We'll Always Have Central Michigan
Florida State Is My Favorite State
Seeing Tubby Smith patrol the Gophers’ sidelines gives me an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach. Maybe similar to if Otis Redding caught me singing in the shower; I just sort of wish he didn’t have to sit through that. This year, as it is whenever a famous coach inherits a struggling squad, is going to be weird. Sort of a throwaway season, waiting for Tubby to recruit the next Tayshaun Prince. But whether or not Smith is just waiting things out until his own guys come aboard and this latest crop of mediocre Minnesota high school stars has moved on, he already seems to have the Gophers playing more confidently and passionately than they did at any point last year. In Tuesday night’s loss to Florida State the Gophers stayed within ten points for most of the game by playing intense defense (they forced FSU into 16 turnovers and 42.3% shooting) and hanging with the bigger, more athletic Seminoles on the glass. The troubling thing is that they still lost by 14.
Its too bad hustle and energy can’t really run your offense for you. I mentioned that the score was close for a long while but, truthfully, it never really seemed like the Gophers could win the game. The first ten minutes were something of a free-for-all, with both teams running with abandon and raining threes, and the Gophers even managed to claw their way to a 22-18 lead during that stretch. But once reality set in, and Florida State’s talented guard trio of Isaiah Swann, Ralph Mims and Toney Douglas began to apply some serious backcourt pressure, the Gophers unraveled. U guards Lawrence McKenzie and Al Nolen began forcing passes into the teeth of the zone (3 turnovers each in 26 and 22 minutes, respectively) and all of the Gophers’ ball handlers started to look a little frantic and lost. Even when the guards did manage to beat Florida State’s pressure and execute the offense, forwards Spencer Tollackson and Dan Coleman had a miserable time converting, shooting a combined 5-21 from the field. In all, the Gophers shot a pretty horrendous 33.8%, including a tasty mix of rushed, contested threes and missed jumpers.
Once the pressure elapsed, the Gophers showed themselves to be a well-coached team, executing their offense crisply. But the sad truth is that even their best players (ostensibly McKenzie, Coleman and Tollackson) did not look skilled or athletic enough to play well against a good defensive team. To kill the party even further, the Gophers success on defense was somewhat illusory. It's true that their aggressive play forced Florida State to turn the ball over and shoot a low percentage. But they also sent the Seminoles to the line 32 times (compared to only 10 Minnesota free-throws), which probably tells us two things: the Gophers were out of position and they were out of control. Oh well, at least ESPN saw fit to show a bunch frat guys in luxury boxes do the Tomahawk Chop. So we were lucky enough to see that.
The only Gopher to play more than 20 minutes and shoot at least 50% was none other than last year’s Mr. Basketball in Minnesota, Blake Hoffarber. Recall, now, that Hoffarber won a state championship for Hopkins High School in 2005 by hitting a 20-footer at the buzzer. Oh, right, and he was sitting down at the time. Thanks to that ridiculous shot, Hoffarber is (sort of) famous in a very 2000’s-y way. He has hung out with Matt Lauer on the Today Show. He has won an ESPY Award. Dudes, he has a Wikipedia entry. And, as it turns out, it appears that he can play a bit, too. He did contribute to the Gophers little fouling problem (4 fouls in 22 minutes) but he also showed off a gorgeous shot with a quick release and was one of the only Gophers to at least appear poised in the second half. If the Gophers do end up becoming good at some point, Hoffarber could be a nice piece of the puzzle, one of those moderately athletic, quintessentially college players who play really hard, keep from freaking out when things get crazy, and bomb 30-footers with zeal.