Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gopher Basketball Season in Review

Season Summary:

  • Overall Record - 22-11
  • Regular Season Record - 21-9
  • Big Ten Record - 9-9
  • Big Ten Finish - Eighth Place
  • Home Record (Regular Season) - 16-3
  • Away Record (Regular Season) - 4-6
  • Neutral Sites (Regular Season) - 1-0
  • Leading Scorer - Lawrence Westbrook (12.6)
  • Leading Rebounder - Paul Carter (4.5)
  • Assists Leader - Al Nolen (4.3)
  • Team Statistics

Season Recap:

A perfect 12-0 non-conference start evaporated into a 9-9 Big Ten season, deflating the Gophers' hopes of a high seed in the NCAA Tournament and the opportunity to make some noise in the big dance. The Gophers finished in 8th place in the Big Ten, which was due to its inability to close out a 12-point second half lead at home against Michigan in the final regular season game, which would have given the Gophers a higher seed and eliminated the need to play Michigan State in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. After a win against Northwestern and a loss to Michigan State, the Gophers snagged a #10 seed in the East Regional of the NCAA Tournament, but lost the opening round game to #7 Texas 76-62, ending the season. Stories of Tubby Smith's potential departure to schools such as Virginia, Georgia, and Arizona surfaced as Minnesota prepared for its first NCAA berth since 2005, but Smith told WCCO Radio over the weekend that he planned to stay at Minnesota. Stay tuned.

Despite unprecedented team depth, the Gophers never really seemed to find a rotation which consistently worked well together. Ultimately, the team was undone by its inability to take care of the basketball and its lack of consistent shooting - especially beyond the arc.

Team Grades:

  • Guard Play (C+) - Much improved at the start of the year, but the inability to find consistent scoring and take care of the ball hampered the team. Al Nolen seemed to regress as his sophomore year concluded, but he is still lightning-quick and is the team's best defender. Freshman Devoe Joseph improved as the year went on, although point guard is not his natural position. Junior Lawrence Westbrook led the team in scoring, was the team's most consistent scoring threat, and almost single-handedly won the Louisville and both Wisconsin games. However, consistency lacked in his game at times, and his shooting missed the mark all too often. Blake Hoffarber's sophomore season was erratic and he could not seem to find the rhythm he had last year, especially from three-point range.
  • Forwards (B) - Sophomore Paul Carter's athleticism and rebounding skill were evident at times, but consistency lacked throughout. Junior Damian Johnson was the team's best all-around player, and was the team MVP in my estimation.
  • Posts - (B) - The freshmen played admirably. Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III were forced to mature early in the season. However, as is the case with all freshmen - especially big men - it takes a while to adjust to the speed of the college game and the physical play in Big Ten action. Both youngsters seemed to adjust as the season went on. Of the two, Sampson III's game seemed to progress more steadily.
  • Newcomers (A) - Carter, Iverson and Sampson III provided physical presences along with rebounding and shot-blocking powress, but all three need to put on more weight before next season. Sophomore Devron Bostick had a tough time adjusting to the Division I game early on, but was a solid player off the bench down the stretch. Joseph really improved in Big Ten play and will be solid as a 2-guard next season.
  • Coaching (A+) - Smith's coaching alone has led to several victories over the past two seasons. The team is better-coached now than at any time in recent history. His inability to find a solid rotation is more an indictment of the team's inconsistent play than his efforts. Plus, his 2008 and 2009 recruiting classes have both been stellar, highlighted by Minnesota kids choosing to stay home to play for the home team.

Flight Risks


Key Losses:

F Jamal Abu-Shamala and C Jonathan Williams are the team's only seniors. Abu-Shamala was a solid contributor for his first two years, earning a scholarship after his freshman season. His minutes peaked to 23 after his sophomore season, which was also Dan Monson's final year as coach. Once Tubby Smith took over prior to last season, Abu-Shamala's minutes dropped in half. Abu-Shamala's specialty was from three-point range, but never came close to the 47.5% he shot as a freshman. As the current season went on, Abu-Shamala was a larger part of the regular rotation and started several games down the stretch.

Williams played sparingly during a season hampered by injuries. His contributions were limited, but the coaches liked his work ethic and his performance in practice. G Kevin Payton is expected to leave the program though only a junior. He averaged only 3 minutes per game this season and did not see the floor at all in 22 regular season games, and all three post-season contests. His minutes were around 20 a game in the last year of the Monson era, but his style never meshed with Smith's.

Key Additions:

Tubby Smith's 2009 recruiting class is being heralded as a solid class, and certainly on par with a very strong initial class of 2008. The Strib's outstanding beat writer Myron P. Medcalf does a good job summarizing the new players here. In summary form, Hopkins's Royce White should help the Gophers tremendously inside and complement returning players Carter, Sampson III, and Iverson. Cooper slasher Rodney Williams's athleticism should make him an instant factor. Plus, the Gophers can certainly stand to get more athletic. Miami-Dade Community College's Trevor Mbakwe should also pay immediate dividends in rebounding, which the Gophers will need to improve in Big Ten play next year. Finally, CA prep Justin Cobbs will provide depth at the point guard position, and will supplement - at least initially - returner Al Nolen and allow Devoe Joseph to move to a more comfortable off-guard position. Of course, this section will need to be re-written should Smith depart.

2009-10 Outlook:

Again, if Smith departs for another coaching job, this section will have to be dramatically altered. The Gophers are in a position to challenge for a Big Ten title in 2009-10 should everyone return as expected - including Tubby Smith.

A year of Big Ten experience will lead to the continued improvement and development of big men Iverson and Sampson III. Johnson and Westbrook will provide senior leadership to a still-young team, while leading with their offensive and defensive capabilities. Joseph, Bostick, and Carter should continue to improve and provide athleticism. Hoffarber is poised for a bounce back year and force teams to respect his shooting beyond the arc. The newcomers Mbakwe, White, Williams, and Cobbs should all fit directly into the rotation from day-one. If White continues his maturation on and off the court, he'll be an immediate force in the Big Ten.

All of this hinges on Smith's return next season. If all goes as planned, the Gophers should be in a position to make some noise in the Big Ten as well as nationwide.

No comments:

Post a Comment