Winter break and finals is a slow time of year in college basketball. Really, the Gophers have only played two games in 22 days and those have been against pretty yawn-inducing opponents. With the Big Ten season right around the corner, however, it’s also a time for anticipation.
To break up the slow period, we asked a few of our favorite community characters to give their thoughts on the season so far, what they’ve seen, and what they think will happen going forward. The Daily Gopher’s MV of DT, Down With Goldy himself and our resident bourbon aficionado FrothyGopher took time out of their busy holiday schedules to offer some hot #TAKES in what is becoming our annual Rube Roundtable. Enjoy.
1) Initial thoughts on Richard Pitino. Are you satisfied or do you already miss the Tubby days?
MV: So far, so good. I mean, he’s not the hoops equivalent of Tim Brewster. I can’t lie, I legitimately had that thought … until he actually started coaching games. He’s shown through the earlier part of the season that he appears to know what he’s doing. Relevant: I know jack about basketball X’s and O’s. My threshold for competence is low.
The Big Ten season will be interesting. Pitino drew up a hell of plan against Syracuse and the kids competed like crazy. They proceeded to piss down their legs for 40 straight minutes. I worry about this team in January and February when they’ll play 7 games against ranked teams, especially with no frontcourt depth.
DWG: He shows an ability and a willingness to alter his plans mid-game, so he’s already easier to watch than Tubby in that regard. The results are OK so far – the Arkansas loss is OK even though watching that second half was torturous, and the only other disappointing game was Chaminade and they won, so whatevs. I’m happy. Can’t wait to see Big Ten play, and moreso even next year’s recruiting.
Frothy: I love Pitino, largely because it’s a much-needed change of pace from the Tubby days. Defense is uber-aggressive, no wholesale line changes every seven minutes and an offensive identity? Count me as a wholesale supporter at this point. It’s still ridiculously early and nothing has been proven, but I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve seen thus far.
2) There are a lot of new faces on this year’s team. What do you think of the newcomers?
MV: Dre Mathieu is legit. Completely different style of point guard than we’re used to seeing around here. Smith is a chucker, but he’s our chucker.
DWG: I’m in love with Dre Mathieu, the Honey Gopher, because he’s like a polished (well, more polished) version of Rico Tucker, who could have been the greatest Gopher in history if it wasn’t for Monson. Smith is who we thought he’d be, and will probably both win and lose a Big Ten game nearly single-handedly. King has spent more time in the paint than I figured, though he’s still pretty terrible.
Frothy: They’re different, which is a benefit to this team right now. Dretanic is aggressive and drives more often (and sometimes effectively) more than anyone else on the roster, Leeeeeeeek is the pure shooter we haven’t had since Hoff left (even if he takes shots that make me refill my drink with regularity) and King shoots the three and gives a lot of effort underneath. Not sure we could have gotten more instant impact than we did, even if they’re less than perfect on occasion.
3) The new Mo Walker – hot or not hot?
MV: Well, he’s second on the team in rebounds per 40, so that’s a plus. The downside: he picks up a foul for every five minutes he plays. He needs to get that foul sitch under control, since the Gophers have no frontcourt depth at all and he’ll be needed once conference play starts.
DWG: Still unknown. He’s a big guy on a team sorely lacking in them, so he’s going to have every opportunity to prove himself. He’s had some good flashes, but he’s also had times where he’s looked terrible. I’m guessing we’ll see more of the latter than the former when Big Ten play starts, but hopefully I’m wrong because they need him to be competent, at a minimum.
Frothy: I’ve always liked Mo, even when he stole the mayo from my work refrigerator. As a fat guy, I hate it when other fat guys go Charles Darwin on my mayo. I think he’ll be a moderately effective player who will get some minutes this year but will be marginal next year if CRP can get someone with a big body in next year.
4) What are you already noticing about this new team that’s going to give you an ulcer?
MV: Bad defense. Their KenPom defensive ratings are the lowest since the Molinari era. I don’t know if it’s a product of not having that much team length and/or athleticism at the 4/5 spots but they seem to have trouble with rotations. Allowing nearly 80 points to UNO was rather alarming.
DWG: Interior defense is their biggest issue, but I anticipated that so instead I’ll say the lack of imagination on offense at times. When Pitino does have them run their sets they do a lot of really interesting things with picks away from the ball and multiple things going on at once, a far cry from the flex days. But I’ve noticed at times they deteriorate into mainly one-and-done and simple ball screens, and although this can certainly work in some situations, and Calipari has basically made a living off it, the quality defenses in conference will need more than just rolling the ball out in order to get good looks.
Frothy: Rebounding, particularly on the offensive end. I’ve only been able to see three games, but we tend to fall into a pit on the offensive glass at times and that will be a killer against most of the B1G. I know Pitino’s perspective is that rebounds tend to even themselves out in the long run; but I’ll assume the worst until I’ve seen that happen over the conference season.
5) Prediction time – what’s your realistic expectation for this year’s squad?
MV: I’d be ecstatic if they could reach 20+ wins. This team has major deficiencies but have the benefit of some really sweet guard play, which makes up a lot of ground in CBB. Surprise me, Richard.
DWG: Coming into this season I thought the team’s upside was a bubble team. Now I will consider it a disappointing season if they aren’t at least a bubble team.
Frothy: I said this after the Lehigh game (and am sure I’m parroting someone far smarter than me that I read while drunk): we’re going to win some games we have no business winning and get run out of the arena by some conference dreg. When our pressure gets in opposing teams’ heads, we’ll be effective. When Leek goes 0/39 from beyond the arc, we’ll lose by 40. I don’t see a way we make the tournament, to be honest. I’d be moderately happy if we stay out of the bottom three of the conference and drinking happily if we get to 20-21 wins. The B1G is tough and we’re just not deep enough to compete over a stabby B1G season. Beer is on me if I’m wrong.