In a universe where Bill Murray actually gets the gopher (source).
1. R. Pitino def. R. Pitino
The best game of college basketball’s opening weekend – one of those now-customary military appreciation contests in a weird venue (a hangar in Puerto Rico this time) – featured Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals and his son, Richard’s Minnesota Golden Gophers. It was a predictably sloppy game, partially because of the heat that required several stoppages in play to wipe perspiration off of the court, partially because it was the season-opener for both teams.
In any case, it was an ugly game. There were a combined 60 fouls in the game, the two teams combined for more made free throws (49) than made field goals (45), and half-court offense for both teams looked like far more difficult than it should have. All of these early-season gimmick locales effectively dilute the quality of play because of the unusual environments and this game fell victim to that also. It wasn’t competitive either: Minnesota held an early 14-10 lead, but Louisville ripped off a 19-2 run. The Gophers didn’t get the deficit to two possessions for the rest of the game.
In the end, Louisville won because Rick was playing with a stacked deck: future lottery pick Montrezl Harrell was outstanding – efficient, with 30 points on 17 shot equivalents – and showcased not only his aggressive and physical interior play, but a good-looking jump shot as well. Minnesota’s backcourt of Deandre Mathieu and Andre Hollins is great in its own right, but they were simply outclassed by Chris Jones and Terry Rozier. Few teams have a guard tandem that can defend like those two and even fewer have a big man who’s comparable to Montrezl Harrell.
2. #lukewarm #gopher #takes
Not a whole lot can be drawn from a game like this – Louisville might be the best team Minnesota faces all year and the game was in a structure built to store helicopters in the Caribbean.
Still, a few observations:
- Mo Walker > Elliott Eliason. Minnesota’s senior center tandem split the minutes evenly, but Walker got the start and outplayed Eliason against the Cardinals. Louisville didn’t bother to double Walker on post-ups, and he took advantage – he also ran the floor well in transition and had a nice drive-and-dish from the perimeter.
- The four spot was a disaster. Understandable, when guarding Harrell, but the Gopher four men struggled on offense (against a zone) as well. Joey King should hold down the position but he didn’t play well and Bakary Konate, Charles Buggs, and Josh Martin didn’t impress in relief.
- Nate Mason should contribute this year. Minnesota’s freshman guard had an unenviable opponent in his first college game, but he held up decently well: 10 points (but four missed free throws), 5 rebounds, 2 assists (and 2 turnovers). Pitino should just rotate Mathieu, Hollins, and Mason at the two guard spots.
- Auto-benching Mathieu was stupid. When Deandre Mathieu picked up his second foul at 9:21 remaining in the first half, Louisville led by just three points – when he got back after halftime, the lead was thirteen. Mathieu didn’t play particularly well but he had just 3 fouls per 40 minutes last season and didn’t foul out anyways. Don’t automatically bench guys.
- Other than that: Andre Hollins looked good and Carlos Morris didn’t; The hyper-aggressive Louisville trapping zones and half-court 2-3 zone gave Minnesota a ton of problems (and it’s easy to foresee the younger Pitino molding the Gophers into a defense like that in time); Minnesota’s jerseys were awful.
[After THE JUMP: In the Navy, where something something weird guys.]
3. DeCHELLIS RETURNS
MISS ME SPARTANS? (source)
After leading Penn State to its first NCAA Tournament bid in a decade, Ed DeChellis packed his bags and took the job at traditional hoops powerhouse … Navy. In his first three years there, the Midshipmen went 20-70 (6-40 in the Patriot League). They were projected to finish last in the Patriot League this year. Their season-opener was a home contest against the vaunted Michigan State Spartans. And:
Navy almost pulled off a colossal upset; the Midshipmen were ranked 302nd in Ken Pomeroy’s system entering the game and despite the home-court advantage, State was projected to coast. The Spartans didn’t trail in the second half, but a 10-0 Navy run shortly after halftime cut the State lead to 3 and the Midshipmen did come within one possession of tying the game or taking the lead after the under-four timeout.
Michigan State’s defense won them the game (as it should have—Navy’s offense ranked 330th nationally last season), but there is plenty of reason for concern in general—mostly on the offensive end. Michigan State shot the ball decently enough; turnovers were a big problem; the Spartans didn’t dominate on the offensive glass like they should have against Navy’s undersized front line; they didn’t draw fouls to get to the throw line either—most concerning of all was that Travis Trice was Michigan State’s best offensive option, by far.
DeChellis (who was 4-11 against MSU at Penn State) was close, but Navy simply didn’t have the shot-making ability down the stretch to overtake the Spartans.
4. Talkin’ bout the Spartans
Travis Trice was excellent for Michigan State—and was probably the only Spartan that exceeded expectations. He outscored his teammates in the second half (17 points to 11 points) and showcased his excellent shooting ability throughout the game with five made three-pointers. It became growingly obvious that Trice was Michigan State’s best offensive option; before the season, Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson were anointed as potential go-to guys.
Michigan State held up on the defensive end of the floor, which was to be expected. Holding Navy to 0.91 points per possession is decent enough, considering the quality of opponent and that it was a road game.
Branden Dawson scored an efficient 12 points and grabbed 8 rebounds, but Tom Izzo called the performance “mind-boggling”:
"He had moments when he was really good, just the consistency of it," Izzo said. "It's disappointing. I can't sugarcoat it, and it's unexcusable."
Dawson should have dominated against such a lesser opponent and Izzo seems to think so as well. His numbers were decent enough, but Michigan State is asking for more because of his ascent to the first- or second-option after a career as a role player.
Denzel Valentine played quite poorly: 2-10 shooting and just five points (though he had three rebounds and six assists) with three turnovers. It’s obviously far too early to discern whether this is an anomaly or if Valentine isn’t capable of shouldering the burden of being State’s scoring and creative force, but early returns aren’t promising.
Alvin Ellis went down with a sprained ankle and Bryn Forbes is playing with a broken bone in his hand; as a result, Michigan State’s two spot is already devastated by injury.
Matt Costello had four fouls in 22 minutes and Gavin Schilling had three in 13 minutes, leading to walk-on Colby Wollenman getting run during a competitive portion of the game. Michigan State’s five spot is solid enough between Costello and Schilling, as long as they can stay on the floor. With Duke’s highly-touted freshman big man Jahlil Okafor (possibly the number one pick in the upcoming NBA Draft) next on the schedule, Michigan State needs Schilling and especially Costello to be aware of their foul situations.
5. Feasting on cupcakes
The Big Ten as a whole welcomed a host of overmatched opponents and every Big Ten team (except for one, who will be discussed later) won comfortably:
Credit to Wisconsin for demonstrating their ability to boa-constrictor poor Northern Kentucky to death (62-31) and run Chattanooga out of the gym (89-45) in the span of a few days.
Purdue’s win over Samford appreciated in value, as Samford turned around after the 40-point blowout to the Boilermakers and seriously challenged Pittsburgh yesterday.
And Northwestern, it’s not a good sign to only beat #344 Houston Baptist by seven at home. The Huskies actually led in the second half too. Northwestern did avert an upset, but now the road contest at #170 Brown looks tougher.
6. Rutgers is embarrassing (Ep. 1)
To be fair to the Scarlet Knights: a) George Washington is a pretty decent team – they were ranked 61st in Kenpom, won 24 games a year ago, and are coming off of an NCAA Tournament bid and b) Kadeem Jack—Rutgers’s best player—was out with a sprained thumb.
It’s not wise to draw too many conclusions from a game without Rutgers’s best player, but never leading and eventually getting run out of the gym at home—by anyone—is never a good sign.
7. Hello freshmen
A few impressive games by freshmen from the opening weekend:
- Vince Edwards (Purdue vs. IUPUI) – 26 points (11-16 shooting), 8 rebounds, 3 blocks
- James Blackmon, Jr. (Indiana vs. Miss. Valley St.) – 25 points (7-10 shooting), 4 rebounds
- D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State vs. UMass Lowell ) – 16 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals
- Robert Johnson (Indiana vs. Miss. Valley St.) – 15 points (5-7 shooting), 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals
- Vince Edwards (Purdue vs. Samford) – 13 points (5-7 shooting), 8 rebounds, 2 assists
- Bryant McIntosh (Northwestern vs. Houston Baptist) – 12 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists
- Shep Garner (Penn St. vs. Morgan St.) – 14 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists
- Nate Mason (Minnesota vs. Louisville) – 10 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists
If nothing else, these “guarantee” games help parse out which freshmen may be able to contribute meaningful minutes and production later on in the season. Keep an eye on Purdue’s Vince Edwards; he was absolutely lethal against IUPUI – this video found via Boiled Sports shows a sequence in which Edwards blocks a shot, has a smart pass, grabs an offensive board, and scores on the follow. He wasn’t one of the most highly-touted freshmen in the league, but he could be among the most impactful.
Unsurprisingly, James Blackmon, Jr., D’Angelo Russell, Robert Johnson, and even Melo Trimble (who put up an inefficient 13 points in a blowout win) were effective also. It looks like true freshman Shep Garner will start at the point guard spot for Penn State, but having D.J. Newbill as the lead guard at the two will take some responsibility from him.
8. Top ten upcoming B1G games
Ken Pomeroy’s site—which is definitely worth the $20 / year subscription—has an algorithm that ranks the best games on a given day. Here are the results for the upcoming week for the Big Ten.
Michigan State has the marquee matchup of the week, but the Spartans are decided underdogs against an absolutely loaded Duke squad; SMU – Indiana is an interesting intersectional matchup featuring two future Michigan opponents; Penn State takes place in the Charleston Classic – they face Charlotte on day one, either Cornell or South Carolina on day two, and one of Southern Cal., Akron, Drexel or Miami on the third and final day; Nebraska and Northwestern head east for winnable road contests; Wisconsin welcomes two solid mid-majors to the Kohl Center.
9. Would individual game notes be appreciated?
For the Minnesota Louisville game, I posted a rough stream-of-consciousness set of notes at halftime and after the game on my Twitter account (@alexcook616). I was wondering if it would be a worthwhile endeavor to keep doing these notes during certain games, and whether or not they should be posted to MGoBlog as a part of this particular column.
As always, I’m very open to suggestions – contact me through Twitter or just simply post thoughts and ideas in the comment section (I do read the comments).
10. BLOCK OF THE YEAR
Since not much happened in the Big Ten, I’ll just leave this video here, because it’s amazing and worth sharing.