During the exhibition games and the first few games of the non-conference college basketball season, every team has flaws, and the Golden Gophers are no exception. New players are being integrated into unfamiliar systems, old players are shaking off rust, and last year’s new players are learning to take on new roles. Head coaches across the country are trying to fix those flaws, and the exhibition games are one of the few consequence free environments to try new schemes, use players differently, and essentially throw crap against the wall and see what sticks.
The purpose of an exhibition game is not to blow out the opponent, and blowing out an opponent can do more harm than good. Arizona lost to a Division II team in their exhibition game in which they were down by double digits, battled back, and lost when a last second shot wouldn’t fall. The Gophers won two relatively close games against Division II teams. Kentucky beat Division II Morehouse College by 85. Two of these teams benefited from their exhibition games, neither is Kentucky.
Unfortunately, it seems that people think the final score in exhibition games matters, and that the results count. They grow alarmed that Trevor Mbakwe floats around the perimeter while the Gophers force the offense through Ralph Sampson III. They grow frustrated that Oto Osenieks, allegedly a perimeter player, is throwing his weight around on the inside. They freak out that the Gophers play a possession or two of zone against a hot outside shooting team. Surely this must be a sign of things to come, that Tubby Smith will play long stretches with Maverick Ahanmisi running pick and rolls with Andre Ingram because if it happens in an exhibition game, it will certainly happen in the final minutes of a hopefully close game with Ohio State or Wisconsin. But no, these were experiments, and if they work, great. If they don’t, we won’t seem them again.
During the experimental phase of Monday night’s game, Augustana took a five point lead into the half thanks to Drae Murray, a diminutive Division I transfer who couldn’t miss even if he tried. The second half was all Gophers, all the time as they outscored the Vikings by 17 on their way to a relatively comfortable twelve point victory.
Lost among the whining was better three-point shooting, and a little wrinkle in the defense that should make plenty of folks happy. The three-point shooting percentage for the game was still a less than adequate 29%, but was 43% in the second half. More importantly was the willingness of the team to attempt outside shots. You can’t make a shot you don’t take, and an unwillingness to even attempt three-pointers will allow opposing defenses to really pack things in. Taking shots forces teams to defend them, and maybe, just maybe, a few of those will go in. Defending three-pointers also improved, once Murray got his ridiculousness out of his system. The Augies made only one of nine three-pointers in the second half to finish at 31% for the game. Austin Hollins and Rodney Williams did an especially good job of staying near the shooters. As a team, the Gophers also experimented with not automatically doubling the post. Augustana made a few baskets down low, but the better perimeter defense more than made up for that. Hopefully this will be some of that crap that sticks against the wall.
In a few short days we’ll see what Tubby Smith and the team learned from these experiments. This won’t be the last time the coaching staff tries new things, especially with so many new faces, but it will be the last time they put experimentation ahead of the final score.
Who did what:
Tubby Smith had a big day on the recruiting trail securing the commitment of Charles Buggs, a 6’8” forward who has been described as Damian Johnson with a jump shot. We’ll inevitably learn if this is a fair comparison, but until then, youtube it up.
Rodney Williams continued to play well with 10 points and four rebounds, one of which was one of the more impressive leaps in recent college basketball history. Sure, that may be an exaggeration, but I was more impressed by it than many of his dunks. Williams also played a key role in a 15-2 run to start the second half with two lay-ups that unfortunately came off of missed three-point plays.
Trevor Mbakwe was utterly dominant everywhere on the court with 22 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, six blocks and a steal. He made 12-13 free-throws, and if his success at the line continues, teams will have to think twice about fouling him.
Ralph Sampson III, needless to say, failed at being the focal point of the offense. He couldn’t handle constant double and triple teams, and finished the game with seven turnovers and only five shot attempts. He did manage to track down eight rebounds to salvage a shred of dignity.
Austin Hollins was missing in the first half, and scored eight points in about a minute to start the second half including two three pointers. The prevailing theory regarding the elder Hollins is that his confidence in his shot is extremely shaky, and this causes some ugly misses. Those two three pointers should help him feel better about himself.
Andre Hollins spent most of his 17 minutes on the floor chasing around Drae Murray, and seemed to suffer for it on the offensive end making only one of seven shot attempts with three turnovers and four fouls.
Julian Welch made his Gopher fake-debut and scored seven points on two of four shooting. He still seemed to be favoring his injured ankle, and appeared to have difficulty stopping quickly which led to a couple of turnovers.
Joe Coleman didn’t do a whole lot, making a basket attacking the basket, of course. He made three of four free-throws which is a skill he needs to develop to take full advantage of his athleticism and aggressiveness.
Oto Osenieks spent most of the first half trying to be the third or fourth power forward option. In the second half, he drifted out towards the perimeter and made a pretty three-pointer. With Maurice Walker injured, the Gophers are a bit thin on the inside, but the outside shooting situation is more dire, and Osenieks is much more likely to help on the outside.
Elliot Eliason is still big and still awkward. At the very least, he wasn’t hyperventilating this time.
Chip Armelin scored seven points in the first half when seemingly no one could make a basket for the Gophers. Until Armelin can play well consistently (see the Bemidji State game for an example of the bad Chip) he’ll be a quick offensive spark at best. Right now, it looks like the best use of him will be to put him on the court, hope he does well, and if he does well, get him off the court before he isn’t doing well anymore.
Andre Ingram had a decently productive eight minutes with a basket, two rebounds, a block and a steal. He appears to be the best interior bench player by far.
Chris Halvorson had one block in one minute.
Maverick Ahanmisi continues to drop down the depth chart, and is slowly seeping into Kevin Payton territory.