One. Pitino gave his team an edge
Richard Pitino made some nice moves in a game where shooting was bad, possessions were long, and when energy at times was low. He mixed up his defenses in terms of brining some pressure and his occasional halfcourt zone stopped SIU from coming out of timeouts with a set play. Pitino himself had two, maybe three different out of timeout halfcourt calls that led to scores for his team. Out of timeouts Pitino definitely outcoached Barry Hinson.
Also, Pitino twice called time-outs that led to an energy surge out of his team (one in each half). With Reggie Lynch out Pitino went to Bakary Konate for more time than usual and the junior gave the Gophers some energetic minutes off the bench. In the end Minnesota won by a dozen and Pitino played a big part in getting that twelve point edge with his defensive calls (had some defensive switches that helped too), his motivation out of the timeouts, his set plays, and his rotation. Playing SIU between four high major opponents was not exciting, especially the day after Thanksgiving with a small student section but Pitino helped push his team to the win.
Two. Will Coffey lead the team in scoring this year?
There was a debate on GI a couple months back on what Amir Coffey would average for the season. My prediction was 9-10 points per game thinking he would be just under double figures which is excellent for a freshman. Right now Coffey leads the team with 16 points a contest and he’s led the team in scoring with 30, 19, and 13 points the last three games respectively.
Tonight Amir scored in two distinct ways: late game clutch makes and off ball active movement. His end of the half feet-set three was big for momentum and his late game attacking score starting with a ball fake and ending in a reverse finish was the dagger. He’s also one of the best scores moving off the ball to catch and complete plus I believe he had an open floor finish as well. Amir’s length is going to get him to the line no matter what team they play this year so he will score in many different ways. Can he be the team’s leading scorer this year? Based on the many ways he can score and his overall mismatch against other guards and wings, I now think he can.
Three. They missed Reggie
If this had been a different opponent would Reggie Lynch have played? He looked fine in warm-ups but after the game Coach Pitino said he’s not even sure Reggie will play on Monday. With the most difficult game of the non-conference schedule coming up on Monday (at Florida State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge) the Gophs want Reggie healthy so sitting him was the obvious choice. Minnesota got some solid minutes from junior center Bakary Konate who scored twice, grabbed five boards, blocked two shots, and gave his team energy but the void of Lynch was clear.
Konate only played 14 minutes so that is 26 minutes Minnesota was without a center. The team blocked five shots which is okay but the big void Lynch left was his presence around the basket. SIU had no fear of attacking the cup because when they got past the first defender there usually wasn’t length to shot over the top of or banging into them during their rim approach. That’s how SIU had 26 points in the paint which is way more than most teams have been getting against the Gophs (especially when you consider how long possessions were in this game). Freshman Eric Curry had 11 rebounds in 35 minutes but he turned the ball over five times and missed seven of ten looks.
At the start of the game the Gopher defense was lacking energy and not getting the stops needed. Pitino changed that with some different defensive calls and whatever motivational words he used. The Gophs forced SIU into 31 percent shooting (19 of 61) including 2 of 17 at the arc. Wings Armon Fletcher and Leo Vincent have been shooting 54 percent and 43 percent respectively at the arc this year but the Gophers limited them to 1 of 8 shooting at the arc and nine points combined (they usually combine for 26-27).
Minnesota’s ball screen defense is night and day when compared to last year as the helping defender is cutting off the angle well eight times out of ten and the recovery of the Gophers has been really good. Communication on screens is better and the team speed laterally is as good as I’ve seen it in Williams Arena in years. Teams have a hard time turning the corner on this Gopher defense. Eric Curry, Jordan Murphy, Amir Coffey, and Reggie Lynch do a great job of laterally forcing opposing guards to rotate the ball or attacking at a bad angle that gives times for their guards to recover. Minnesota has also done a great job in switching screens outright, or on special assignments.
Five. Must Shoot Better.
The Gophers are 6-0 but if they want to be 7-0 they need to shoot better. They weren’t able to force as many turnovers (11) so their transition opportunities were down meaning more halfcourt possessions. Shot selection is not near the problem this year that it was last year. That said early in the game Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy took some questionable attempts and late in the game Dupree McBrayer had a 1 on 5 miss that became a four point swing (SIU flew the other way for an easy score).
The free throw shooting was ugly (60 percent on 22 attempts), Minnesota couldn’t make threes this evening (3 of 16), and the overall 38 percent shooting was a season low. Akeem Springs was 0 for 5 missing all his treys, Nate Mason was below 50 percent again (3 of 8), and frontcourt players Jordan Murphy and Eric Curry shot 7 of 20 which is well below what you want from your bigs. Curry looked flustered and Murphy tried to shoot over three guys twice and had his one hander swatted twice.
Shot selection, foul shooting, and makes at the arc all must be better in Tallahassee Monday if they want to earn that victory.
Extra. Amir Coffey’s 13 points and clutch shot makes overshadowed a big night from Dupree McBrayer. Dupree had a couple hiccups early but also had a late game clutch make and was one of the only Gophers to make multiple jumpers without forcing much (besides the 1 on 5 attack miss). Dupree played 33 minutes scoring 11 points, dished out six assists, and had zero turnovers.