Category Archives: Tubby Smith

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

Damian Johnson led Gophers win in near record breaker

Bouncing back from a loss against Florida State in which the seniors failed to make a difference, Damian Johnson and the rest of the underclassman once again had to pick up the slack as the Gophers trounced lowly UC-Riverside. Giving up their second lowest point total ever, the Gophers won 75-38. In a season full of pre-conference cupcakes, the Highlanders (whose mascot is a bear for some reason) are the worst so far.

Damian Johnson had his best game as a Gopher. In my preview of yesterday’s game, I mentioned the all Johnson needs to work on is his shooting, particularly near the basket. Johnson did just that making all five of his field goal attempts and finishing with 12 points. As he has become accustomed to doing, he filled the rest of the stat sheet as well, with 7 rebounds, three blocks, three steals, and countless altered shots and deflections.

The loss to Florida State gave the Gophers plenty to work on, and the Highlanders gave the Gophers a perfect punching bag. As a team, the Gophers continued their trade mark defensive pressure, forcing 21 turnovers while only giving up 14 field goals. On the offensive end, the horrendous shooting against Florida State did not lead to a hangover. Minnesota started hot stayed hit. They were shot 53% from the free throw line and shot 47% from the field for the game. They continued their dominance on the offensive glass, and were +10 overall in rebounding. Most importantly, the Gophers were active on offense and moved the ball well, recording 21 assists on their 25 assists, including 6 by Kevin Payton in 9 minutes. In previous games the Gophers assist to field goal ratio was often 2:1 in the wrong direction.

Despite the lopsided score, there is still more to improve upon. Even facing a team as bad as, the Gophers gave up 13 turnovers, almost all of them unforced. However, the real concerns continue to involve individuals. The season that began with assumptions of a senior led team without much help has quickly become the season of the underclassman, with real questions swirling around the senior. While Lawrence McKenzie returned to form, Dan Coleman continues to play tentatively, and Spencer Tollackson struggled again from the floor.

Dan Coleman has an NBA body, and has shown flashes of NBA potential in the past. An athletic 6-9 forward with a decent outside shot should at the very least have solid games against inferior competition. Instead, Coleman had what may have been his worst game of the season. PJS asks if the Gopher forward is in Tubby’s dog house. If he isn’t, he should be He picked up two quick fouls and scored only six points. Limited minutes, and therefore limited stats due to foul trouble happen occasionally, and aren’t too troubling. My concern with Coleman continues to be how he plays the game. Coleman can’t seem to make up his mind when he gets the ball. Once he starts to make a move, he can’t seem to decide where to go. Nearly every movement he makes appears to be the product of an excruciatingly difficult decision. The athletic advantage that he often has is completely neutralized. While some has criticized his effort, I think the real issue is that he just has too many other things on his mind. He has already graduated, and may be focusing on the rest of his life. The world would be a better place if more college athletes realized there is more to life than shoe contracts and million dollar houses, but this doesn’t make watching Coleman play any less agonizing.

Spencer Tollackson also had a difficult game. He continues to have problems getting into position on the block, leading to lots of spinning and flailing shots that are just out of his range. He also made a few mental errors including at least two blind cross court passes that landed in the crowd. On each occasion, Tubby Smith gave Spencer plenty of time to think about what he had done. After benching his seniors against Florida State, it should come as no surprise that Tubby would bench a senior in a blow out. Despite a less than stellar game, Tollackson continues to show the admirable effort he is known for.

Who did what:

  • Dan Coleman continued to struggle. Even though he is a senior, he may be at risk of losing playing time to Damian Johnson.
  • Jamal Abu-Shamala had his best shooting game of the season, hitting 3-6 from behind the three point line for 11 points and 4 rebounds.
  • Spencer Tollackson scored a hard-earned 10 points but was only 4-10 from the floor.
  • Lawrence Westbrook struggled, making only 1 of 4 shots. His early season progress appears to have been an aberration.
  • Lawrence McKenzie is back to making threes. He led the team in scoring with 18 points, 15 from behind the arc.
  • Kevin Payton still refuses to shoot, but at least this time his passes went where they were supposed to go. Six assists in 9 minutes with no shots points, rebounds, blocks, or steals.
  • Jonathan Williams had 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, and not much else.
  • Al Nolen continued to be a steady presence in the back court with 4 assists and one turnover.
  • Blake Hoffarber had another good game, and showed that he can get his shot off in a hurry from just about anywhere. He had 13 points on 4 threes along with 4 steals.
  • Damian Johnson is Trevarus Bennet 2.o.
  • Ryan Saunders should be on Project Runway
  • Tubby Smith was riled up, and wasn’t afraid to yell at the ref’s or his team. At least for a day he abandoned the glare and told his players what they needed to do and how to do it.
  • The Barnyard returned in force, especially for a snowy day against a weak team. Does any one have a hard hat they want to give away? Its been 10 years since the hard hat guys occupied the student section. I may never carry Bobby Jackson around the court, but I do want to bring their spirit back to the barn.
  • The rest of crowd wasn’t bad either. It was nothing like the good old days, but given the horrible driving conditions and the even worse win walking to The Barn, anyone that made it to the game deserves a pat on the back.

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.

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.

Iowa State game marks end of Veteran’s Day Hiatus

Oh those college basketball schedulers. After almost a week and half break, perhaps resulting from Veteran’s Day (or some other more obscure holiday that I am not aware of) the Gophers play Iowa State on Tuesday. Clearly, this is the biggest game so far in Tubby Smith’s career at Minnesota, and given the lack of success in recent year’s, this may be the most important game since the Gopher’s NIT loss to Cincinnati a few years back. The Gopher’s performance in Ames will tell us a bit more about how far this team has come, and what we can expect for the rest of the season.

If the Gopher’s play like they have so far this season, they have a very good chance of winning. Iowa State’s best player Wes Johnson is injured though he may still play. With Johnson’s impact on the game most likely diminished substantially, the Gopher’s lack of size (and fouls to give) may be less of a factor.

The Gophers should have won last year’s match-up, but as was so often the case, they blew a late lead and lost. However, Mike Taylor, who simply took over the second half of that game, has had all sorts of problems take over his life. He was kicked off the team after stealing cold medicine from Cub Foods.

Hilton Coliseum is a tough place to play (though may be quieter than usual based on the availability of tickets), and Iowa State is a significant step up in competition. Al Nolen, who by now deserves to be starting, will be playing his road game with the Gophers. Tubby will has had a week to prepare. Combining all these factors, you have a recipe for what should be a very entertaining game.

My prediction you ask? Gopher 73-66 in a game that will be much closer than the score suggests. This is a Gopher Blog after all.