One. A spaced floor brings scores more and more.
Why was Jordan Murphy able to back guys down and get shots at the front of the rim before any help could bother his attempts? Why was Dupree McBrayer able to score at the rim over and over and over in the halfcourt set? Minnesota spaced the floor and even better, they moved the ball rapidly and player movement behind the ball was consistent. With Long Island moving around screens and worried about guys two passes off the ball, Gopher ball movement to a slashing Dupree or Nate Mason, and a deep touch from Murphy allowed them to work for scores before any help could arrive to contest or cut off space. A very good day of ball movement that led to 46 percent shooting for the game. Nate Mason hit half of his shots, scored 19, and dished out seven assists. Dupree McBrayer scored a career high 21 points on 8 of 11 shooting with five assists and no turnovers. Murphy scored 13 on his 13 attempts.
Two. Defense forcing mistakes
Long Island-Brooklyn shot the same percentage as Minnesota (46 percent) but they had to work a lot harder to finish than Minnesota did. The Gophers had 38 points in the paint while the Blackbirds had 20. Minnesota also forced 19 turnovers and did a great job in the first half of rotating to position as well as defending ball screens. Iverson Fleming had a fantastic second half making 6 of 8 treys for his 24 points and often times guys like Akeem Springs chased him with strong effort but still couldn’t stop his big shooting night (Fleming was NEC Player of the Week last week so he’s been hot). The Gophers have to do a better job of blocking out when the shot goes up because they gave up a dozen more offensive boards and this is a concern entering Big Ten play.
Three. Eric Curry
In 25 minutes Eric finished with 11 points and eight rebounds. Minnesota needed a good game from him and they were able to get solid minutes while Reggie Lynch was in foul trouble all night. Curry is a player they need to get back into the early season rhythm and tonight was a very good step. Eric nailed a pair of jumpers from the perimeter and the form looked good, he fought for five offensive boards, and overall played with energy. Eric is a young player and there are defensive things that need to be more consistent. Tonight we saw errors in communicating on ball screens, closing out to shooters, and making box-out hits on the defensive end. That said Eric is a young player and had a nice game nearly grabbing a double-double.
Four. Mason peaking
Nate Mason is peaking at the right time. He’s scoring about 13-14 a game, is top three in assists in the Big Ten, and his shooting percentage is on the way up both from the arc, and from the field. Nate hit four three pointers and half of his dozen attempts went through the net plus he put together seven assists against only two turnovers. With Amir Coffey out Mason played 39 minutes but was still able to put up good offensive numbers and chase with consistency on the defensive end. He’s playing at a high level with Big Ten season only two games away.
Five. Big Ten Concerns
The things that worry GI coming into Big Ten play are second chance opportunities for the opposition, defensive position mistakes, and shot selection during down times. Minnesota’s offense will score during the Big Ten season. Balance and ball movement will hurt Big Ten teams just as much as it has these dozen non-conference teams because kids are kids and they have the same effort and mental lapses as other kids no matter what the level. The problem is what happens when Minnesota doesn’t have the momentum. Shot selection is better this year but it still can be puzzling at times. In the Big Ten bad shots when the momentum is against you can be a killer.
On the other end Minnesota had better learn to box-out or 30 second defensive possessions of quality won’t matter much if they give strong and athletic Big Ten squads second chances. Teams don’t survive in the Big Ten when they have to defend for nearly a minute at a time because they get beat mentally and physically. Also, there are defensive errors of communication on ball screens, positioning on closeouts, and lazy backside defense that hasn’t been very costly in the non-conference schedule but it will quickly become something that will hurt them in the Big Ten. This team needs to be more disciplined defensively if they want to win eight or nine Big Ten games.
Also, teams have learned things from the non-conference schedule that they are game planning for. For example: 1) trap Nate Mason early and try and take the ball out of his hands, 2) force McBrayer and his thin frame to run around several screens, 3) double team Murphy instantly when he gets the ball deep, and 4) shot fakes will get Reggie Lynch out of position quickly. These are things we have seen teams do, and then games later it happens again, and again. Big Ten teams will game plan so these are things that Richard Pitino is likely drilling every day in practice.