Big Win is Big Relief

The Gophers did what they were supposed to do, which is certainly what they were not able to do time and time again a year ago. With relative ease, the Gophers beat one of the better Division II teams in the country, showed that they will undoubtedly be better than last year, and escaped without any injuries. What more could you ask for?

Despite higher expectations than a year ago, especially with a coach who has already achieved demigod status on the local sports scene, no one really knew what to expect. To the chagrin of many, Tubby Smith has stayed out of the media and kept practices mostly closed, not that the local media wants to fight rush hour traffic to watch drills at 7:30 in the morning. Would the team be any better? Would anyone bother showing up to find out? What can you find out against a team whose most well known player is named Attila?

The team is better, definitely. The offense had more flow than at any point last year. The point a minute pace of a year ago has been replaced with crisp passes, not so crisp full court heaves, and just enough bad decisions to whet any coaches pre-season appetite for things to work on. Lawrence McKenzie is a great leaper, but Kevin Payton should know by now that a sure two points is better than a haphazard ally-oop pass to a player two inches shorter just isn’t worth it.

So what did we learn? Who knows? A loss to a Division II team tells you a lot more than a win ever will. At the very least, the Gophers will be worth paying attention to this year, will probably win a game or two that they shouldn’t, and have a shot at getting back to the NIT. Tubby won’t resurrect this program over night, but at least there is life in The Barn once again.

Who did what?

Dan Coleman was more aggressive, more confident, and might begin to reach his full potential as his college career winds down.

Jonathan Williams is not just a presence, but a force. Last year he the elephant in the room. Everyone knew he was there, but no one talked about him. He is bigger, stronger, and not afraid to throw his weight around, even if he occasionally mistook Minnesota State’s Jadee Jones’ s head for the ball. Williams consistently altered shots, intimidated anyone venturing into the lane, and pulled down an impressive 13 rebounds.

Lawrence McKenzie scored his share of points as usual, but did so within the flow of the offense.

The other Lawrence (Westbrook), starting in place of Jamal Abu-Shamala, showed that his gaudy high-school numbers should have earned him more playing time last year.

Al Nolan didn’t play like a freshman. For a team lacking point guard experience, this is surely a good sign.

Damian Johnson showed he was by far the most athletic player on the floor, twice blocking mid-range jump shots. If only there was a libero in basketball.

Kevin Payton still looks lost. He did have five assists and only one turnover, but didn’t score and committed three fouls in only 15 minutes.

Travis Busch had good hair, but Ryan Saunders’ was better.

Sid Hartman almost made it through the first half.


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