One. Gophers take another step
When we looked at the Gopher non-conference schedule there were five levels of games over the first two months. There was games with average low majors, games with good low/mid majors, games with struggling major conference programs, games with solid major conference teams, and a game with a top 25 level squad.
So far the Gophers have of course passed the first level of tests (Lafayette, The Mount), they passed test two (UT-Arlington), beat level three (St. John’s), and hammered home test level number four this evening by beating Arkansas by 14. More tests are to come as Florida State will be the highest level of test six days from now and Vanderbilt is another test at the second level (watch out for Northern Illinois too) but so far the Gophers have taken care of business for a 5-0 record. Right now that 11-2 non-conference record that looked potentially tough to reach, it looks like the minimum.
Two. Coffey responds
Freshman Amir Coffey came into the game as Minnesota’s leading scorer on the season at 15-16 a game and he will continue to be so after scoring 19 on 7 of 12 shooting in 32 minutes. Amir had one of the best scoring games a freshman has ever had for Minnesota last Friday (30 points against St. John’s) so the concern became, how would he respond? Another 19 points with three assists was a heck of a response.
He also showed a lot maturity in handling some first half foul trouble that limited his minutes. One of the whistles was terrible and the second some felt was questionable. Amir waited patiently for the second half and then exploded for a run of ten straight points. That run included a pair of feet set treys, a pull-up elbow jumper, and two acrobatic finishes in traffic extending to finish after contact. We were also impressed with how Coffey created points for teammates and how well he defended ball screens tonight as a freshman.
Three. Ball movement
This Golden Gopher basketball team has grown in big ways as a unit on both ends. Defensively they work harder to get over/fight through/cut off attacks/communicate on ball screens than past teams. They limited the Hogs to one three-point make and forced them into 21 turnovers. Many of those turnovers fueled the vaunted Gopher transition attack.
As good as that transition attack is Minnesota’s offense is looking even better. It was clear from the first four possessions of the game that Minnesota was going to be able to move the ball for open shot and attack lanes for success. Reggie Lynch did an outstanding job of getting deep post position right away and from there scored in the post or kicked the ball out. From there ball rotations were a constant thing and after threes were made lanes opened up for both attacks and post feeds.
The moment that showed that this team is unselfish and willing to move the basketball was when Akeem Springs rotated to a fading Nate Mason who hit a three. The next possession Springs caught a ball reversal from Mason and Akeem hit a three. Ball movement led to three more Akeem scores and a couple Lynch low post completions. The Gophers shared the ball from one wing to the next, inside and out, and loved to find each other in transition and that is the biggest reason six guys were in double figures, why they made 9 of 15 treys in rhythm, and why they shot 52 percent for the game. Also have to add that Eric Curry was perfect from the foul line (8 for 8) for his dozen points and Nate Mason totaled 13 points and seven assists.
Four. Reggie is your low post winner.
Much was made of the shot blocking battle between Moses Kinglsey and Reggie Lynch. Lynch established early in the game that he was going to be the guy that outworked his opponent constantly getting the better low post position and it led to his four first half makes in the deep post. Both rebounded and both had blocks and the final numbers were similar (Reggie 10p/7rb/3blck to Moses 10p/10rb/3blck) but Reggie outplayed Kingsley until a tender ankle led to him sitting the last 8-10 minutes of the game (he played 21) watching Kingsley foul out in 27 minutes.
Five. Still have to make box-out hits
Why did Minnesota have a tough start? Why did Reggie Lynch go down with an ankle issue early? Why did Arkansas win the rebound battle? Missed box-out hits.
On the first play of the game Amir Coffey missed a box-out hit that led to a second possession. Reggie missed one early that led to a second chance score. And the biggest frustration was the quick two missed box-out hits that Jordan Murphy didn’t make. One of those missed hits led to a Razorback score and another led to a loose ball scramble where the ball was tipped away and the guy that Murphy didn’t make a hit on got to the ball and it led to a scramble that hurt Reggie’s ankle. We counted five, and there may have been a sixth Arkansas offensive rebound (they had 16) that was the result of Murphy not making contact when the shot went up.
Jordan has to be better in this way. The Gophers have to be better in this way. They gave up 16 offensive boards as a team and lost the rebounding battle 38-30. If the Gophers don’t start improving in this way it will cost them games.