Friday, November 27, 2009

Gophers Pass First Real Test

As written earlier in the week, the Gopher basketball team's 3-0 start was impressive but had to be viewed with some measure of caution. The level of competition faced was inferior and the team was still playing somewhat short-handed. After Thursday's 82-73 victory over #10 Butler in the first round of the 76 Classic, which the Star Tribune's Myron Medcalf rightly points out wasn't even that close, shows the potential this team has in 2009-10.

The Gophers dominated just about every aspect of Thursday's game against an excellent team. As Medcalf points out, coach Tubby Smith knew that Butler did not have size to compete with the Gophers, so a lot of minutes were played simultaneously by Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III. Iverson finished with 13 points and 11 boards (11 points and 10 rebounds in the first half alone) in his finest performance of the young season. Sampson struggled (0-3 from the floor; 4-8 from the stripe down the stretch), but helped clog the middle with Iverson. Senior Damien Johnson led the way with 18 points on 7-8 shooting. Devoe Joseph (14 points) and Blake Hoffarber (12 points) also hit double-figures for Minnesota.

Minnesota shot 50% for the game, held Butler to just 33.3% shooting from the floor, out-rebounded the Bulldogs 34-32, had its bench out-score Butler's 46-8, and forced 21 Butler turnovers.

Matt Howard led Butler with 23 points, including a staggering 15-18 from the foul line, many of which in a whistle-happy second half. Shelvin Mack added 20 points for the Bulldogs.

My stated key to the game, freshman sensation Rodney Williams, played a grand total of three minutes due to early foul trouble. My record of prognostication continues intact.

Next up for the Gophers is a match-up Friday night against Portland in the second round of the 76 Classic. Portland dismantled UCLA Thursday night 74-47, and will be a tough test for the Gophers. The Pilots are 4-0 and sport wins over Oregon and UCLA on the young season. Portland relies on the three-point shot and came into Thursday's game against UCLA hitting over 50% from beyond the arc. Against UCLA, Portland shot 11 for 19. They also held UCLA to 33% shooting in the game.

The Gophers will need to play some perimeter defense against a tough Portland team in order to advance. Tubby Smith will have this group ready to go Friday night, and the Gophers definitely should advance.

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