Gophers Get a Thumbs Up Through Non-Conference Play

Posted: December 24, 2011 by Kodi in BBall, Gopher Redemption, NCAA

But does that really mean anything going into Big Ten play???

The Gophers are 12-1 but there are many things that worry me about this team

Can they figure out their struggles with the three point shot both offensive and defensively?

The Minnesota Golden Gophers finished off their non-conference play with a 4 point victory over North Dakota State and improved to 12-1 on the season. The only loss came in the Old Spice Classic Championship game, the same match-up that F Trevor Mbakwe was lost for the season in, but Minnesota has bounced back to win their last 6 straight games all of which were played in the friendly confines of Williams Arena.

Minnesota has won nearly all of its games and was actually the first team in the Nation to reach 10 wins however they are beating mediocre opponents and still found ways to struggle. Obviously transition forward from losing a player of Mbakwe’s caliber is going to be extremely difficult but at time this Gophers team makes me wonder just how many games we are capable of winning in Big Ten Conference play.

The Gophers have come out of the gate extremely slow in first halves thus far and it is something that they are going to need to start doing to keep competitive with such a dominant conference. The Big Ten has 6 teams ranked in the top 25 and 9 teams in the Big Ten have 10 or more wins, including the Gophers, but Minnesota has arguably played the softest non-conference schedule just the way Head Coach Tubby Smith likes ‘em. I am worried because this team often times looks confused on the court offensively and they have yet to find a replacement to Mbakwe’s role under the hoop.

There has been a lot of pressure put upon F Rodney Williams and C/F Ralph Sampson III to step into that role. Williams has had his moments but flashes of greatness aren’t what you are expecting against defenses like St. Peter College and NDSU.Not to say that Williams is a slouch he has scored over 70 points in the last 6 games, including pulling down 43 rebounds, dealing 13 assists, swatting 14 shots and stealing 13 balls. He has increased his average in every single statistic since dramatically increasing his time on the floor but he has yet to get comfortable with any sort of jump shot. He also continues to struggle at the free throw line going 7-17 in his last 4 games and the Gophers can not leave free points at the line.

Ralph on the other hand is someone that has been completely frustrating to watch over the past few seasons because he has so much potential but at times looks like his lacking the strength and heart required to being an impact player. Sampson has been battling some injury issues this season and has only played in 10 games for a total of 207 minutes but has average over 8 points a game when he does play. He continued to be overpowered and outplayed by men in the low post and he only averages 4.2 rebounds per game and has pulled down just 8 offensive boards. Trevor Mbakwe still leads the team with 27 offensive rebounds and he hasn’t played in nearly two months. Ralph has good touch and ranks 2nd on the team with a .541 field goal percentage but he is more about finesse and less about power which leaves a lot to be desired as a Minnesota Men’s Basketball aficionado.

It’s hard for me to imagine that Williams and Sampson will be completely shut down in Big Ten play but facing the plethora of strong front courts in the conference this team may struggle immensely.  They are going to be facing great players like C Meyers Leonard of Illinois, F Cody Zeller of Indiana, F Draymond Green of Michigan State, F Jared Sullinger of Ohio State and F/C Jared Berggren of Wisconsin who are all incredible talents and may exploit the two players who have become key to Minnesota’s success. It is hard for me to look at the conference match-ups and see how well the Gophers stack up but the games have yet to be played.

Minnesota has gotten an incredible shot in the arm by G Julian Welch who has been the Gophers most explosive option offensively. He leads the team in scoring with 129 points averaging nearly 10 points a game and has done so with consistency from the free throw line. Welch had a stretch where he made 25 free throws in a row and has missed just 5 of his 40 free throw attempts. Some of those misses has come at key points in the game, one in particular where he missed two front ends of 1-and-1’s in a game decided by less than 5 points. Welch has also been the most consistent three point shooter making 12 of his 27 attempts and trails team leader Austin Hollins by just 3 made baskets although he has 17 less shots.

The three point line is absolutely KILLING the Minnesota Gophers and it isn’t just offensively although they are a putrid 60-169, .359 % from beyond the arc. They have not found anyone to replace “bullseye” Blake Hoffarber but if I was forced to decide who would take the deep shot I actually feel more comfortable with Austin Hollins. The real trouble for Minnesota is their complete inability to defend the three point shot and multiple teams have burnt the Gophers from three point land. Minnesota has made just 60 three point shots but they have allowed 86 and their opponents average nearly 7 made three pointers per game, thats 21 points! Tubby Smith is a renowned defensive HC but something needs to be done about covering the perimeter and not focusing on collapsing under the hoop.

Minnesota is going to be traveling to Champagne, Illinois to face the Fighting Illini to open up conference play and the Gophers will quickly find out how they stack up against Big Ten foes. I personally think that it doesn’t look good for Minnesota and that their ceiling for victories may be around 8 and their basement as low as 3. This is extremely hard for Gophers fans to swallow after dragging themselves through such a disappointing Football season they were looking forward to BBall season and then Mbakwe got hurt.

There are some analysts and certainly fans who believe that this team still has a chance but I think those people are in for a huge surprise. With our lackadaisical offensive efforts early in games and our inability to shoot or defend the three on top of the fact that we don’t have a single player who can create their own shot the Gophers future looks dreary. I hope that they prove me wrong and Tubby can tap himself on the back for possibly raising another NCAA Tournament entry and hopefully bringing home a victory. But let’s be realistic, that Gophers scenario was likely a conversation between the homeless crackhead at the liquor store trying to impress the naive college kid wearing a Tubby Tee to give him some change or at least a little hope.

Unlike Barry, Obama that is, I am not selling hope and have begun to write this season off just so that it doesn’t hurt as much when it happens. Obviously I still watch every game, even when we BARELY EEK ONE OUT AGAINST NORTH DAKOTA FUCKING STATE!!! Realistically Tubby needs to impress me next season and show us what having a name like Smith can do for a guy’s recruiting class. That and I am sick of him toying with Gopher Nations emotions every god damn off-season by hearing his name come up in multiple other Head Coaching positions. I am going to go get drunk in Mexico and hope that I will be writing a positive article about a Gophers victory in Illinois rather than an I told you so, this is just the beginning, start stabbing your eye’s out now kind of season.

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