Austin Hollins was ON FIRE against Northwestern.
Two games is far from an acceptable amount of game action to draw sweeping conclusions about a team. And with the Gophers still tasked with traveling to Illinois and Indiana before hosting Michigan, there is a whole lot of soul searching to be done before we truly know what this team is capable of.
However, the first two games of the conference season have at the very least proven that Minnesota is still who we thought they were after a quick start during the non-conference season. In fact, short of a slow start against Northwestern and a rough patch in the second half against Michigan State, the Gophers have had an incredibly solid start to the conference season and continue to ride the wave of success that has them ranked as one of the top teams in the nation. Will the victories continue to pile up? We’ll know shortly. Right now, though, they’ve done almost nothing to insinuate that they aren’t up for the challenges waiting for them as they take to the road.
But what’s happened and what have we learned over the past two games?
This team has a backbone – Who would have thunk it, right? After years of seeing the Gophers collapse, fold, struggle and throw away games when the going got tough it was easy to be skeptical coming into this season. But after two games in the B1G in which they’ve faced periods of adversity, we’ve seen a completely different response in 2013. Instead of panic, we see composure. Instead of tightness, we see a more natural game flow. Instead of failure, we see results.
We saw a glimpse of this in the Stanford game, when the Cardinal pushed the Gophers to the limit and nearly forced overtime. But Minnesota didn’t break and throw away the game like we might have expected. Similarly, they faced a late surge from Michigan State and flashes of last year’s Williams Arena meltdowns were all too vivid. Instead of throwing up their hands and packing it in like past seasons, the Gophers instead collected themselves and went on a run to send the Spartans packing with a double-digit loss. And, finally, after running into a wall of non-offense and underwater basketball against Northwestern, the Gophers rebounded with 52 points in the second half to completely rout a conference opponent. They were frustrated initially, sure, but that frustration did not translate into erratic, meltdown basketball.
We’ve seen a lot of growth from the team as a whole, which is partially the product of having played together for so long and also from having experienced this all before. And a big reward of that type of experience is enduring runs from the other team and keeping things under control. They might not beat Michigan or Indiana consistently, but this type of play will certainly provide plenty of ammunition.
Austin Hollins – HE’S ON FIRE! – I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention perhaps the greatest recent offensive display outside of Andre Hollins’ 41-point outburst against Memphis. In fact, it might have been one of the craziest scoring outbursts I’ve ever seen. And for those who had the pleasure of witnessing Austin Hollins’ three-minute shooting display against Northwestern, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Now we all know about someone being “on fire” and seemingly unable to miss. Andre is capable of doing this, but not in a long time have we seen someone other than Andre Hollins go berserk and completely take over a game for a few minutes. In fact, Austin Hollins achieved the official NBA Jam definition of “on fire.” Hitting three shots before the other team can score. If we were playing Sega Genesis then Hollins would have been shooting a flaming basketball and setting the nets ablaze.
Just to lay it out: In just 3 minutes and 13 seconds of basketball Hollins scored 15 points on five three pointers and turned Minnesota’s 12-point lead into a 20-point blowout. In just 3 minutes! This doesn’t include the two free throws he hit moments before. In just four minutes he scored 17 points. That is unbelievable.
For the love of God, just get the ball in – For a stretch during the Michigan State game it seemed like the Gophers might never actually be able to get the ball inbounded. It was so painful, in fact, that the crowd gave a sarcastic cheer once the team actually got the ball in play after several tries. Now, I’m not a huge Xs and Os type of guy, but the Minnesota inbounds plays certainly leave a lot to be desired. There’s little cohesion, an unclear idea of what’s actually trying to be accomplished and a whole lot of standing around. It actually reminds me a lot of the Gophers’ half-court offense the past few years.
Now, you’re not going to get the ball in cleanly every play, but there has to be a happy medium between actually having a legitimate way to get the ball in (especially after a timeout) and looking like it’s the team’s first inbounds play ever. Right? This comes almost completely down to coaching and, at present, there is very little creativity being deployed when getting the ball in bounds.
Free throws aren’t always free – But can’t they at least be on sale? It wasn’t a huge deal earlier in the season, but slowly and surely the Gophers are reverting to their bad habits of being below average in free throw shooting. They currently sit at 6th in the B1G at overall free throw percentage, and their last three games have seen them shoot 56, 59 and 61 percent from the line. That is just awful.
And is there really anything more hair-graying in basketball than missed free throws? Thankfully the Gophers haven’t yet found themselves in tight games where the result has come down to free throw margin, but that type of game is inevitable in conference play. And if they keep up their current percentages we’re almost assured to lose a game where free throws would have made the difference.
In 2010-11 the Gophers were dead last in free throw shooting. In 2011-12 they were ninth. This year they’re currently sixth. Will they continue to improve or will we have more of the Julian Welch/Illinois finishes in our future?
Now playing at Williams Arena: 1890s basketball – It’s hard to find things that are truly “ugly” when a team is ranked 8th in the nation and 14-1, but for those that were treated to Turn Back the Clock Night at The Barn on Sunday night, we know that the first half of the Northwestern game was ugly to the point that it resembled a game in the nascent days of basketball. Seriously, no one other than James Naismith could have envisioned a Big Ten game that had a 17-14 halftime score.
With Northwestern playing a strange brand of low-tempo basketball, they dared the Gophers to try to play the game at their own pace; and it wasn’t happening. And with the Wildcats’ inability to score either, it made for a giant vacuum of basketball. No fast-break points, 33% combined free throw shooting, 14 total turnovers and 31% combined from the field. If that’s not nap inducing then I don’t know what is. But, hey, that’s Big Ten basketball … or something.
Tag(s): Gopher Basketball