Sunday, November 20, 2011

Chatting with the Enemy - Minnesota Edition

I exchanged emails with Steve From The Barn - and we each answered each others questions about tomorrow night's game. You can read my answers on their site here

1. The Gophers have played three fairly solid mid-majors to start the season. What have they learned about themselves in those games?

Minnesota has come out excruciatingly slow in each of the three games they've played so far this season. If they've learned anything it would be that they can still rely on their defense to get through slow stretches on offense. It is also apparent that they don't have a go-to shooter they can rely on to hit a clutch jump shot. Their frontcourt is overpowering but teams so far have not respected their outside game and tend to double down on the post players rather than defend the three. I can't say I blame them. It's not fancy, exciting basketball, but so far the job is getting done.

2. Williams Arena always seems to be one of the toughest places to play and the Gophers haven't messed around against the mid-majors in recent seasons. What will the atmosphere be like?

"The Barn" is roundly considered to be one of the tougher places to play in the Big Ten. The crowd is very close to the court and the raised floor can often throw visiting teams off, especially during their first visit. That said, the first three games haven't been well attended and the fanbase usually doesn't get fully engaged until conference games start. The Mount has the opportunity to deaden an already lackluster audience if they can get off to a quick start and capitalize.

3. Trevor Mbakwe is the only Gopher averaging in double figures this season. Is this what would have been expected at the start of the season? Is this a good or a bad thing thus far?

Minnesota has several newcomers this season and is still looking for that natural scorer who can carry the offense when necessary. Unfortunately, the first three games haven't unveiled a distinct offensive threat outside of Mbakwe. We know full well that the offense will revolve around getting Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson the ball down low, so having Mbakwe in double figures isn't surprising. However, the fact that he has basically been the only consistent offensive weapon so far this year is slightly concerning and the absence of output from the backcourt will need to change as the season progresses.

4. Since Tubby Smith arrived the Gophers have been one of the better defensive teams in the country. No exception early on this year allowing less than 57 per game and about .91 per possession. Both impressive numbers. What type of defense will we see?

The Gophers make no bones about making their opponents beat them with the long ball. In fact, it's such an all-or-nothing mentality that I'm surprised it doesn't backfire more often. Minnesota locks down the interior with Mbakwe and Sampson and makes sure as few points as possible are scored in the paint. Of course, this focus leaves the perimeter basically unguarded, giving teams ample open opportunities from behind the arc. If the opponent is hitting from long range then Gophers are pretty much out of luck, but they gamble (often correctly) that the deep ball won't fall. Fairfield, for instance, was only 2-16 from deep, and couldn't say "no" to the open looks, even though nothing was falling.

5. If the Mount somehow pulls off the upset, will the Minnesota faithful immediately be calling for Tubby's job?

I don't think it would be that dire. The loss would certainly hurt, but it would probably be chalked up to a mental lapse by the team rather than coaching incompetence. Tubby's job is pretty safe and he's had several successful seasons in the face of some rotten luck in terms of personnel.  For instance, one of his top in-state recruits, Royce White, was caught robbing a Macy's and subsequently left the team two years ago.  That said, another finish like last year could start the "who's next?" discussion.

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