This time of year is a slow one in college basketball. Finals and holiday breaks abound, the constant rolling of weak non-conference opponents becomes tiresome (unless you’re Purdue), and people generally just want to fire up the real season; to see what their team is made of.
The Gophers are in the middle of a stretch where they play only three games in 20 days. That’s a lot of down time. With Purdue on the horizon, though, the waiting will soon come to an end. To cope with the boredom we’ve regrouped with our favorite rubes (and some of the best minds in college basketball), MV of DT, the venerable FrothyGopher and Down With Goldy himself to ask the important questions and get some straight answers. Enjoy.
1) So, uh, we’re down to 9 scholarship players and a Kendal Shell. Your thoughts? [NOTE: Now 10, with Diedhiou!]
FG: Yeah, that’s not really ideal, is it? Can’t really blame Pitino, as transfers are just part of today’s game and who could have predicted the McNeil situation would have happened. It doesn’t torch the season, but it totally shreds any margin of error we might have had. Another injury or significant foul trouble and we’re going to have significant trouble. We’ve got decent depth at guard, but outside of King (/weeps) I’m not sure we have much at forward. What will Buggs do given meaningful minutes? Can one of Eliason/Mo/Konate/Diedhiou cover power forward at least some of the time? Can Valium be implanted directly into my brain?
MV: Iron Nine doesn’t have the same ring to it. Luckily we have Gaston now, who I think was the villain in “Beauty and the Beast” and yes of course I grew up in the 90’s. So this season may get a little scary if anything happens to the Dres but we already knew that, but for now, we seem to have a good rotation with Dregon, Squirrel and Nate Mason. Our front court depth, woof.
DWG: Well, it’s better than 8 scholarship players and no Kendal Shell. With or without Diedhiou, they have enough non-horrible players to come up with a playable rotation, even if it means heavier than you’d like minutes for some guys. The real problem is going to come if there’s foul trouble, and you know there will be foul trouble. There are going to have to be a couple new walk-ons here soon, if only to have the bodies to weather a worst case type scenario. And walk-ons are always fun in blowouts. They think they’re people.
2) Last year the Gophers won the NIT. What are your expectations this year?
FG: Prior to the year, I would have said winning a game in the NCAA tournament. Given our roster situation, though, I’m inclined to revise that. I still think we have a shot to get into the tourney, given how ordinary the B1G has looked through the non-conference slate; but I think we’ll slide in as a 9, 10 or 11 seed and get mowed in the first game. It’d still be progress, but the upside is constrained by essentially having no margin of error depth-wise.
MV: Make the tournament, and maybe win a game. Finish with or above 9 wins during the Big Ten regular season. The B1G is looking rather bad-ish, so Pitino will have the chance to move up from the unwashed middle.
DWG: This has already changed three times for me. At the beginner of the year I was thinking they definitely need to make the NCAA Tournament for this season to be a success. Then, after the preseason NIT or whatever, I thought this team was way too dumb to end up making the tournament and figured the season was heading for a train wreck. Now, however, Big Ten teams are dropping games left and right – at home – to terrible teams. I figure if the Big Ten is as down as it seems, and the Gophers are at least mostly taking care of business, they should be able to get to 10 conference wins and, no matter how terrible terrible terrible terrible terrible the non-conference schedule was I can’t see a 10 win Big Ten team getting bounced. Thus, I believe this should be an NCAA Tournament team. I reserve the right to change this when they get their doors blown off at Purdue.
3) What do you miss most about Maverick Ahanmisi?
FG: I cut back on my beta blockers and Haldol prescription a few weeks after he graduated, so I wouldn’t say I miss him, Bob. Naw, dude tried hard and had a sweet mohawk, so I don’t have any lingering hate for him like I do with RS3.0. I still get facial tics when I hear his name.
MV: The Faux-hawk, of course.
DWG: The angst he caused. The twitter meltdowns. The clueless threads on Gopherhole (turns out I can still find plenty of those on a myriad of other topics). By the end of his career he had turned himself into a halfway decent, albeit streaky, spot up outside shooter who deserved a chance against zones to see if he was hot. Should he ever have been allowed to dribble? No, of course not. Did he do a lot of really dumb stuff with the basketball? Yes, almost constantly. Could he play defense? Very little. Wait, what was the question again?
4) What about Gopher basketball is going to give you an ulcer this year?
FG: Free throws. I’ve only been able to see a few of the games, but those I’ve seen have given me little confidence we’ll be able to close a B1G team out at the stripe later this year. I’m no statistician, and I understand even less about advanced basketball stats than I do about advanced football stats; however, we’re shooting 63.4% from the line this season. Unless there’s an eFT% metric out there that suggests our FTs have been contested or otherwise skew to being more difficult than the base FT, then I fear we’ll be losing a game or two we should have had.
MV: Someone with deep knowledge of the sport will say rebounding and/or free throw shooting. Others will make a comment on Squirrel’s chucking. I know nothing about anything, so I’ll go with this: that excruciating month that we all know is coming where we manage to lose a game that damn near kills our tourney chance, only for the ridiculous resume win a week later that puts us squarely on the right side of the bubble. I’ll need all of the fear whiskey then. Also, we almost lost to a team of Furries, which isn’t reducing the ulcer.
DWG: Easy answer is Carlos Morris, but when you go the JUCO route a certain amount of chuckery and undisciplined ball is expected, so I’ll give him a pass and say Joey King, and I don’t really want to say Joey King, but it’s Joey King. He clearly works hard. He’s got a really nice shot fake, he’s a much better rebounder than he was, he’s even developed himself some semblance of a post-up game, a far cry from the perimeter offense only type he was when he first arrived. That’s all great, but he just does some horrible things. Nobody has ever been worse in the open court, ever, and he still likes to put up a really dumb shot at least once or twice a game. He also constantly uses that shot fake to get his defender off his feet, but then doesn’t do anything with that advantage (that alone is enough to give me an ulcer). Of course there’s nothing he can do when he’s overpowered or out-athletic-ed, but the mere fact that’s he’s basically the team’s only option is ulcer-worthy as well.
5) Maryland and Rutgers are real Big Ten members. How do you feel about this from a hoopsball perspective?
FG: Rutgers is a tire fire, but Maryland should increase the cachet of the conference with respect to hoopyball. I hate the additions, period. I get why they were done, as economics drive everything. But I would have much preferred the addition of a Midwest school, rather than going all the way to the East Coast. I have no affinity for either of the programs and can’t imagine I ever will. Who the hell wants to go to New Jersey?
MV: Maryland is a good get for conference hoopityball, since they’re actually playing like they give a damn this year (I know this because I check KenPom). Rutgers is bad and should feel ashamed, but at the very least their current head coach isn’t an abusive jerk .. so they have that going for them.
DWG: I love conference expansion because I love getting a chance to see new teams and players in person, and given the traditional home non-conference schedule for this program that doesn’t happen very often. I still don’t understand why they can’t schedule home and homes with like, Colorado or Oklahoma State, or Seton Hall or other mid-tier big conference schools, but I digress.
I like seeing new teams. I don’t care about exposure or TV sets in new markets or blah blah blah, but I’m also not wrapped up in “traditional rivalries are being destroyed” or any of that stuff that always sounds like its being yelled by an old man in a bath robe who is shaking his fist at a newspaper. New teams are fun. Maryland is fun. Rutgers exists.
6) Real talk. Are we on the up and up or is this just another foray into unmet expectations and mediocrity?
FG: I think we’re headed in the right direction, though this season’s results may not bear that out. Recruiting has definitely stepped up a notch or ten and you can see the makings of a system taking shape. While there are still scoring lulls and defensive lapses, the team plays with an energy that was absent during Tubby’s run. Minnesota seems to be producing higher-end talent, so if Pitino can continue making inroads there, we should find ourselves consistently in the upper third of the conference. Like football, though, the facilities stuff has to get done. If we want to have good sports teams, we have to be willing to fund them. If we don’t then we need to accept the fate of Purdue fans and embrace mediocrity.
MV: Based on nothing, I feel like Richard is going keep this team really competitive year in-and-out until he lands some ‘croots, then he’ll blow us all up with a monster season. Maybe that year is 2016 with Dorsey, Dupree, Jarvis, Mason and (fingers crossed) Amir Coffey, I dunno. Unlike Jerry, I don’t think Pitino *needs* #FACILITIESMAS to boost recruiting, though it’ll certainly help.
DWG: Every time one administration flops and a new coach comes in there is always plenty of blind optimism, and I’m as guilty as anyone. So far, that optimism hasn’t lasted, and there’s another flop and the cycle continues. I’m hoping this one is for real, because I’m hoping Richard Pitino is for real. Being mentored by Rick Pitino and Billy Donovan is about as good an education as you could ask for, and Pitino (and his staff, can’t forget McHale and Kimani) are tireless workers on the recruiting trail. Their in game schemes, plays, and game plans are inventive and exciting. Mo Walker’s improvement suggests they may be good at player development, which would make this staff 3-for-3 in what you need from a college coach. Monson was hamstrung by needing to rebuild a shattered program, Tubby was looking to go out in a cushy job where he could half ass it (my perception), but Pitino should be good to go. So I guess I think we’re on the up and up. I’m so stupid.
7) In the same vein, what does this program need to do to take the next step?
FG: Hold serve this year. Bring in next year’s freshmen with the 26 available scholarships we seem to have and keep with the system. I’m a true believer in what Pitino’s doing. Need to avoid any staff/player implosions and work the plan.
MV: ‘Croots, namely some really large dudes who also happen to be athletic and stuff. Some shiny new buildings to impress those 17 year old AAU peeps. Maybe a bag man (kidding).
DWG: College basketball, in my opinion, is ruled by recruiting. A good game coach (game plan and/or in game) can help elevate a team, but the disparity in talent between the top players and the rest is insurmountable by any coach, so that’s the key. Pitino has the team moving in the right direction in this arena, but the rumors of his leaving every off season to take a “better” job are only going to get louder if he continues to build the program up (or hell, as long as he doesn’t burn it to the ground). In order to continue to build their talent and keep creeping up the recruit ladder they need to keep Pitino. If he is hired away, it’s likely because he’s had success here so they need to make a hire who can keep that going, although I’m not sure where you can find someone young and hungry enough to take this job and work that hard who is also somewhat of a known commodity based on household name recognition. So I guess the answer is to give him as many blank checks as needed so he never leaves. Pretty simple.