<body><script type="text/javascript"> function setAttributeOnload(object, attribute, val) { if(window.addEventListener) { window.addEventListener('load', function(){ object[attribute] = val; }, false); } else { window.attachEvent('onload', function(){ object[attribute] = val; }); } } </script> <div id="navbar-iframe-container"></div> <script type="text/javascript" src="https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js"></script> <script type="text/javascript"> gapi.load("gapi.iframes:gapi.iframes.style.bubble", function() { if (gapi.iframes && gapi.iframes.getContext) { gapi.iframes.getContext().openChild({ url: 'https://www.blogger.com/navbar.g?targetBlogID\758865224\46blogName\75Hawkeye+Hoops\46publishMode\75PUBLISH_MODE_BLOGSPOT\46navbarType\75BLACK\46layoutType\75CLASSIC\46searchRoot\75http://hawkeyehoops.blogspot.com/search\46blogLocale\75en_US\46v\0752\46homepageUrl\75http://hawkeyehoops.blogspot.com/\46vt\0751162862754422728162', where: document.getElementById("navbar-iframe-container"), id: "navbar-iframe" }); } }); </script>
Monday, October 10, 2005
 
Preview - Minnesota Golden Gophers
Do you believe in unlikelihoods? - Cotton McKnight, Dodgeball

At this time last year, success was a distant memory for the Minnesota basketball program. Their last NCAA tournament appearance was in 1999; their last top five conference finish was in 1997. On top of that, they had just learned that point guard Adam Boone would miss the entire year with an injury. The three other returnees were seniors who had never averaged more than 16 minutes a game. Little was known about last year's team, and even less was expected.

Head coach Dan Monson somehow meshed his lesser-known holdovers with several unkown newcomers and formed one of the country's surprise team. His squad overcame a 2-3 start to finish with 21 wins, a fourth place conference finish, and that elusive NCAA appearance. Seniors Jeff Hagen, Aaron Robinson and Brent Lawson all performed well in their newly enlarged roles, while junior college transfer Vincent Grier emerged as one of the Big Ten's leading scorers and most exciting players.

Despite all the overachieving, Minnesota finds itself in a familiar situation this offseason - trying to overcome low expectations. Given the depth of the Big Ten and the loss of the aforementioned seniors, few crystal ball-wielders see this team finishing in the top half of the conference.

Does Minnesota deserve more respect after last year's showing? A look back at that season can give us a feel for the team's strengths and weaknesses, and inform us where it might be headed this year.

Important Info, 2004-05

Conf. games only
Offensive Efficiency: 93.6, ninth

Defensive Efficiency: 93.2, first

Expected Record: 8.2 - 7.8, seventh

Actual Record: 10 - 6, fourth
Minnesota's media crew will glady tell you that their turnaround from three conference wins in 2004 to last year's ten was the second biggest season-to-season improvement in conference history. What's even more impressive was that the jump was due entirely to their revamped defense, since their offense was actually worse than the season before. The 2004 squad allowed 108 points per 100 possessions (PPP), better than only Penn State. The 14+ point trimming to get down to 93 PPP was the biggest Big Ten improvement in at least the last five years.

While I raved incessantly last season about Illinois's unmatched shooting and ballhandling, Minnesota's similarly impressive feat on defense went largely unnoticed. The Illini had the Big Ten's best effective field goal percentage (eFG%) and turnover percentage (TO%), and in turn, the best offense, while Minnesota's defense sported the conference's best figures for the same stats (see Table 1). Unfortunately, the offense was almost as ineffective as Minnesota's opponents'. Were it not for the often dazzling play of Grier, or the close battles Minnesota was often engaged in, Gopher games from last year were probably some of the ugliest college games on TV. Due to their poor offense and excellent defense, the games were marked by lots of turnovers and missed shots at both ends of the court. (Remember that first-round game with Iowa State, where they combined with a similarly defense-heavy team to shoot 38%?)

Table 1
2004-05, Conf. games only
Team eFG% against Team TO% forced
Minnesota 47.3 Minnesota 24.6
Ohio State 48.0 Northwestern 23.9
Iowa 48.2 Illinois 22.9
Average 50.6 Average 20.9
Another major factor in the improved conference record was "luck." We can argue whether that's the appropriate term, but suffice it to say that a team that scores only five more points than its opponents will generally not go 10-6. Minnesota's actual winning percentage exceeded its expected winning percentage by more than any other team in the Big Ten (conference games only), so they played a little "over their heads." They were able to attain 10 wins by playing well in close games - the Gophers were 4-1 in games decided by five points or less. Performance in close games is usually not considered a skill because coaches and teams don't show consistency in their ability to win them.

Looking Ahead
When scanning this year's team, one immediate question jumps to the forefront - who will score the points? Grier is the obvious answer to that, as he led all scorers in Big Ten games last year. So I should rephrase the inquiry - who will score efficiently? Minnesota had the conference's third-worst offense last year, largely due to their second-worst eFG% (shooting efficiency from the field). The question looms larger when you consider that the departed seniors were easily the best shooters on last year's team (see Table 2).

Table 2
All Games, 2004-05
Player eFG% FGA
Brent Lawson 58.2 159
Aaron Robinson 57.5 208
Jeff Hagen 53.0 236
Vincent Grier 48.6 425
Dan Coleman 47.6 254
Spencer Tollackson 46.6 103
J'son Stamper 45.8 118
Rico Tucker 44.4 170
Robinson's departure could highlight a similar weakness. He was the only reliable three point threat on a team that was last in the league in threes attempted per field goal attempt (29%) and last in three point accuracy (30%). It's hard enough to have a good offense with just one good outside shooter; scoring points can be very difficult when the defense can simply crowd the interior. Help may or may not be on the way with the return of Boone and senior Maurice Hargrow. Both players shot quite well as sophomores (Boone - 43%, Hargrow - 39%), but were less effective during their junior years. Coleman (34%) and Tucker (33%) were passable as freshmen, and improvement from them would really help this team.

Turnovers were the other thing holding back the offense - their 23.2 TO% was third-worst in the Big Ten. It's quite reasonable for a team with such little experience to be so turnover-prone. Lawson, Robinson, and Hagen were seeing their first major minutes in four seasons, while none of the other five regulars played D-I basketball the previous season (Grier played at Charlotte his freshman year). Given that everyone will be a year older and that the point guard duties will belong to Boone, a 24-year-old sixth-year senior, turnovers should be less of a problem for this year's team.

While the offense wasn't pretty last year, Minnesota excelled defensively, and should have the pieces in place to be at least above average this year. Hagen might have been one of the least appreciated players in the Big Ten, though, and his contributions will surely be missed. Though he lacked any quickness, he was the only Big Ten player to combine for over 100 steals and blocks (104), all without much foul trouble (his blocks / PF ratio was also the conference's highest). His 7-foot presence in the lane and increased minutes certainly helped Minnesota become such a great defense. Options for his replacement include sophomore Spencer Tollackson and redshirt freshman Jonathan Williams. They won't block as many shots as Hagen did, but both have the size to clog the lane.

Forcing turnovers was the primary strength of last year's team. With Grier capable of playing 35+ minutes a game, and Tucker coming off the bench, Minnesota should again come away with plenty of steals. Tucker's steal % of 5.0 (meaning he recorded a steal on about 1 of every 20 defensive possessions he played) was among the highest of any major conference player. Grier's size, long arms and quickness enable him to shut down opponents and record his own fair share of steals. Boone's and Hargrow's past seasons indicate that they won't steal as often as Robinson and Lawson did, though, so I'm guessing this year's team won't quite match last year's defensive TO%.

In sum, I can't see the Gophers as much better than a .500 Big Ten team. Their offense needs to get a lot better, and will really be hurting if no one emerges to knock down a few threes. Grier may be a solid offensive talent, and Boone should really help stabilize the turnover situation, but it's difficult to build an efficient offense with just one good scorer. Defensively, Minnesota should regress from the previous season's monstrous improvement, as is generally the case with such season-on-season turnarounds. Lawson and Hagen had big senior seasons for the defense, and the Gophers just don't appear to have adequate replacements on hand.

INDIVIDUAL BREAKDOWNS
New readers might wish to refer to the Stats Primer.
All ages are as of January 1, 2006.
As usual, FT/FG and 3/FG are actually abbreviations for FTA / FGA and 3A / FGA.
Blk2% is an estimation of the other team's 2-point attempts that a player blocks while he's in the game.

Vincent Grier

Senior

Guard / Forward

Age: 22

Height: 6-5

Weight: 207

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
02-03 29 44.6 102 17.1 52.4 .382 48.9 2.4 33.3 19.7 7.5 13.3 14.3 3.7 1.5
03-04 28 87.1 107 26.4 51.5 .606 71.7 13.8 20.0 22.1 7.7 11.3 10.2 3.8 0.7
04-05 32 89.6 106 26.1 48.6 .513 73.9 12.2 25.0 16.8 4.9 14.0 8.9 3.2 0.7

*Played at Charlotte his freshman year
**Played at Dixie State junior college his sophomore year

With Hagen out of the middle and Bracey Wright out of the league, Grier could easily lead the league in scoring. Regardless, he's one of the best all-around talents in the Big Ten. Like most great scorers, he doesn't turn the ball over much and gets to the free throw line often. The biggest knock on Grier right now is that he can't hit an outside shot. A consistent jumper would make him just about unstoppable, and would really help his chances of making the NBA. At least he recognizes that and only takes about 1/10 of his shots outside the arc.

Grier is very good defensively, too. He had one of the higher defensive rebound rates (dRb%) among Big Ten guards, and led the league in steals. He'll definitely be a contender for Player of the Year honors.

Adam Boone

Senior

Point Guard

Age: 24

Height: 6-3

Weight: 197

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
00-01 32 25.2 - - 40.0 .240 75.0 62.0 32.3 - - - - - -
01-02 28 61.3 - - 57.6 .306 81.8 54.9 43.0 - - - - -
03-04 30 78.8 98 17.5 44.2 .256 76.7 54.7 28.9 23.4 2.0 10.4 23.0 1.9 0.7

*Played at North Carolina his first two years

Grandpa Boone is a little tough to get a good read on, because his numbers are so up and down, and because he's been in two different programs. He could really be a make or break player this year. If he can shoot like he did as a sophomore, he'll give Minnesota the outside shooter it desperately needs and give the offense a shot to exceed mediocrity. If his jumper tanks as bad as it did the next year, the Gophers will really struggle offensively. If nothing else, he should have enough experience and passing skills to lead an offense that improves on last year's turnover problems.

I didn't see much Minnesota basketball in 2003-04, so this is pure conjecture, but I'm curious if Kris Humphries had a negative effect on Boone's shooting. It seems that most players who played for Minnesota in 2002-03 and 2003-04 shot better in the first year. Humphries took a ridiculous 35% of the team's shots when he played, which might mean that he was taking shots when his teammates had better opportunities to score. Of course the flip side is that Kevin Burleson was the point guard the first year and Boone took over in 2003-04, so you could just as easily pin the blame on Boone for not distributing the ball as well as his predecessor. Burleson consistently put up a pass rating in the mid-30s. At any rate, here are the numbers -

Offensive Ratings
Name 02-03 03-04 04-05
Maurice Hargrow 104 96 -
Jeff Hagen 101 95 104
Aaron Robinson 91 88 104
Brent Lawson 90 111 112
Michael Bauer 113 96 -
Ben Johnson 103 116 -

Maurice Hargrow

Senior

Guard / Forward

Age: 22

Height: 6-5

Weight: 195

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
01-02 28 22.6 99 20.0 47.5 .383 74.2 23.5 26.3 22.7 3.8 9.7 11.6 1.4 0.9
02-03 33 80.6 104 21.8 49.1 .551 68.4 28.0 38.9 19.4 5.1 10.5 12.8 2.1 0.7
03-04 17 40.7 96 23.0 42.7 .412 61.8 18.2 36.7 17.7 6.0 10.7 12.3 1.4 0.9

Hargrow = Grier Lite? It's a bit of a stretch, but there are some similarities. Both are big guards who can provide scoring punch without a lot of turnovers, and would rather go after the basket than camp out at the three point line. He won't gather rebounds or steals like Grier, but he's much more capable of hitting a few threes, which, again, would greatly benefit Minnesota. His pass rating suggests that he's a pretty decent passer, too. Like Grier, Hargrow is regarded as a tough perimieter defender, so the two should make things difficult for opposing wings. His declining FT% might be cause for concern.

J'son Stamper

Senior

Forward

Age: 20

Height: 6-6

Weight: 233

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
02-03 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
03-04 - - - - 49.5 .483 52.0 6.9 21.4 - - - - - -
04-05 32 42.8 89 20.5 45.8 .644 63.2 0.8 0.0 28.9 14.0 19.8 6.5 1.9 0.8

*Played first two seasons at Independence Community College
** Sophomore stats estimated from incomplete season stats

Give this kid some goggles and the ability to hold onto the ball and you've got an Aaron Johnson (Penn State, New Mexico, purgatory) clone. Stamper gave up a few inches to Johnson, but both were poor shooting power forwards who could rebound like hell and draw a few fouls. Among Big Ten players, Stamper finished second to Johnson in oRb%, sixth in defensive rebounding and fourth overall. He seems like a perfect fit for a team that frequently misses and forces misses, but he limits his playing time by (a) fouling a lot and (b) turning the ball over a lot. His PF/40 min of 5.9 was fifth highest in the Big Ten. And for a guy whose main focus is to turn offensive rebounds into points, a 28.9 TO% is simply unacceptable. Perhaps some of the butterfinger-ness can be blamed on youth - Stamper won't even turn 21 until the end of his senior season.

Dan Coleman

Sophomore

Forward

Age: 20

Height: 6-9

Weight: 220

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
04-05 32 57.3 98 19.8 47.6 .138 62.9 29.9 34.2 16.7 6.2 13.8 6.6 0.9 1.7

Coleman doesn't fit the mold of a traditional power forward, as he seems much more comfortable on the perimeter. His rebounding is below average and he rarely gets to the free throw line, but he was able to get off a lot of shots while limiting his turnovers, which counts for something. It'll be interesting to see if Coleman tries to get tougher inside or improve his three point shooting, but his game doesn't seem well-suited for banging in the paint. On a side note, it's got to suck when your biggest claim to fame is being a former high school teammate of Kris Humphries.

Spencer Tollackson

Sophomore

Center

Age: 20

Height: 6-9

Weight: 275

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
04-05 32 32.1 84 18.0 46.6 .233 25.0 1.0 0.0 24.8 7.8 12.3 10.4 1.1 4.3

Tollackson draws comparisons to Hagen for his large body, but he needs to improve a lot if he's to fill Hagen's shoes. As a freshman, Tollackson's rebound rate was very low for a center, and he didn't shoot many free throws. He'd better improve on his 6-24 performance at the line, too. His passing was pretty nice, though - few big men break double digits in pass ratings. Gopher fans might find some comfort in noting that Hagen was also a weak rebounder as a freshmen before he improved a great deal as a sophomore.

Rico Tucker

Sophomore

Guard

Age: 20

Height: 6-0

Weight: 190

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
04-05 32 42.6 88 23.4 44.4 .271 73.9 48.8 32.5 28.7 2.9 7.5 15.3 5.0 2.0

Simply put, Tucker is an outstanding athlete. Given starters minutes, he could average over 2.5 steals a game, and he had the hops to block 10 shots despite standing only six feet tall. His speed fits well with Monson's desire to push the tempo, but he really needs to improve his jump shot in order to help the offense. His high TO% looks typical for a freshman point guard, and should drop this season. You might expect someone with his athleticism to be a little more aggressive in getting to the rim, but Tucker took half his shots from three and only shot 40% on 2-point baskets. Still, that same athleticism can make him an effective playmaker.

Jonathan Williams

Freshman

Forward / Center

Age: 21

Height: 6-9

Weight: 275


Williams played in two games last year but was granted a redshirt year after spraining his knee in the preseason. He'll jump right into the thin frontcourt rotation with Stamper, Coleman, and Tollackson. He's regarded more for defensive efforts, though I'm curious if all the weight he gained in the past year or so won't limit his ability to jump and block shots. He can help fill the hole Hagen left in the defense if he lives up to his shot blocking and rebounding hype. Williams turns 21 this week, so he'll be very old for a freshman player.

Kevin Payton

Freshman

Guard / Forward

Age: 19

Height: 6-6

Weight: 205


Damian Johnson

Freshman

Forward

Age: 18

Height: 6-7

Weight: 192


Brandon Smith

Freshman

Guard / Forward

Age: 19

Height: 6-5

Weight: 195


I won't pretend to know much about these incoming freshmen, but I think it's safe to say that playing time will be hard to come by with Grier and Hargrove filling the wing slots. They'll have plenty of opportunity to play as sophomores. An injury to the four-man frontcourt would create playing time somewhere in the lineup, but I'm sure Monson would rather that didn't happen.
Comments:
Ryan, this is a hell of a break down. I want you back in the Big 12 with this kind of analysis! Nice work.
 
Thanks Bone Bone. You already know what I think about ISU - I don't know that I can contribute a lot past that.
 
Great summary of Gophers. I think you identified the key questions surrounding Minnesota. One additional point is that the defensive scheme introduced by Molinari last year was one of the big keys to their turnaround.

I look forward to reading your summaries of the other Big Ten teams. Thanks.
 
Thanks for pointing that out. One of the issues of being so Hawk-centric is that I don't always catch details like that.
 
You might want to post this at

http://p218.ezboard.com/fthehole84398frm8

which seems to be the most active Minnesota basketball message board.
 
Ryan,
I just discovered your website via Aaron Gleeman (aarongleeman.com) and I think your analysis is outstanding. Your comments and insights are "right on" about Minnesota and I will be reading all your other stuff too. Keep up the great work!
 
Post a Comment

<< Home

Powered by Blogger