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Rayno: Mathieu looks like the Gophers' starting point guard

  • Blog Post by: Amelia Rayno
  • November 2, 2013 - 3:20 PM

There are still seven more days until the Gophers' regular season starts. From there, it's almost two months until the Big Ten schedule begins. With the exception of the Maui Invitation -- which the Gophers open against Syracuse -- a road game at Richmond, and a few others, there are scores of games that the Gophers are expected to win easily.

In other words, there is plenty of time to tweak the starting lineup as coach Richard Pitino has said he is comfortable doing.

But early as it is, I think there is one thing that is already clear:

Deandre Mathieu should be the Gophers' starting point guard.

After a single exhibition game and a public scrimmage, I think it's apparent. With Mathieu in the lineup, the Gophers simply seem faster, more efficient and more dynamic with the 5-9 guard leading the offense.

"He is very good at getting out to the sideline and advancing the ball up the court," Pitino said after the game. "That’s why I recruited him, I mean he’s an extremely fast guard and fits how we want to play."

Mathieu finished with seven points on 2-for-6 shooting from the field -- and was the only Gopher to make more than 50 percent of his free throws, going 3-for-4 from the line -- but it was his ball handling and speed that really shined.

The Tennesee-native had a game-high nine assists in 21 minutes, and not a single turnover. He embodied the very way that Pitino wants to play, aggressively pushing up the court and going to the basket. After a scrimmage in which he scored 26 points, he pointed out that he liked to be a distributor, too. We saw that side on Friday, and it looked just as smooth and effective.

Playing Mathieu at the point allows the Gophers to slide Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins over to the shooting guard and the small forward, the best options for those spots. Maverick Ahanmisi was another considered option for floor general, and will take that role at times, but he still is ball handling liability. Friday, he had four of the team's seven turnovers. Daquein McNeil, Malik Smith and Wally Ellenson haven't showed enough to earn a lineup spot over Mathieu, playing either the 2 or the 3.

"It feels really good to start for Minnesota," the modest Mathieu said after the game, smiling. "Man, I enjoyed it. It really helped me to get a boost in confidence a little bit more. I’m just happy to be here, really."

It's a big move for a guy that was at a junior college a year ago, and has been told by many that he's too small to play basketball at this level.

One area he needs to improve in order to fully claim the job is maintain that intensity. Pitino pointed to Mathieu as the one player he thought looked visibly tired as the game went on. Playing with such vigor and aggressiveness takes a lot of energy. More conditioning will surely be in store.

Right now, though, Mathieu looks to be the right man for the job.

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