going on around him or the inability of the second unit to share the ball (there were only two assists while he was on the floor).
Maverick Ahanmisi made a nice lay-up in traffic, and did little else. He didn’t do a lot of ball handling, and it is unclear at this point if Tubby is trying to turn him into a shooting guard, or if Chip just wouldn’t give him the ball.
Elliot Elliason played his first game in over a year, and it showed. He looked plenty awkward, was clearly frustrated, and after several missed shots started to try too hard which only magnified his mistakes. Big guys always catch a lot of grief because with their size, it is impossible to miss their mistakes. Elliason is huge though, so he has that going for him.