JF

For the first time in a long time, the Golden Gophers basketball season has a defined end. The season ends Thursday night, win or lose. And win or lose, one of the more optimistic off-seasons in program history begins as soon as the final horn sounds.

The transformation over the last season should remind all of us that basketball is a kids game played by a group of young men who were, and in a lot ways still are, kids. Kids grow up, and so do basketball players. Watching players mature on the court and grow as people off the court is why I love college basketball. In the last six games we’ve watched Rodney Williams, a hyper-talented underachiever blossom in a super-star.  In front of our eyes, Andre Hollins has gone from a wide-eyed freshman to a grab a game by the throat fearless leader.

Something special is happening, and we aren’t the only ones noticing. Statistical guru, college-basketball afficianado, and occasional Gopher observer Dan Hanner broke down the team’s transformation by comparing the last six games to the season as a whole. Being born in Minnesota and witnessing the Gophers previous N.I.T. title runs in person, it still isn’t obvious why he bothered to calculate Gopher basketball statistics right after digging through the NCAA Tournament statistics for every player who matters. Regardless, he was generous enough to share his work with us. Dan writes regularly over at RealGM, and is mandatory follow on Twitter.

Take it away Dan:

Senior Ralph Sampson III last played against Nebraska in the regular season finale. In the six games since, Tubby Smith has made a commitment to the future of the basketball team. Here are the individual tempo free stats in the last 6 games.

PctMin = Percentage of Minutes

PctPoss = Percentage of Possessions Used (players also get credit for possessions through assists and offensive rebounds.)

ORtg = Points Produced per 100 Possessions Used

Last 6 games Full Season
Player

Class

PctMin

PctPoss ORtg PctMin PctPoss ORtg
Andre Hollins Fr.

86%

28%

114.5

50%

25%

101.7

Rodney Williams Jr.

85%

23%

127.5

78%

19%

114.8

Austin Hollins So.

81%

18%

112.4

69%

18%

110.4

Joe Coleman Fr.

73%

18%

92.0

46%

20%

97.5

Elliot Eliason Fr.

55%

15%

98.3

37%

14%

101.1

Julian Welch Jr.

50%

18%

105.1

57%

22%

107.8

Andre Ingram Jr.

31%

14%

111.4

16%

15%

89.7

Chip Armelin So.

18%

23%

74.7

33%

23%

100.3

Oto Osenieks Fr.

11%

16%

86.7

25%

20%

87.3

Maverick Ahanmisi So.

8%

16%

10.4

31%

17%

92.7

Unlike the haphazard NHL line changes during the regular season, Tubby Smith has focused on his five main starters with just two primary subs (Welch and Ingram) coming off the bench in the post-season. The 7 player rotation consists of four freshmen and the focus is clearly on bringing these younger players along.

That tight rotation has performed better in close games, although I think it also has helped significantly that the competition is not as good. Michigan St. and Wisconsin punished the Gophers when they couldn’t hold onto the basketball. But Minnesota has been able to survive and advance despite some crazy late game turnovers against Middle Tennessee St. and Washington.

If you’ve watched the NIT run, it should be obvious that Andre Hollins and Rodney Williams have increased their aggressiveness from the regular season, as seen in the increase in percentage of possessions used. The team is playing a lot like Kansas with two clear scorers and a bunch of players succeeding as role players. (The one exception is Chip Armelin who is almost guaranteed to jack up a shot the moment he enters the game. As the PctPoss column shows, Armelin is the only player not deferring to the Big Two.)

The reason this has worked is because Andre Hollins and Rodney Williams have both increased their ORtg’s from the regular season. Hollins and Williams are taking more shots and converting at a higher rate and that has caused the Gophers offense to take a needed step forward. Andre Ingram has also substantially elevated his play, particularly his offensive rebounding, in the post-season.

Joe Coleman continues to struggle (now that opponents have taken away the drive) and he will have to improve his shooting next year, but Austin Hollins remains very steady. Austin Hollins is remarkably great at pull-up jumpers. Very few players can covert that shot at a high enough rate that it is a good shot, but right now Austin Hollins is an efficient mid-range shooter. Julian Welch hasn’t been 100%, but he still provides needed three-point shooting when opponents pack it inside. (But please don’t sent him to the free throw line late in the game. He made something like 24 of 26 free throws earlier this year, but he has to be the worst clutch free throw shooter I have ever seen. I honestly didn’t believe there was such a thing as clutch free throw shooting until I saw him. At least Tuesday night’s miss careened so far into the corner that Washington had to struggle to get a half-court heave.) Finally Elliot Eliason still has work to do to be an efficient offensive player, but the current lineup desperately needs him for his defensive presence in the post.

On paper, the Gophers should be substantially better next year. In February it seemed like no one could step up in key moments, and now the team has two leaders. Add in a healthy Trevor Mbakwe, and some typical development for young players, and on paper you have an NCAA tournament team. But nothing is guaranteed. Sophomores typically make a big leap forward, but it takes hard work to get better. Hopefully the taste of post-season success will motivate the Gophers young lineup to work hard this off-season and take that leap forward.

4 thoughts on “A special guest post by Dan Hanner: The Future is here

  1. Pingback: Shorthanded Gophers Roll Into NIT Finals | The Daily Big Ten

  2. Interesting to see the numbers here. I must admit, I thought the ORtg increase for Dre would be a little larger. Wish we could face off against a Michigan State or OSU right now, just to see what all these improvements mean against higher quality teams that defend. Guess I’ll have to wait another 9 months…

    I feel like the more uptempo play we’ve seen in several of the NIT games has really benefitted our defense, as a number of guys (Austin, Joe, and Rodney in particular) seem to be very adept at defending in transition, and stopping the layup or deflecting the pass.

    • Dre really got going in the home loss to Wisconsin, and scored in double figures in the last four Big Ten games. Even though things were a bit rough in the early going, his floor grew significantly higher as the season went on.

  3. Yeah, I should’ve realized that, seeing that I was actually at that game in Madison and remember talking Dre up to some Becky Boosters next to me.

    Season has already ended on a fairly high note. Let’s see if they can ratchet it up one more octave in a few hours!

Comments are closed.