Over the last few days, I got together with Jonathan Foster who writes and maintains the fantastic Minnesota basketball blog, From the Barn, and we discussed tonight’s game between Ohio State and his Golden Gophers.
Also, don’t forget to check out my answers to Jonathan’s questions.
Matt Barker, Buckeye Banter: Richard Pitino, son of Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, is in first year as head coach of the Golden Gophers and it’s just his second season as a head coach on any level. He’s quite young. While he lacks in experience, he does have the name and pedigree.
What was your reaction when he was hired last May?
Jonathan Foster, From The Barn: “My first reaction was confusion to be honest. My only memory of the younger Pitino was an incredibly young guy in a rumpled suit from his days as an assistant to his father. However, once I looked at what he has done despite his age, as an assistant coach at Florida and Louisville, and turning around FIU in his one season there, and it made a lot of sense. The next coach was likely to be someone who was up and coming or someone with a career in decline, and I am glad the hire was based on potential.”
Matt Barker, Buckeye Banter: What do you think of Coach Pitino now 17 games into the season?
Jonathan Foster, From The Barn: “I think he is doing about as well as any second year coach could do in their first season in the Big Ten. He is still implementing his system, and there have been some growing pains. Trying to outrun Arkansas probably wasn’t the best decision a coach has ever made. However, his guys play hard, and there has been noticeable improvement as the season has gone one. The Tubby Smith era, all too often, featured teams that got worse as the season has gone on. This is a welcome change.”
Matt Barker, Buckeye Banter: How to you see the future of Gopher basketball? Will he last? Will he stick around? Etc.
Jonathan Foster, From The Barn: “If this first season is any indication, he’ll be the head coach as long as he wants to be. That raises the question of how long he will want to coach the Gophers. The two main influences in his life his father and Billy Donovan. Billy Donovan has been offered islands full of money to leave Florida, and he has stayed. Richard has also seen his father move on to what were thought to be greener pastures, that end were not. I think he sticks around for quite a while.”
Matt Barker, Buckeye Banter: Just like last season, the Hollins brothers (I know, not actually related) are the Gophers leading scorers. Andre is averaging 16.3 and Austin is averaging 12.1 points per game. But newcomers DeAndre Mathieu (11.4 ppg) and Malik Smith (10.1 ppg) are also average double figures. All four are guards with the tallest being 6-foot-4.
What are the differences between Pitino’s squad this year and Tubby Smith’s team from last year?
Jonathan Foster, From The Barn: “The first, and probably most obvious difference is that this season’s team is much more guard oriented. Last season’s team had Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe, two skilled rebounders, particularly on the offensive end. The best offensive option was was often to miss a shot, and let those two dunk in a rebound. This season’s team is much more dependent on guard play, and shoots a lot more three-pointers.
A more subtle difference is how the offense operates. Players are allowed to improvise, and have the courage to to do. Smith has a green light to shoot anywhere on the floor. Mathieu has the green light to drive to the basket whenever he feels like it. Tubby Smith’s offense was highly regimented, and players were afraid of being benched if they made a mistake. No one is looking over their shoulders towards Pitino if a shot doesn’t fall.”
Matt Barker, Buckeye Banter: What are the similarities?
Jonathan Foster, From The Barn: “The similarities are mostly negative. The Gophers still struggle to rebound defensively, which is mostly a product of a weak front court. Turnovers are still a problem too. Despite improve ball handling in the non-conference season, the Gophers are giving the ball away in conference play more than every team not coached by Tom Crean. Giving opponents free extra possessions led to both Big Ten losses this season.”
Matt Barker, Buckeye Banter: Over the years, it always seemed that Minnesota always had some length and several good post players. Is that the case this season?
Jonathan Foster, From The Barn: “Post-play is not a strength of this season’s team. Elliott Elliason was just named a captain today, thanks in part to his improved rebounding and shot blocking, but he is not much a threat on the offensive end. He can score in transition on occasion, at the free throw line, or on put backs, but he is can’t yet score in a half-court offense. Mo Walker is better on the offensive end in the half-court, but his defense and rebounding are a liability. Power forward is even worse. Joey King and Oto Osenieks get the minutes, but they are really just unathletic small forwards playing out of position.”
Matt Barker, Buckeye Banter: As this point in the season are you – A) Surprised, B) Disappointed, or C) It’s Been Pretty Much As Expected? With that, how do you see the rest of the season playing out for Minnesota and is this an NCAA tourney team?
Jonathan Foster, From The Barn: “The Gophers looked like a bubble team at best in the beginning of the season. Now, at best, they’ll be on the right side of the bubble and make the NCAA tournament. I am a bit surprised that they seem to be meeting expectations so far. A lot can go wrong with new coach and five new players, but more has gone right than wrong so far.”