Thursday, December 16, 2010

Minnesota Gopher men 66 Akron Zips 58

The Minnesota Gopher men eased past a scrappy bunch of Akron Zips 66-58 at Williams Arena Wednesday night. Akron led 32-27 at the half, and 39-38 around the 11:00 mark. But having made 14-of-46 FG up to that point, Minnesota converted 11-of-14 the rest of the way and led by as much as 61-46 at about 4:00. Still the Zips came back within 63-56 at 2:00, but then scored just 1 more time inside of 0:10.

The Gophers got balanced scoring from Blake Hoffarber and Trevor Mbakwe (13 each), Rodney Williams (12) and Devoe Joseph (11), and out-rebounded the Zips 45-32. But 17 turnovers and 10 missed FT helped keep Akron in the game.

The result left Gopher fans grumbling. Post-game comments on include:

• "This team is going nowhere...."
• "Devoe Joseph (is) very hard to watch," a reference to his 5 turnovers and shoot-1st approach to playing the point
• "Ralph had 2 rebounds in 29 minutes."
• "Gopher basketball is painful to watch."

How is it that a team that can beat North Carolina and West Virginia on a neutral court can beat Siena by 7, Cornell by 5 and Akron by 8?

What's the Prognosis?

Well, 1st, the analyses offered up on GopherHole are not wrong. "The perimeter defense is weak." Too many turnovers. A truly terrible FT shooting percentage.

But, 2nd, let's acknowledge the parity that exists in college hoops and give some credit to Akron. Sure, they're now 4-and-4. With losses to 4 teams with a collective 36 wins and 6 losses. Dayton (7-3) won at Mississippi. Cleveland State is 12-0. Temple (7-2) beat #9 Georgetown 68-65. Akron played smart, poised basketball. The Gophers did not lack for intensity, but Akron matched 'em. The Gophers are big but Akron started 7-foot and 6-8 and brought 6-10 and 6-6 off the bench. Akron gave nothing away. They made the Gophers earn everything.

And, as noted above, Minnesota grabbed 45 boards to Akron's 32. While the Gophers' perimeter D didn't impress, the Zips made just 10-of-31 3s. Only from the FT line did the Gophers play down to their reputation, making 12-of-22. Mbakwe made 3-of-7, bringing his percentage down to 56 for the year. Joseph made 1-of-3, and is at 54 percent for the year. Colt Iverson made 2-of-4 to drop to 56 percent. On the plus side, Mo Walker made 2-of-3 to raise his percentage to 40.

The real question for the Gophers has been depth. The starting 5 or 6, now consisting of Hoffarber, Joseph, Mbakwe, Sampson and Williams--and potentially again including Nolen at some point--is pretty good. Off the bench, Iverson brings strength and experience, though of course it's true that if he were the player that we and he and coach Tubby Smith hoped he'd be, he'd be starting.

And it's true that on Wednesday night, in a tough, competitive ballgame, Tubby saw fit to play his 4 freshmen only 29 minutes among 'em. Walker played well with 4 points, 5 boards and 3 steals in 11 minutes. Maverick Ahanmisi made his only shot, a lay-up off a great hustle steal, but added 2 turnovers in 7 minutes. Austin Hollins and Chip Armelin failed to score in 11 minutes between 'em. The Gophers are going to need more than 29 minutes from the 4 many times this winter, but it's also true that this was just 1 game. For the season, the 4 have averaged 47 minutes and 14 points. Tubby recently called them his best freshman class at Minnesota, and that may be right. They've performed way beyond their reputations coming in.

The Gophers got absolutely flayed on GopherHole after the Virginia loss, and many said they were "shocked" and "surprised" by the loss, as if we should have expected an unbeaten season after the wins in Puerto Rico. I got flayed myself for suggesting that the loss wasn't that big of a surprise because the Gophers are probably something all the lines of a 20-10 team.

That was based on their losing another non-conference game, probably at St. Joe's, but one can now predict that they probably oughta beat South Dakota State to finish the non-conference season at 11-1. Still, it comes down to what they'll be able to do in the Big 10, where they could plausibly be underdogs for 4 of their 1st 5 games: at Wisconsin, at #9 Michigan State, at #2 Ohio State, and against #9 Purdue at the Barn. Say they win 2 of the 1st 5, they've still got 4 more games against rated opponents and 6 more road games.

It's unlikely, in short, that the conference record will be any better than 11-7. Still, 11-7 would make 'em better than 20-10--but rather 22-8 overall and keep 'em in the top 25, and get 'em probably 4th place and a #5-6 seed for the NCAA, better if they could win a couple games in the Big 10 tournament. But if the win total is not 22, it's a lot more likely to be 21 than 23.

And why might they win 20 or 21 instead of 22 or 23? Well, because of poor FT shooting and because they're gonna get lit up from 3-point land by at least a couple-3 Big 10 teams and because Devoe Joseph will turn it over. Oh, yeah, and because their opponents are gonna bring a pretty good caliber of ball at 'em. But wouldn't 22 wins and 2 more in the Big 10 tournament and 2 more in the NCAA make this the best Gopher basketball season since 1997? Yeah, it sure would. Enjoy it while you can.

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