Monthly Archives: November 2007

Seniors don’t show up as Gophers lose to FSU

The Gophers knew they were going to need a nearly flawless game to beat Florida State, and the combination of bad fouls, bad shooting, and bad seniors were far from flawless. FSU won 75-61, and the ACC is on its way to winning another Big 10-ACC challenge.

For the first ten minutes of the game, both teams relentlessly pushed the ball up and down the court. Even though this style should have benefited the Seminoles, the Gophers hung around, and even led for a short time. As if someone hit a switch, the game slowed dramatically and the Gophers were unable to execute the half court offense.

While the long scoring droughts were reminiscent of last year, the Gophers remained active on offense, but simply couldn’t make shots. Like last game, the Gophers took dramatically more shots than their opponents. Florida State was 22-52 while Minnesota shot  24-71 as the Gophers pulled down 19 offensive rebounds. Despite most of the offensive rebounds being secured inches from the basket, Minnesota just couldn’t make their layups. Seemingly every possession featured Dan Coleman and Damian Johnson missing gimme after gimme.

Most of Florida State’s gimmes were at the free throw line, and they took advantage by shooting 27-32 compared to 6-10 for the Gophers. The Gophers once again showed a propensity to commit unnecessary fouls, many of them due to their lack of quickness and athleticism against Florida State’s line-up. In my preview for this game I mentioned that quickness could be a concern, and it turned out to be the deciding factor in the game.

You may have noticed that I have barely mentioned the “big three” for the Gophers, and this is for good reason. There just isn’t that much to write about. Spencer Tollackson displayed admirable effort on the boards, but was simply too slow to make much impact on offense or defense. Florida State forced the Gophers to set up the offense far out on the floor, and many times it was necessary for Tollackson to free up the ball handler with a screen, making it difficult to position himself down low. Other times the Gopher guards didn’t have an angle to pass it into the post. Dan Coleman was once again a liability on both ends of the floor, refusing to play aggressive offense and committing fouls or simply being out of position on defense. Lawrence McKenzie had a cold shooting night, and demonstrated that he has not completely abandoned the selfish decision making of last year. When any team’s three best players all have their worst game of the season on the same night, they won’t win many games.

There is definitely some silver lining to this disappointing loss. Despite quickly falling behind 8-0 the Gophers kept playing, and quickly made up the deficit. Much of the comeback was due to the sharp play of the second team (I believe tonight was the 5th or 6th line change this season by Tubby Smith). Damian Johnson continues to play better than anyone expected, and Blake Hoffarber played his best game of the season.

The last few years, this type of loss would send the Gophers on downward spiral often resulting in a season killing losing streak. We should be able to tell just how far this team has come when they play on Saturday. No one expects this team to win 30 games, but to come close to 20 wins, they will need to learn from their mistakes and execute better each game. Tubby shouldn’t have any problem finding teachable moments from tonight’s loss.

Who Did What?

  • Dan Coleman was bad. Towards the end of the game he finally started playing aggressively for the first time this season, and made some open lay ups. If I was 6’9″ I’d be content dunking on people, not shooting floaters and fade-aways.
  • Spencer Tollackson showed that the classic Big 10 big man isn’t meant for the ACC.
  • Al Nolen started and looked shaky in the first few minutes of the game. He eventually calmed down and had three assists to go along with three early turnovers. Even though this was his most freshman-like game, he still hasn’t had more turnover than assists in a game.
  • Lawrence McKenzie needed an Iowa State type game. Instead we got Lawrence vs Army instead.
  • Kevin Payton- No points, no rebounds, one assist, two turnovers: quite average for him actually.
  •  Jonathan Williams had 4 points and a huge block in limited work. He was another victim of Florida States athleticism.
  • Blake Hoffarber played his best game of his career by far. He finished with 12 points to lead the team on 5-9 shooting. He had three turnovers, but that is not a bad trade off considering he was the only Gopher to consistently make open shots.
  • Lawrence Westbrook played great in the first half, and not so great in the second half. Despite being the shortest man on the floor, he pulled down six rebounds, three of them offensive. I still can’t believe Dan Monson couldn’t find some use for him.
  • Jamal Abu-Shamala played as he has every game this season. A decent game for a spot shooter off the bench, and now that he officially is a spot shooter off the bench, I can’t complain.
  • Damian Johnson showed that he could be much better if he could just finish after grabbing an offensive rebound. Still, considering what many were expecting from his this season, no complaints.

Gopher vs Seminoles, ACC vs Big Ten

The Gophers face Florida State tomorrow night in the ACC-Big 1o Challenge, in what will be a key game for two possible bubble teams. While many will focus on Big 10 losing streak in these challenges, and apologists for both sides will defend their conference to the death, I am just happy that this marks the return of on-campus college basketball games that matter. Few things annoy me more than lackadaisical basketball on neutral courts in meaningless tournaments which now fills every non-football waking (and sleeping thank to Hawaii and Alaska) moment during Thanksgiving weekend.

Last week, the Gophers beat Iowa State on the road and Central Michigan at home. The Iowa State game showed just how far the Gophers have come since last year’s disappointing season and the Central Michigan game showed just how far they still have to go. A repeat of the out of sync and at times lackluster performance displayed Saturday night will not be enough. Hopefully it had more to do with a post Thanksgiving hangover between two big road games than a regression to last year’s point a minute offensive pace.

Like Minnesota, Florida State is a difficult team to figure out. After a season opening home win against now free falling UAB, FSU they were also in the mood for a free-fall, at least for a few days. They lost to Cleveland State and South Florida, teams that have already lost to Georgia Southern and South Florida respectively. Following those two losses FSU went into Gainsville and completely dominated the back to back national champions. Apparently, the Seminole want to secure their spot on the bubble early this year.

The last two years FSU has failed to make the NCAA tournament following seasons as confusing as this one so far. They beat Duke on the road but then lost five ACC games in a row, as if they were challenging the selection committeee to disregard what should have been a resume solidifying victory. Al Thorton, their leading all-everything leading scorer has left for the NBA, but they return their four other starters including a strong back court.

As pointed over at Down with Goldy, the majority of skill and scoring for FSU can be found in their back-court. Most would agree that the Gopher’s strength is their front court, but at least on the defensive end, they have been a liability, especially against Iowa State. With Florida State’s limited front court punch, the Gophers should dominate on the inside.

Florida State has always been one of the most athletic teams in the ACC, and there is no reason to doubt that this will be the case again this year. The Gopher guards have been able to shut down opposing back courts so far, but this will their toughest game defensive test. Al Nolen and the Lawrences will be able to hold their own for a while, but if they get tired, the Seminole will be able to run all over Blake Hoffarber, Jamal Abu-Shamala, and Kevin Payton. It will be essential for the top three Gopher guards to stay out of trouble. Don’t expect a lot of scoring out of the Gopher back-court as they will use most of their energy chasing around Florida State’s guards.

To win, the Gophers will need to play their best game so far this season. Coming off the turnover fest against Central Michigan, I just don’t see the Gophers putting together a solid 40 minutes. I expect Florida State jumping to a big lead, the Gophers clawing their way back, but just not enough to win. Florida State wins 73-67. Of course, this is also the team that lost Cleveland State. If the Gophers that beat Iowa State show up, and Florida State plays as badly as they are capable of, the score and the result could easily be reversed. The best part is you can actually see it for yourself. That’s right, the game is actually on TV, on ESPN2

And for those paying attention, this is yet another game against a teams with maroon and/or gold colors. Southwest State, Iowa State, and Central Michigan also have team colors similar to the Gophers. Next year their should be a tournament, or at the very least a trophy awarded to the top maroon and gold team in the country.

An ugly win is still a win

Tonight’s match-up against Central Michigan had the potential to be a trap game, and for the first 18 minutes, that potential was in danger of being realized. Eventually, Minnesota shrugged off its sluggishness long enough to win 77-59. The Gophers came out flat, stood still on offense, weren’t careful with the basketball, and forced Tubby Smith to make a line change a few minutes into the game. The next five didn’t fare much better, as Central Michigan hung around for much of the half until Spencer Tollackson hit a perfect 35 foot three point shot as time expired. It was only one of the many occasions when the Chippewa’s couldn’t stop Tollackson.

Carrying the team with his inside scoring and open court dunking, Tollackson finished the game with 14 points on 5-6 shooting (including the three pointer), six rebounds (three offensive), two blocks, and two steals. Most importantly, he stayed out of foul trouble, while forcing the Chippewa big men (and oh were they big, more later) into frustrated fouls. The Lawrences (McKenzie and Westbrook) were also in double figures with 11 and 10 respectively, both on poor shooting nights.

There are bad basketball teams, there are last year’s Gophers, and then there are this year’s Chippewas. In my previous post, I mentioned the improvement Central Michigan made last year. Rather than being the first step in a rebuilding process, last year’s thirteen wins may have been a fluke. I have a hard time believing that Central Michigan will win more than five games. The problems with the team are clichés out of a sports movie (before the new coach, new player, or inspiring injury or illness leads to a championship, close but inspiring loss, or new found confidence or self-awareness). Giordan Watson, their best player, clearly does not trust his teammates. On several possessions he dribbled nearly the whole possession only to make an ill-advised drive to the basket or take a jump shot. He finished with 22 points, but took 20 shots and also committed four turnovers. A 9-20 shooting night might not look that bad, until one considers what the rest of his teammates did. The most shots attempted by any other Central Michigan players was 6. The rest of the Chippewas shot the ball a combined 29 teams. Joining Watson are the unconventional power forward (generously listed 6’3″ 270 lbs) and former Purdue Boilermaker Nate Minnoy; hot headed point guard Jeremy Allan who fouled out on a personal and technical foul combination after only eight minutes; Marko Spika, a whining, crying immensely untalented European big man; and Justin Blevins, who threw what appeared to be an intentional forearm at Damian Johnson and Kevin Payton on the same play. Ernie Ziegler, the Chippewas’ coach, clearly has his work cut out for him, especially with the team showing no interest in listening to him. The dreadfulness of Central Michigan was clearly the deciding factor of the game. Although, in an alarming development, they somehow turned the ball over less than the Gophers. At least the Gophers doubled their assist total over the Iowa State game.

On a random side note, I was selected the “Fuel it up fan of the game” because I remained standing during the time outs. I didn’t have the heart to tell the fan of the game selector that I wasn’t standing because of my undying dedication to all things maroon and gold, but because I have been mostly sedentary since Wednesday afternoon and didn’t want to sit anymore. However, I’ll take the $50 gift card, and especially the opportunity to stand on the court and hear Dick Jankowski say my name. And they say dreams don’t come true.

Who did what:

  • Dan Coleman played soft again on offense, but had eight rebounds to go along with nine points. He added two blocks and two steals. Unfortunately, Coleman had five of the Gopher turnovers.
  • Jamal Abu-Shamala made his free throws.
  • Spencer Tollackson dominated again. You probably won’t ever see him make a 30 some footer buzzer beater and have a break away dunk again.
  • Lawrence McKenzie also made his free throws and didn’t do much else.
  • Lawrence Westbrook played much better than last Tuesday, and pulled down a very impressive rebound over several players, many of whom are on his own team.
  • Al Nolen continues to not play like a freshman. He led the team with 5 assists and committed only one turnover while playing solid defense.
  • Kevin Payton may finally have had his plug pulled. He didn’t start and played only 10 minutes. He did start the second half, but immediately turned the ball over on an ugly attempt at a behind the back dribble. It turns out the Payton has a little bit of foot-speed, but is completely out of control when moving faster than a snail’s pace. Three points, three personal fouls, and four turnover aren’t good enough on any team, even Central Michigan. He couldn’t even draw a foul on an intentional quasi-punch.
  • Jonathan Williams made both shots he attempted, pulled down four rebounds, and didn’t foul anyone. This is very encouraging.
  • Blake Hoffarber played his best game as a Gopher, making three three-pointers.
  • Damian Johnson was once again a solid contributer, making a fall away sweeping layup despite being intentionally fouled.
  • Ryan Saunders: modest suit, ugly tie.
  • Travis Busch gets his fashion advice from Saunders.
  • The crowd showed up, including future Gopher Paul Carter, although there were plenty of new (and much older) faces in The Barnyard. It was good to see the upper deck full for a non-conference game.

Though hardly anyone could watch the game because hardly any ISP’s carry ESPN360, there are at least video highlights of tonight’s game available here.

Gophers try to avoid trap game against Central Michigan

*

On Tuesday the Gophers won their first non-conference road game since 2005, and this coming Tuesday face an even tougher test at Florida State. Sandwiched between these two big games are the lowly Central Michigan Chippewas, who despite their mediocre basketball skills, were fortunate to keep their team’s nickname thanks to their strong relationship with the Native American community. Well at least they have that going for them, because this is not their basketball team’s year.

Central Michigan expected to be a much better team this year. Last year, the Chippewas were 13-18 (compared to 4-24 the previous year), still not great but at least semi-respectable. With four returning starters, including PG Giordan Watson, a 15 ppg scorer so far this year, things were looking up. Then the season started, and it was all down hill from there. A loss to Missouri was acceptable, but after losses to Central Missouri and Niagara, last year’s improvement is a distant memory.

The Gophers should run away with tomorrow’s game, but a couple of factor might keep things close. As already mentioned, tomorrow’s game falls between two much more important games. For a team that doesn’t have much big game experience, they might easily look ahead to Florida State. Even if next Tuesday’s game was against a team prefaced with Middle, Central, or Northern, the calendar could work against the Gophers anyway. Thursday was of course Thanksgiving, and basketball may not have been in the forefront of the players minds. The student section won’t be at its fullest or loudest, and the rest the fans will be recovering from the estimated 4,500 calories that the average person consumes each Thanksgiving. Tubby Smith emphasizes discipline and preparation. Through no fault of his own, tomorrow could be a difficult day to get a team fired up to play some MAC also-rans.

Despite all this, I am picking the Gophers to win 72-58 in a game not all that different than Tuesday’s win against Iowa State. Of course, a blow out featuring a Busch-Hoffarber out of bounds baseball pass would be nice to see.

*Yes, that is a picture of a gopher trap.

So much to be thankful for in Tubby Smith’s first recruiting class.

The early signing period has ended with a bang for the Gophers. Devoe Joseph, widely regarded as the best high school basketball player in Canada (which might be comparable to the best high school hockey player in Brazil) has signed a letter of intent to play for the Gophers. When the final recruiting rankings come out, expect to see the Gophers in the top ten.

What better way to escape annoying family members than to watch a few youtube clips, even if they only last a minute.

Colton Iverson

Ralph Sampson III

I know there have to be videos out there of the other three recruits, Joseph, Devron Bostick, and Paul Carter, but I can’t find them. Send them this way if you know where to look.

Tollackson, McKenzie help Gophers hold off Iowa State

Last year the Gophers would have lost this game. At any point during the Dan Monson era, the Gopher’s could have lost this game. But it is a new year with a new coach and new toughness, and the Gophers are 2-0 already with a road win under their belts.

The final score, 68-58, was not indicative of how close the game actually was, or maybe after watching so many seemingly unloseable turn into disasters, it only seemed excruciatingly close.

The seniors, specifically Spencer Tollackson and Lawrence McKenzie, led the way. While Iowa State fab freshman Craig Brackins was putting up career numbers, Tollackson in his now familiar agile but slightly awkward swirling style, kept pace. Iowa State was helpless when Tollackson got the ball inside. Jamal Abu-Shamala was able to exploit an attempt at fronting Tollackson with a soft lob pass over the defense that led to a wide open layup. In the second half, it was all McKenzie. He did not start, but was able to run the floor and play solid defense. However, he still had not found his outside shot, most likely due to missing several practices due to a lingering groin injury. In the second half he found his shot, scoring 15 of his 20 points, and hitting several three pointers, one of which bounced high off the rim before rolling in.

Though Tollackson and McKenzie had big games, the real determining factors were buried deeper in the box score. As was the case in previous games, the Gophers held on to the ball, and crashed the offensive boards. Despite poor shooting and lots of fouls the Gophers led at half time, by volume alone. If you take enough shots, making all of them isn’t as important. The Gopher guards continued to rebound beyond their size, particularly on the offensive end.

Most importantly, the Gophers displayed a toughness that will be a key to a successful season. They were able to hold on during a 15-3 run between the end of the first half and the first few minutes of the second half that resulted in a six point Iowa State lead. But each time Iowa State made a run the Gophers buckled down defensively. The Gophers were clearly more prepared to play a close game, even though this was their second game of the season compared to Iowa State’s fourth.

Overall, this was an impressive win that shows that the remarkable improvement over last year may be due to more than inferior competition. The Gophers faced their first real test of the season, and passed with flying colors.

Who did what?

  • Dan Coleman looked flat out horrible in the first half on both ends of the court, missing wide open jumpers and allowing Craig Brackins to score out will. In the second half he really stepped up, especially defensively, and also made a few nice inside shots. He will need to start stepping it up once the Big 10 season starts.
  • Kevin Payton did nothing, literally. No shots, no field goals, no points, no free throws made, no free throws attempted, no steals, though he did add a whopping assist, block, two rebounds, and a foul. His lack of out put, and more importantly foot speed, are a severe liability. It is not a coincidence that every Iowa State run took place while he and Abu-Shamala were on the floor at the same time.
  • Spencer Tollackson was dominant, shooting 8-12 from the floor. However, he faced foul trouble that luckily proved not to be a factor.
  • Lawrence Westbrook struggled in what amounted to his first college road game of consequence. He was able to make two free throws in the last minute of the game to seal the win, not an easy thing to do after sitting on the bench for most of the game.
  • Jamal-Abu Shamala had a nice assist and made a three pointer, but was otherwise a non-factor.
  • Lawrence McKenzie led the Gopher resurgence in the second half making threes, playing tough defense, and chasing down seven rebounds, which tied for the team lead with Damian Johnson.
  • Jonathan Williams threw his weight around, perhaps a little too much. He made both shots he attempted, but picked up a quick three fouls including one about 35 feet from the basket…not the best decision he has ever made.
  • Damian Johnson continues to display amazing athleticism, and had the play of the game with a blocked three pointer and dunk. He finished with five points, seven rebounds, and two blocks. He could have had more points if not for a few play where he was out of control. At times he looked like a lanky Rico Tucker. Luckily, the areas where he needs to improve can be improved, while the areas he excels at can’t be taught. He should continue to improve this year.
  • Travis Busch played, but the Gopher might have been better off if he didn’t.
  • Blake Hoffarber continues to play hard, but is still obviously a freshman. Wide open off balance fade-away 18 footers just aren’t necessary.
  • Al Nolen once again played the most minutes at point guard. Despite not filling the score book, he played great defense as usual (5 steals!) and effectively ran the offense. He’s also an impressive rebounder, especially since he is often the shortest player on the floor.
  • Ryan Saunders may have been at the game, but I am beginning to wonder if he is actually on the team or just likes to hang around the team wearing expensive suits.

If you are reading this you can watch the Iowa State game

I was already to complain about Comcast for not being able to watch tomorrow night’s game. After all, the are responsible for genocide, global warming, political repression in Pakistan, and worst of all, the demotion of Pluto, so why would’t they be responsible for the Gophers not being on TV. Forutunately, or maybe unfortunately, the Gophers will not be on TV not because of Comcast vs. the Big Ten Network. It seems they won’t be on TV because only local Iowa stations will be showing the game.

All is not lost, though. You can watch the game tomorrow from the comfort of your own computer. It will cost you $10, but you won’t have to set foot inside the state Iowa. This is a good thing.  Click here for more information.