A team’s first loss is always disheartening. The dream of the undefeated season dead, the gnashing of the teeth about — wait. It’s game THREE, for a team that is known to be in need of development, for a road game that the oddsmakers listed the home opponent as a six-point favorite (and the Minnesota Golden Gophers won by six points, over St. John’s, 92-86).
So maybe the first takeaway is that this is reality.
And the second takeaway is that this team might have some stars - but a lot of development has to happen to make this team a consistent winner.
The defense rested
From this vantage point, it seems that one of the bonuses of playing at one of Division I’s fastest paces is that it has, so far, seemed to take opponents out of their games a bit. Binghamton and Minnesota struggled shooting the ball inside the arc, even when given what looked to be decent opportunities at the rim.
In the first half, in particular, the Golden Gophers shot 35% inside the arc. But once they got rolling, the offense inside the arc wasn’t players like Reggie Lynch trying to work through shot blockers and gather in traffic; they were running free on fast breaks, taking advantage of the Johnnies’ lack of defensive balance.
And even without that stretch, Minnesota got deep position inside and had chances to score early and late in the game.
The interior defense of Yankuba Sima, Kassoum Yakwe and Tariq Owens had some moments, combining to block four shots. But blocked shots do not always equal good interior defense. Stops and defensive rebounds do.
In the second half, St. John’s scored 1.34 points per possession - excellent - but Minnesota scored 1.24. Yes, St. John’s outscored Minnesota. But the defense has to do more to create a comeback.
Mullin said they “lost some assignments”. The defense looked like the times last year where the defensive awareness and communication in transition defense was lacking.
And where St. John’s forced turnovers on 25% and 27% of opponent possessions in the previous two games, the Minnesota turnover rate was 12% last night - five turnovers - in the whole game. For a defense with small guards and slim forwards, turnovers are essential to create stops.
A hero comes along
The freshman duo of Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds continue to impress.
The pair accounted for 54 of the team’s 86 points (64% of the scoring). They accounted for five of the team’s nine assists; two of the four steals; eight of the 11 made three-pointers.
Marcus LoVett willed the team to within three points in the second half, showing just how good he can be, even against a major conference opponent. And Shamorie Ponds had a sharp and efficient game, shooting 3/6 inside the arc and 5/9 from the perimeter.
Supporting cast, though...
But what about everyone else? What happens if Ponds or LoVett have an off night?
The good: Bashir Ahmed added 15, perhaps finding a little more comfort in the last 30 minutes of the game. Tasked with being an aggressive, creative force, he has struggled to power through contact and to create jump shots.
The decent: Tariq Owens and Yankuba Sima had some nice stretches. Owens’ defense was active and his offensive rebounding was strong. Sima, despite struggling with some chances at the rim, played decently despite foul trouble (and hit 5/6 free throws). Kassoum Yakwe showed some of his quickness, but has been a quiet offensive player in the first three games.
The struggle is real: Federico Mussini and Malik Ellison are the guards who are supposed to fill the gap. Together, they went scoreless in 30 combined minutes, shooting 0/5 outside the arc, 0/4 inside the arc, and adding six rebounds, two assists and four fouls. Defensively, both struggled to contain. And offensively, Ellison had a particularly off night, one he will need to shake off before the Bahamas on Wednesday.
Richard Freudenberg was expected to need a year of seasoning, and it shows; his trial by fire and the team’s lack of reliable depth will earn him opportunities to get comfortable on the court.
What takeaways did you have from last night’s game?