There was much to like about the team defense and ball movement for an opener which leads off “5 Things We Learned”.
One. Minnesota Has a Better Team Approach
Forget the final scoring differential of a dozen points. Most of this game the Gophers held around a 20 point lead and the Cajuns brought the differential down against Minnesota’s deep bench. The Gophers built the lead with some of the best team defense and offensive ball movement that you can expect this early in the year. Especially considering that their base eight man rotation includes five underclassmen. Defensively there were communication mistakes in defending screens plus backside rotations need to be worked on but overall the energy level, ball pressure, and effort to defend screens was much better than what we saw a year ago at this time. Also, the ball movement makes you wonder if any of the current Gophers were even on last year’s squad. The ball movement was a big reason the Gophers hit ten threes (many with feet set and catching off a reversal) and had so many open looks around the basket (30 points in the paint, 22-32 free throw shooting). It also led to five guys scoring in double figures: Nate Mason 15, Dupree McBrayer 15, Amir Coffey 13, Akeem Springs 11, and Reggie Lynch 10.
Two. A Rotation is Set
It’s very clear that Richard Pitino is going to go with an eight man rotation followed by Bakary Konate being the fourth big used when the team is in foul trouble. Mason, McBrayer, Coffey, Lynch, and Jordan Murphy are the set starters followed by Eric Curry coming in for whichever big is dealing with a foul issue. Springs is the first guard off the bench subbing first for McBrayer and then Mason comes on for Akeem after his breather. Michael Hurt is the 8th man who comes in later giving good team play and some shooting (missed his two attempts tonight but made his foul shots). Konate didn’t play in the first half until Murphy and Lynch each had two fouls and in the second half his minutes didn’t come until late in the game. Bakary will play, and he will be needed, but only when the bigs in front of him are in foul trouble.
Early in the game Akeem Springs hit three triples all in a different way (first with his feet set, second was a pull-up trey coming off a ball screen, third was a double pump bank shot). Amir Coffey hit a pair of treys both coming from Eric Curry low post kick-outs, McBrayer’s 6 of 9 shooting included two triples, and Nate Mason sunk two. The team made 10 of 25 for the game at the arc good for 40 percent and that’s a step up from last week when they made five shots total from outside of the paint.
Four. Good Start Defensively
The energy level on the defensive end is much better than it was a year ago. Guys are actively fighting through screens, scrambling to get to position, and working hard to get to their close-outs. Sure there is much to work on. Jordan Murphy was caught flat footed a couple times, the close-outs to the arc where not executed with the footwork needed on a regular basis, and the backside rotations need a lot of work (defensive communication will get better which will help some of this). Minnesota showed some zone pressure and it made the Ragin Cajun ball handlers nervous especially late in the first half when Nate Mason had to steals that become open floor scores. The Gophers need to be a good halfcourt defensive team to reach their goals and game one showed a lot of good signs. We also have to add in that Reggie Lynch and Jordan Murphy were again in foul trouble by the eight minute mark. That needs to be cleaned up although Bakary Konate showed that he can step on the floor and give the team minutes.
Five. Improved on the Glass
There were times last year when this team simply could not get a defensive rebound. Fans would like at the hustle stat board or the final box score and see a Gopher team losing the rebounding battle by double figures, to low major basketball teams. Newcomers Reggie Lynch and Eric Curry each had eight defensive boards plus Jordan Murphy averaged that last year. The three of them all rebound well plus Akeem Springs and Amir Coffey are excellent rebounding wings. Minnesota lost the battle on the glass tonight by a couple boards (Cajuns had several late game offensive boards) but simply being near even at the end of the game is a major step up from a year ago.