It's an off-day today here Orlando, and we're told the Gophers basketball team is headed to Disney World. Yeah, usually that trip comes AFTER a championship, so we'll see if the reverse order works for Minnesota. For now, let's take a look at the good and the bad so far in the Old Spice Classic:
*Julian Welch is emerging as a stabilizing combo guard who can handle the ball and shoot. Without him, it's hard to say if the Gophers would have defeated either DePaul or Indiana State. He has 28 points combined in the two games (including a game-high 17 against Indiana State) after scoring just 12 in Minnesota's first four games. Welch, Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins and Chip Armelin combined for 53 of the Gophers' 76 points on Friday. Did you really think Minnesota would get so many points from its guards this early?
*Redshirt freshman Elliott Eliason can be a valuable big-man in stretches. In Eliason's last three games, spanning 35 total minutes, he has 13 points (on 6 for 7 shooting, with the only miss being a desperation three at the end of a shot clock) to go with 13 rebounds and a couple of blocked shots. He's active on defense and really seems to be making an impression on head coach Tubby Smith. Eliason has definitely taken advantage of extra minutes both earned and given because of Ralph Sampson III's ankle.
*Closing time: It's not good that the Gophers are falling behind against so-so opponents. But regardless of the opponent, rallying from 12 down and 9 down in the second halves of games -- as they did against DePaul and Indiana State -- shows resolve and could build character. At the end of the day, this team is 6-0. It's hard to argue with the most basic stat.
*One day after scoring a career-high 18 points against DePaul, Rodney Williams had three points and 0 rebounds in 28 minutes against Indiana State. How can a player who leaps like that get no rebounds in almost three-quarters of the game's available minutes? Hard to say. In fairness, Indiana State did a much better job defending him than DePaul did. And Williams did have four assists and three steals in aiding the Gophers' comeback victory.
*Minnesota's perimeter defense in the first half of both games here has been tough to watch -- particularly against Indiana State, when the Sycamores' guards consistently got to the basket or found themselves wide open from three-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Gophers tightened things up in the second halves of both games, particularly when going to a smaller, quicker lineup featuring Trevor Mbakwe at center, Williams at power forward and three guards (often Austin Hollins, Chip Armelin and Welch). That allowed players to switch seamlessly on screens to get out on shooters. Andre Hollins had 16 points on Friday but was beaten badly on defense a few times. It might just be a matter of on-the-job learning because Andre certainly has the quickness to be a good defensive guard.
*While the optimist says the Gophers are 6-0 after some gutty wins, the pessimist says Minnesota should have created more breathing room in many of them -- including the two here in Orlando. DePaul was 2-52 in Big East play the past three years. Indiana State is a nice mid-major team, but the Gophers are a Big Ten team. There are plenty of fans who would feel much better if the Gophers not only defeated Dayton on Sunday in the title game, but did so in a steady fashion that left no doubt as to which was the better team on the court.