Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Second Season: Gopher Men

Last in a series of posts about "The Second Season," consisting for most teams of the conference season. After the "pre"/non-conference season and before the playoffs.As for the Minnesota Gopher men:

What a difference a week makes. What a difference the 1st road win over a top 10-ranked opponent in 30 years makes. What a difference Joe Coleman makes, once both he and coach Tubby Smith have confidence in what he can do.

So now, the Gophers are still only 2-4 but with a winnable home game against Northwestern. A respectable 3-4 is within reach. And, sure, the schedule toughens up, but .500 is within reach and possibly even an NCAA tournament berth.

Seriously. 9-9 in the conference would probably be good for 6th or 7th place, which gets you a 10th or 11th place match-up in the Big 10 tournament--probably Iowa, Northwestern, Nebraska or Penn State. Winnable. So now you're 22-10 overall, a conference semi-finalist with Michigan or Illinois between you and a berth in the Big 10 final. So you lose. You're 22-11, 6th in the Big 10 and pretty much of a lead pipe cinch for an NCAA tournament berth.

Of course, to get there (9-9), you probably have to win at Iowa and Nebraska, and at home against Illinois, Wisconsin and/or Indiana. Not a slam-dunk. It depends on who shows up. The bunch that lost to Iowa at Williams Arena, or the one that toughed it out at Bloomington, IN.

And nobody knows the answer to that one. But here's the schedule

1-22 Northwestern--must win
1-25 at Michigan State--it ain't gonna happen
1-28 Illinois--we almost beat 'em down there, though that doesn't make it easy
2-1 at Iowa--we lost to 'em at home, but that doesn't mean it can't be done
2-5 at Nebraska--1st ever conference meeting with the 'Huskers, a must win
2-9 Wisconsin--will the real Badgers please stand up? For tonight let it be the one's that lost to Iowa
2-14 Ohio State--it ain't gonna happen
2-18 at Northwestern--tough game, we haven't played well in Evanston
2-22 Michigan State--even here, it ain't gonna happen
2-25 Indiana--well, we beat 'em down there, why not here? Well...
2-28 at Wisconsin--it ain't gonna happen
3-3 Nebraska--everything will be riding on this game and so, well, we just gotta win

So that adds up to 3 wins, 4 it ain't gonna happens, and 5 swing games--Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Nebraska here, and at Northwestern. Win the games we should win and 4 of these 5 (I mean, 4 of 'em are at home), and that gets you 9-9. But how tough is 9-9? We gotta beat Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana here. Very tough to do. And that's why I figure that's the upside.

In order to do that, the Gophers will have to prove that they are the team that beat Indiana and Penn State, and that they are quite emphatically not the bunch that lost to Iowa. Here's who's gotta do it, with the number of minutes they're playing. They add up to more than 40 minutes because some guys have missed some games. But you get the idea.

C- Sampson 22 Eliason 13 Ingram 8
PF- Williams 30 Oto 11
SF- Coleman 13 Armelin 15 but with Mbakwe's minutes gone this will have to be more like Coleman 23 Armelin 17
PG- Welch 25 Ahanmisi 18
SG- Austin 26 Andre 16

Is this a Big 10 caliber rotation?


Sampson is of course a big disappointment. He just does not attack the hoop. Still, he shoots 53 percent, he gets 5 boards and 2 blocks. Plus he gets 2 assists and is one of the better passers on the team. All in all, the guy is a senior, he is what he is. Which is to say, offensively not much, but overall a decent ballplayer. Cut him some slack. And Eliason has been productive off the bench, Ingram not so much. Grade: C

Power Forward

Rodney has stepped up since Trevor went down, but still disappears at times. Ralph takes a shot every 3.5 minutes and people complain about his lack of aggressiveness. Rodney takes a shot every 4.2 minutes. You'd like to see a guy who shoots 58 percent take more shots. But, then there's 6 boards, 2 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks. Depending on the match-up, he is sometimes a stellar defender. This is a fine all-around player. Oto is sometimes very effective, other times not at all. I like his future, but right now we need Rodney on that floor. Grade: B

Small Forward

To go 9-9, the Gophers need Joe to be the guy who scored 23 points at Penn State, not the occasionally bewildered freshman who scored 4.5 ppg prior to that. If he is truly the latter, 9-9 is out of the question. Given that our two bigger and more experienced fellows are so loath to take the big shot, however, Coleman is exactly the kind of guy needed at this position. I mean, he only takes a FG attempt every 4 minutes, but unlike Ralph and Rodney, he gets to the FT line. He's shooting 46 percent from the field and 82 from the line. And though he's 6-4, he plays more like 6-7 on offense. He gets to the rim and he knows how to finish once he gets there, even against bigger guys.

Chip Armelin is a fine back-up, sometimes an outstanding one, but he's certainly up-and-down. More of an instant offense guy even than Coleman, he takes a shot more than every 3 minutes and makes 44 percent. He's shooting only 42 percent from the line, however, so he's never gonna be out there at crunch time.

Grade: C trending toward a B.

Point Guard

Julian Welch and Maverick Ahanmisi share the spot and together make almost a whole "1." Welch shoots the ball every 3 minutes (making 47 percent) and gets an assist every 10. Ahanmisi shoots it every 5.5 minutes (making 38 percent) but gets an assist every 7 minutes. Welch turns it over every 11 minutes, Mav every 13.

Mav is more of a "1" at heart, but in this lineup Tubby needs Welch's scoring threat. Grade: C

Off Guard

Austin and Andre Hollins share the position for now. Each shoots the ball a little more than every 4 minutes. Austin makes 45 percent, Andre the freshman 35 percent, which is why Austin gets 2/3 of the minutes. Well, that and he gets more rebounds, more assists, more steals and even more blocked shots. But the main number is 14 ppg and little more than 40 percent shooting between them at what is for most teams the #1 scoring position. Grade: D


Think, by the way, of an A as an all-conference player, B as a solid starting type player, and C and D are average to well below average. The Gophers are clearly better than average at only 1 position. So all the others better be average and not below, and collectively they're not all there yet. So, there is zero margin for error.

Or, in other words, are we ready to win all the games we should plus Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin at Williams Arena? Again, that would seem to be a little bit much to hope for. 9-9 remains the goal, the upside, and unlikely. 7-11 or 8-10 seems more likely, and that doesn't get you that coveted NCAA tournament bid.

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