If there was any doubt that the Gophers were ready to open the season it was erased in the first 90 seconds of their opener against American University. Austin Hollins followed up his jumper with a steal and dunk, giving Minnesota a quick 4-0 lead and setting the tone for a game they would absolutely dominate from start to finish, sending the Eagles packing in a 72-36 shellacking.
Season openers can be dicey situations – it’s the first game that really counts for a team, and often they are still shaking off the rust from a long offseason. Basketball is a game that requires tons of polish and can require a few games to really get back in the swing of things. After two relatively uncontested games against D2 opponents, it was hard to tell if the Gophers were really ready for the season, especially against a not-so-terrible team from a decent low-major conference.
From the looks of things, Minnesota absolutely couldn’t wait to get the season started.
They dominated the game from the opening tip (which they won) until the final buzzer – putting their boots down on the throats of the Eagles early in the game and never letting off the throttle. In fact, it was easy to tell that the Gophers made it a point to bully American right from outset, destroy their confidence and never let them into the game, even for a minute. Letting teams like American hang around can be dangerous since they thrive on the David v. Goliath mentality. Putting the game out of reach early and never letting up is the only way to ensure victory.
It sounds simple enough, but there is a tendency to let up after pulling out to a huge lead early in the game. Especially with a three-point shooting team like American, no lead can be taken for granted. And early-season games lend themselves to sloppy play where teams can quickly lose track of where they’re at. It happened last year in Minnesota’s season opener against Bucknell – another Patriot League team that hung around for most of the game, never letting the Gophers take control and pushing them deep into the game.
If you weren’t able to catch any of the game last night, I can certainly tell you that the Gophers are taking nothing for granted this year. They came out ready to dominate and succeeded. They opened the game in a full court press, which I loved, putting American on the defensive right away and refusing to allow them to get into a rhythm.
It worked. The Gophers jumped out to a 15-0 lead and went into halftime up 44-14, having forced 14 turnovers and scoring most of their points on fast breaks. American’s best player, Stephen Lumpkins, was a non-factor, and was never able to assert himself. It was more of the same in the second half. Minnesota put it on cruise control and continued to disrupt the Eagles offense, which never jelled and continued to turn the ball over, leading to a 16-2 advantage in fast break points for the Gophers.
Austin Hollins was the main attraction, scoring a career-high 20 points and nabbing five steals – another career high. Rodney Williams was also a key factor, scoring 15 points and looking extremely confident with the ball at all areas of the court.
The Gophers were up by so much at the end of the game that both Chris Halvorson and Kendal Shell saw career highs in minutes (4 each), which led to this:
Thoughts and Notes:
- We want to be careful about heaping praise on these guys after just one game, but anyone who watched it live can agree that this feels like a different Gopher team. Sure, it was a game they were supposed to win, but they absolutely dominated from start to finish against a team that doesn’t suck. American is from a decent conference and has a pretty defensible record over the last few years — and Minnesota made them look like a D2 team. They forced 22 turnovers (15 of them on steals) and held the Eagles to 24 percent shooting. And it’s not just the pitiful numbers that should get our attention. The Gophers played with an intensity that reflects just how they view this season – take nothing for granted. They opened up in a full-court press and hawked the ball the entire game. They allowed American NO chance to ever get in the game and owned it from start to finish. They came out a bit lackadaisical at the outset last year … that certainly is not true in 2012. They look ready to play.
- I love the idea of opening up in a full-court press. This is a very deep team – we’re talking at least 10 deep. They can afford to get out there early and chase the other team around to wear them down. American ran out of gas about halfway through the first half and never recovered. It’s something the Gopher should employ more often this season as the press led to a lot of fast break points and points in transition.
- Perhaps responding to the pleas of the masses, Tubby did NOT employ the “line changes” that he used so frivolously last year. Instead, he slowly subbed guys in and out in ones and twos. A debatable approach for sure, but bringing in reserves en masse does nothing but disrupt the flow of the offense, especially when things are going well. Guys came and went seamlessly last night, which led to a much smoother operation on the court.
- It’s hard to say it, but Trevor Mbakwe is still a long ways from being back to his former self. Whether it’s a physical or mental thing, he looks tentative out there an still lacks explosiveness. He DID go diving into the stands a couple times and is not short on aggressiveness, but it’s going to take a little while before he become the guy we remember. Whether that means two, three or 10 games remains to be seen.
- You’re telling me Rodney Williams now has touch?! Believe it. He looked very confident on the court and carried over the momentum from the end of last season. He trusts himself with the ball and looked much smoother away from the basket. We all know he does damage near the rim, but he had a nice-looking three pointer early in the game and appears, at least initially, to have improved his jumper. We still want him banging near the basket, but this was a very, very encouraging game for Williams.
- Andre Hollins had a quiet game offensively, but put up a career-high seven assists. Does this show he has the makings of true point guard? The points weren’t there (only 3) but the mark of a true PG is being able to impact the game without scoring. He certainly did that last night and only tallied one turnover. Having someone else do the scoring isn’t always a bad thing. He was an uncharacteristic 1-4 from the free throw line, though, after shooting 90% last year. Better that he gets the misses out of his system now before it really matters.
- A couple of concerns: 1) The team’s half-court offense against the zone needs some work. American wasn’t even playing a tight zone and the Gophers still had trouble getting good looks. American dared them to shoot the three, which they did, and the results were not pretty as they hit only four of 22 attempts from long range. This is concerning in the fact that we’ve never been a great three-point shooting team, and that doesn’t figure to change all that much this year. We got a lot of help from the defense against American, but manufacturing points on their own is going to make or break a lot of games this year. 2) Bad free throw shooting again (67%). It didn’t matter in this blowout, but we all know that this team needs to work in some consistent free throw shooting. The games are going to be a lot closer later on in the season and giving away free points is a big no-no.