One. Streak is Snapped, Time for a New Streak
Minnesota is 4-6 in the Big Ten, 16-7 overall, and 3-3 on the road in the Big Ten. They have eight Big Ten games remaining and five of them are at home. If they can figure out how to defend their homecourt this team will be dancing come March.
Minnesota has Iowa this week who is a surprising 5-5 in Big Ten play followed by Rutgers next weekend who is dead last in the league at 2-9. Those games both need to be wins. Maybe not must win games but I believe they must win one of the two and should win both. If they win both things set up perfectly because the Golden Gophers will then have four of their next five games at Williams Arena. If they can win the next two and then defend their homecourt Gopher fans can get their dancing shoes ready.
That would mean about five wins in those seven games and based on that schedule five wins is quite doable. If they compete like they did today on the road in Champaign.
Two. Ball Control.
Minnesota only committed five turnovers and two of those were offensive fouls. They scored four times in transition off Illinois mistakes and constantly put together long possessions of excellent ball movement. Common views were Amir Coffey catching on a reversal and attacking. Akeem Springs catching on a dribble kick, skip, or reversal and shooting. There were also some transition open makes.
All of this steady ball movement became four guys scoring in double figures (Springs 14, Coffey 13, Mason 12, and Dupree McBrayer had eight off the bench). There were a few bad possessions with some quick shots but for the most part those possessions were limited. This was a team effort offensively and that’s a big reason why they won.
It wasn’t a good shooting day for Minnesota though which makes the win more impressive. They made less than 40 percent of their shots because Akeem Springs had an off day making 5 of 14, Dupree McBrayer attempted and missed some tough attempts, the Jordan Murphy scoring struggles continued, and Nate Mason had troubles finishing early. But it was a win and most of the possessions down the stretch were quality.
Three. Reggie Lynch.
The Gopher junior got no mention in “Two” because he gets all the mention in “Three”. Lynch was the game MVP and it wasn’t even close. Most importantly he played 32 minutes and in those minutes his low post defense was incredible and his low post game offensively made Illinois change their game plan.
Lynch scored six times in the post plus went to the foul line for more scores. His left shoulder turn physically dominated the Illinois bigs plus Lynch moved without the ball to catch and finish, or post up to catch in a great spot to make a move and complete.
Reggie had only two blocks but his defensive effort was far more important than that. The amount of times that Lynch forced guards to go over the top of his length can not be counted. He helped over to stop Jalen Coleman-Lands and Malcom Hill several times and was a big part, along with the Gopher wings, in why the starting Illini wing combined to shoot 5 of 28. That is not a misprint. The Illinois wing scorers shot 5 of 28 and Lynch didn’t allow them to score near the rim and then stopped them from thinking of going near the rim.
Four. Nate Mason.
Amir Coffey and Akeem Springs have been the team’s most consistent offensive players and they were consistent once again today. Nate Mason had a strong second half scoring on half of his ten tries including a three score run in the second half that gave the Gophers a lot of momentum.
Mason rarely ever turns the ball over (one turnover on a charge call today) and even though he couldn’t finish in the first half the Gopher halfcourt offense was running balanced possessions. With Mason knocking down shots and running good possessions forcing the defense to work this Gopher team is tough to defend.
The Nate Mason attacking score that included a head fake and ball fake shifting the defense was maybe the most important score of the contest.
Five. More Coffey please.
Amir Coffey pushing in transition is something everybody wants to see. For that to happen a turnover needs to be forced or he must grab a defensive board, turn, and go. Another vision that Gopher fans long for is Amir catching on the wing or at the top of the key and attacking a rotating defense. Amir has such fantastic vision that his teammates know to get ready with a cut or a feet set-hands out stance.
Coffey is also very good at attacking middle and extending to score over a defender in decent position. He’s a playmaker and the more the Gophers can get the ball in his hands with a dribble or two the better.