Category Archives: Al Nolen

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.

Al Nolen is just about perfect

Next year’s Gopher recruiting class may be highly touted, but Al Nolen is showing that this year’s freshmen have impact potential as well. Despite a sluggish first half, the Gophers beat Southwest Minnesota State 88-52.

After last weeks solid floor game against Minnesota State, Nolen scored 24 points, didn’t miss a shot from the field or the free throw line, including 6-6 from behind the three point line, and perhaps most importantly, turned the ball over only once. Spencer Tollackson was 8-10 from the floor, and was unstoppable from the inside. Unfortunately, this proved to be the only reliable scoring from the Gophers in the first half, as they missed several wide open three pointers, occasionally on one possession.

Southwest State was ableto hang around until half time, occassionally causing Gopher fans to have flashbacks to last year’s embarrassing but not particularly surprising loss to Winona State. The Mustangs repeatedly answered Gopher runs, cutting the lead to one with nine minutes to play in the first half, and down to five after a buzzer beating three pointer .

The second half was all Gophers as the outside shots started to fall, and the Mustangs could barely get a shot off. The Gophers made 7-11 three pointers in the second half, compared to 20% in the first half. Southwest State made only two field goals in the second half, and were only able to get off 14 shots. In the first half they were 14-27 from the floor.

While it is way to early to tell if Nolen’s performance will translate to a successful freshman season, at the very least it shows that the Gophers may have a viable second point guard, perhaps enough to free Lawrence Mckenzie from ball handling duties. McKenzie sat out tonight’s game with a groin injury. Hopefully both former Minneapolis Henry guards will have the chance to be on the court at the same time Saturday against Army.

Who did what

  • Lawrence Westbrook once again showed he is deserving of his increased playing time. His 17 points in no way rivaled his record setting high school performances, but his play continues to take pressure off “the big three”.
  • Jamal Abu-Shamala didn’t play much, but did make his first three pointer of the season. Hopefully he will avoid washing dishes for the rest of the season
  • I was high on Kevin Payton a year ago, but I am not sure why now. He continues to lead the team in assists, but is such a liability when he shoots and while playing defense that it may be time to move the other guards up in the rotation.
  • Jonathan Williams is a fouling machine. There were no highlight material decapitations tonight, which is an improvement over last week. However, it is hard to be intimidating while sitting on the bench.
  • Blake Hoffarber continues to show growing pains. He was beaten badly on consecutive plays late in the first half. Being beaten because of lack of height or quickness is acceptable, but there is no excuse for simply having no idea where your man is.
  • Ryan Saunders’s suit costs as much as tuition at the U. I know he is Flip’s kid, but he doesn’t need to dress like his dad.
  • The student section, or at least the writer of the student section newsletter, needs to watch a few more basketball games before writing official cheering instructions. It shouldn’t take five sentences to describe how to distract a free throw shooter. More on this in a later entry.