Category Archives: College Basketball

Coleman, Peyton lead Gopher stampede over NDSU

You aren’t seeing things. I did just write that Dan Coleman and Kevin Peyton played key roles in the Gophers surprisingly lopsided 89-56 victory over the Bison. While both players had their best games of the season, it is admittedly a stretch to say either decided the game. In fact, it is  a stretch to say Kevin Peyton had a good game, but given how Coleman  and Peyton have played this season, this may my only opportunity to heap praises upon them at the same time.

If Dan Coleman didn’t have his athleticism, body, and overall skills, I would have very little reason to be frustrated with him. His numbers aren’t horrible. In fact, Jamal Abu-Shamala has become something of fan favorite with similar numbers. The fact is, Coleman is not Abu-Shamala, and should be much better than he has played so far. The reasons for his lack of output are still somewhat mysterious, but most certainly of the psychological/mental variety, and can only be overcome by playing through them. Realizing this, and apparently backtracking from his decision to bench players who are struggling, Tubby Smith played Coleman for 31 minutes, 8 minutes more than any other Gopher.

The Gopher forward is on his way back. Though he still needs to return to form in a few areas, he filled the stat sheet last night.  He scored 15 points on 7-13 shooting, had 8 rebounds (4 offensive), 4 assists, and 2 blocks. Most importantly, he showed determined effort on both ends of the court, at one point rebounding his own miss three or four times before getting the tip in. He also stuck to what he is best at, finding openings in the zone for easy dunks and 10 foot jumpers. Of course, in what has so far been a disappointing season for Coleman, the story was not all positive. He committed four fouls in what was a very strangely officiated game, and also had four turnover including a dunk he missed by 10 feet (really). The stats were a bit inflated due to the opponent, but it was at least a game that can be built on.

Kevin Peyton, perhaps suffering from the same psychological issues that have afflicted Coleman, showed signs of what made him 25 ppg scorer and track and field superstar in high school. He didn’t shoot much, made some bad turnovers, but also managed to lead some stunning fast breaks and had a few other eye popping assists. I hesitate to say this, but nearing the five minute mark in the second half, he took over the game. Barring and miraculous recoveries by Travis Busch or Ryan Saunders, Kevin Payton will the last player off the bench, but at least he will be the best last player off the bench in the Big 10. Peyton is young, and given the complete system overhaul between his first and second year, it may be more instructive to consider this to be his freshman year. With 2+ years left under Tubby, Peyton may pull an Eric Harris type turn around, or he might continue to be the best worst player. Only time will tell.

As a team, the Gophers built off their improvements against UC-Riverside and completely dominated nearly all facets of the game. They were +3 on turnovers, +9 on rebounds, and outshot NDSU 53%-33%. As was the case against UC-Riverside, they forced nearly as many turnovers as field goals allowed, 19 and 20 respectively.

Against what many think will still be a dangerous team this year, the Gophers showed they are the team no one should overlook.

Who did what:

  • Dan Coleman played his best game of the year, and hopefully has found a reason to be confident or at least interested.
  • Jamal Abu-Shamala bled his own blood…alot. He left the game after taking what appeared to be an elbow to the bridge of his nose. After a few stitches and a few encouraging words from his mom, he was back in the game during the extended garbage time. He didn’t do much, but at least he is ok.
  • Spencer Tollackson scored 8 points on 4-7 shooting, but had his playing time limited by fouls. He looked much better on the offensive end.
  • Lawrence Westbrook had 11 points in 15 minutes, but turned the ball over three times.
  • Lawrence McKenzie had an easy 11 points in 4 fouls.
  • Al Nolen showed he can score when he wants to. He tied for the team lead with 15 points on 75% shooting. He had another 5 steals, and has to be a candidate for conference defensive player of the year.
  • Kevin Peyton made a buzzer beating three in the first half and a wide open three in the second half. He also missed 3 other very makeable shots. But at least he is shooting…right?
  • Jonathan Williams dominated when he was in the game. Dunking, passing, mid range jumpers, it was all there for him tonight.
  • Blake Hoffarber was in double figures again with 10 points. He added 6 rebounds and 3 steals, showing he is more than a pretty jump shot.
  • Damian Johnson is human, though a very energetic version of humanity. He had two points and 3 assists, but as usual, impacted the game in ways that aren’t easily reflected in the box score.
  • Travis and Ryan seem to be a little too happy being injured.
  • The crowd was big and loud. If NDSU fans were not there, the attendance would be about what it was for the other games, but The Barnyard was nearly full and the rest of the fans showed their appreciation for Gophers tough defense.
  • Santa, or a very Santa looking Gopher fan remains a Barnyard favorite, but he insists on wearing red. Bad Santa.

The real reason the Gophers are so improved this year: Floor burns

Highlights from the Big Ten Network

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In the spirit of NoDak State…NoPreview for the NDSU game

Unfortunately, due to a myriad of circumstance including furniture, bad weather, shoveling out parked cars, and an office holiday party involving a fake Santa Claus with an Irish accent asking people to sit on his lap while making speculum jokes, I don’t have time to preview what should be a fun game against NDSU. Thankfully, the other Gopher bloggers are up to the challenge. I’ll be back with a review and hopefully a few North Dakota jokes.

While I never liked Dan Monson when he coached the Gophers, his decision to schedule in state teams for exhibition games and smaller border schools in November and December was wonderful. Its great to have what may be the beginning of a few new rivalries.

Weaknesses exposed- Gophers look to rebound against UC-Riverside

In 7th grade, I was the worst player on the worst team in a league full of very bad basketball teams. I doubt than even a D-III player eventually emerged from an of those Catholic school junior high teams that were happy to hit the rim with a lay up or the back board with a free throw. Most of the time, due to the shear ineptitude of everyone on the basketball court, the games were competitive. Unfortunately, our coach decided to schedule a game against Hopkins or Minnetonka, one of those suburban powers fond of wearing blue and having 6 foot tall seventh graders with a mid-range jumper. Needless to say, we didn’t stand a chance.

While many 7th grade teams (and coaches) would be content to run up the score and give everyone a chance to play, this extremely talented 7th grade team decided to run up the score while working on their weaknesses. Their coach mandated that there would be no shots unless it was a layup or if their team had completed at least five passes. This didn’t keep the score close, but it was probably a lot more beneficial than running past slow and out of shape short kids.

Which brings us to today’s game… UC-Riverside looks a lot my seventh grade basketball team. They are 2-4 but their wins, strangely enough, show more than their losses. Their first win of the season came against Idaho, 65-64. Their other win came against Hope International, which I think we played in 7th grade. Their losses came against, Gonzaga, Eastern Washington, Texas-Arlington, and Texas Tech. The Gophers won’t find a better opportunity to work out their kinks. While it might be a bit demeaning to not let the Gophers shoot until they have made five passes, it might be worthwhile for Tubby Smith might want to consider instituting a few rules for today’s game.

Dan Coleman: Not allowed to shoot a jumpshot until he makes a layup or dunk, and no more than three consecutive jump shots. Blocking a shot or taking a charge may substitute for a layup.

Jamal Abu-Shamala: No shots until he forces a turnover.

Spencer Tollackson- Nothing but dunks, unless he gets an offensive rebound. When he pulls in an offensive rebound, his feet must touch the ground before shooting again.

Damian Johnson- 10 pushups every time he misses a layup. We all know he needs to bulk up for the Big 10 season.

Jonathan Williams- No shots inside 10 feet.

Lawrence McKenzie- Please refer to Dan Coleman

Kevin Payton- Must shoot every time he is within 25 feet of the basket. Errant jumpshots may actually be more beneficial than his errant passing and dribbling.

Ryan Saunders- No suits that are more expensive than tuition at the U until he actually plays a game.

If the Gophers follow all of my suggestions, they might lose. But, they might actually learn something.

Instead, they’ll probably play how they usally do, and win 85-60, though they have a lot to work on.

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.