Friday, March 20, 2009

It's Been a Good Year and the Future is Bright

Well, just like that the Gophers season is over. To break down what happened in the Texas game takes just one sentence. Abrams got hot and the Gophers panicked. It was a 3 point lead in the second half and then Abrams hit 4 straight threes. The Gophers then tried to score quick and from the outside and with this team that is a disaster. Damian Johnson did well on Damian James, but no one was stopping A.J. Abrams and no matter how hard Sampson and Iverson tried they were never going to be able to hold down Pittman who only Dejuan Blair might be able to stop.

This loss does not detract from what was a good season. The program has excitement that has not been around since 1997. This team made the NCAA tournament with NIT talent. This loss early should drive the returning players and especially the freshman to work hard in the offseason so this doesn't happen this year. Kentucky message boards in an effort to disparage the Tubby success says that the Gopher fans are just happy to be in the tournament and have low expectations. That was true this year but that is not the expectation for next year. I expect them to not be on the bubble and I expect them to be playing a lower seeded program in the opening round next year and not the 9 seed.

In a lame attempt at a season recap I will show the Gophers resume as if they were the next opponent.

Minnesota Golden Gophers (22-11, 10-10)

Wins to Showcase:
  • Vs. Louisville 70-64
  • at Wisconsin 78-74
Losses to Hide From:
  • at Northwestern 65-74
  • at Penn State 63-68
  • Interior Defense: This team had four very capable shot blockers in Sampson, Iverson, Johnson and Carter. They also after some issues in the non-conference schedule became a very good rebounding team. With the addition of bulk in Mbakwe and White, I don't see any opponent having any success down low next year.
  • Free Throw Shooting: Outside of Colton Iverson, this entire team is very good at shooting free throws. That may seem small but many games were salted away by Westbrook and others not missing a free throw down the stretch. Sampson is very good at 75% that will be very benficial for a big man who should see the line a lot in his future.
  • Damian Johnson: I don't care what the coaches decided but Damian Johnson is the best defensive player in the Big Ten. He can guard almost every postion and is all over the place with blocks, steals and rebounds. Towards the end of the season his offensive game really started to develop. He ended the season with 9.8 ppg but in the last 8 games he averaged 12.1 ppg. If he continues to develop in the offseason he can be a 14-15 point scorer next year while providing his world class defense.
  • Outside shooting: This was what held the Gophers back all season. They lacked a scorer who makes threes in their sleep that all successful teams have in College Basketball. Going into the season many asssumed it would be Blake Hoffarber but that just did not happen this year. Westbrook can make them but for often then not forced a contested one. Joeseph didn't shoot a lot and was also hot and cold. This is my biggest worry for next year as the recruiting class does not address this issue. The Gophers will need Hoffarber to bounce back and Joseph develop his shot and confidence where he can be that shooter. I think it is possible but we can not shoot like we did this year and be successful next year.
  • Turnovers: We were too sloppy with the basketball too often. Many blamed Nolen for this issue but he had an assist to turnover ratio of 2.5 which is pretty good. It wasn't one persons fault but the team as a whole. For a poor shooting team like the Gophers they needed all the possessions they can get. This should improve next year with everyone becoming more experience and improving.
  • Go-To Scorer: Lawrence Westbrook usually tried to fulfill this role but he is merely just holding it for someone else. A slow 6' footer with a mediocre shot is not who you want to be counting on down the stretch. The Gophers lacked some one like A.J. Abrams who you can count on to get hot and take over the game. They need a player or players that they can count on for 15-20 points a game and to get us through the lulls that plaugued us this year. I see Sampson, White and Joseph potentially be one of those guys but I don't know if that will be by next year. One thing I do see is Westbrook won't be the only player averaging double digits.
It was an exciting year and while sometimes frustrating it was a very enjoyable year. This will be a very long offseason as Midnight Madness can not come fast enough. This season was a stepping stone and next year should be the beginning of a long and beautiful run as a player in the college basketball scene.

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