Remixed Gophers turn failure into success

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 1, 2012 - 12:00 PM

After an 0-4 start in Big Ten play, a new offense and new lineup helped the U win four of its next five games. Will the transformation last?

5 story lines Jared Sullinger and Ohio State are undoubtedly tops in the Big Ten C6

In some ways, it feels like a total swap. Standing in the middle, looking back at the first half of the men's basketball conference schedule, two very different teams have worn the same set of Gophers uniforms.

The first team played the part of basement-dweller -- a squad that started out 0-4 and looked like it deserved to be there. The second team hauled itself out of that hole, winning four of its past five games and climbing firmly into the middle of the Big Ten pack.

Of course, the turnaround only matters if it sticks.

As the Gophers prepare for the start of the second half of the conference season Wednesday night at Iowa, they are hovering between the opportunity to make something of this surge and the peril of slipping back to where they started. After games at Iowa and Nebraska, they finish with five of seven at Williams Arena -- but four are against ranked opponents: Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and Indiana. With that in mind, let's look back at how the Gophers arrived at this point and ahead at some key factors that will determine where they are headed.

Identity

Then: As the Gophers headed into the Big Ten schedule, they were still trying to discover who they were without Trevor Mbakwe. They didn't lose in nonconference play without him, but they weren't blowing teams away and they weren't usually playing top competition. Once the conference schedule started, the Gophers again had to figure out where their strengths and weaknesses were. We were watching an unfinished project, and it was obvious.

Now: Sophomore guard Austin Hollins mentioned playing tough defense as the team's identity. Junior forward Rodney Williams said it's transition offense. Perhaps strong work in both areas leads to the identity coach Tubby Smith believes his team has carved out: A team that can execute down the stretch with multiple lineups and is never out of a game. "Our identity should be our poise. We've gained a lot of that," Smith said.

The Gophers have scrapped the high-low offense that characterized their old team and style in favor of more movement in a quicker flex offense. They have also adopted a scrappier mentality that has more players involved -- and as a result, more are contributing on a regular basis. They still don't have any stars, so they'll have to keep up that whole-team philosophy.

Personnel

Then: Without the dominant player needed to make their old offense and lineup go, the Gophers started experimenting. A three-guard lineup was a good idea, but Smith had to do some tweaking before he found the right combination. In its original form -- with junior Julian Welch, freshman Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins -- none of the players seemed to know their role.

Now: Three versions later, Welch has developed into much more of a true point guard. Flanking him on the wings are Austin Hollins and freshman Joe Coleman, who has sparked the team with his aggressiveness.

"I don't mind any lineup, but this one seems to be working for us," Austin Hollins said. "So I'm going to roll with it."

The result is a crew that can manufacture the type of quick, up-tempo offense Smith has been searching for since the beginning of the season. When it works, it looks great. When the Gophers aren't communicating or aren't mentally dialed in, it looks sloppy. Focus and commitment to each possession is huge for the Gophers going forward.

The little things

Then: Perhaps there is no better example of the Gophers' changes than the Illinois-to-Illinois transformation. The first time around against Illinois in the Big Ten opener, the Gophers competed, but they slipped when it came to actually winning the game. The Gophers failed to make clutch free throws and layups -- baskets that could have headed off what became a four-game losing streak.

Now: It might have appeared the Gophers didn't deserve to win Saturday's game against the Illini, either. But on a night when the team's statistical leaders weren't playing even close to their best basketball, the Gophers found a way to win.

"Guys are gaining confidence that they can win in close situations," Smith said. "It's all about executing."

Minnesota has generally been getting better at the basics -- shooting, getting to the free-throw line, executing and playing tougher. Now, a key will be achieving consistency in those aspects, while rebounding more and turning the ball over less.

  • related content

  • Game Day: Gophers men at Iowa

    Tuesday January 31, 2012

    Gophers at a glance: Minnesota has won four of its past five games, with the only glitch being a tough loss at Michigan State a week ago. The Gophers hope...

  • Chart: Big Ten basketball at the midpoint

    Tuesday January 31, 2012

    Five Big Ten observations from beat writer Amelia Rayno:

  • Tubby Smith

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Los Angeles - LP: B. Wilson 7 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Grimm 8
Detroit - WP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Shields 2
Philadelphia - WP: J. Williams 3 FINAL
Oakland - LP: D. Otero 0
Toronto - WP: M. Stroman 6 FINAL
NY Yankees - LP: C. Capuano 3
Arizona - LP: T. Cahill 1 FINAL
Colorado - WP: E. Butler 5
Boston 2 Bottom 4th Inning
Baltimore 2
Milwaukee 0 Top 4th Inning
Pittsburgh 0
Washington 0 Bottom 4th Inning
Miami 1
NY Mets 3 Bottom 4th Inning
Atlanta 0
Chicago WSox 0 Top 5th Inning
Tampa Bay 2
Cleveland 0 Bottom 1st Inning
Minnesota 0
Seattle 1 Top 4th Inning
Houston 5
Cincinnati 1 Bottom 4th Inning
St. Louis 5
San Francisco - Y. Petit 7:40 PM
San Diego - A. Cashner
Texas - C. Lewis 8:05 PM
LA Angels - J. Weaver
San Diego 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Dallas 9/21/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Houston 9/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Baltimore 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland
Green Bay 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Indianapolis 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Oakland 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New England
San Francisco 9/21/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Denver 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Kansas City 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Miami
Pittsburgh 9/21/14 7:30 PM
Carolina
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Connecticut 14 FINAL
So Florida 17
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(13) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(11) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
Utah 26 Delayed 7:51
Michigan 10
North Carolina 41 FINAL
East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(21) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
(18) Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Texas State 28 3rd Qtr 1:20
Illinois 25
Georgia State 14 3rd Qtr 4:20
Washington 7
Ball State 0 Delayed 9:30
Toledo 6
Appalachian St 7 2nd Qtr 3:27
Southern Miss 14
Miss State 17 2nd Qtr 3:12
(8) LSU 0
Northern Ill 7 2nd Qtr 2:31
Arkansas 21
Middle Tennessee 7 2nd Qtr 3:01
Memphis 19
Utah State 7 2nd Qtr 6:20
Arkansas State 0
Miami-Ohio 14 2nd Qtr 4:45
Cincinnati 10
Idaho 7 2nd Qtr 4:37
Ohio U 17
(14) So Carolina 3 2nd Qtr 12:17
Vanderbilt 14
(4) Oklahoma 3 2nd Qtr 14:55
West Virginia 7
Ga Southern 7 2nd Qtr 10:04
South Alabama 0
UNLV 7 1st Qtr 9:15
Houston 0
Miami-Florida 7 1st Qtr 8:12
(24) Nebraska 7
New Mexico 0 1st Qtr 6:53
New Mexico St 0
(22) Clemson 7:25 PM
(1) Florida State
California 9:00 PM
Arizona
Louisiana 9:30 PM
Boise State
(2) Oregon 9:30 PM
Washington St
San Diego St 9:30 PM
Oregon State
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(25) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(12) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:00 AM
NC State
Duke 9/27/14 2:00 AM
Miami-Florida
North Carolina 9/27/14 2:00 AM
(22) Clemson
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(20) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(23) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
(18) Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(14) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(8) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(9) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(17) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Vancouver FC 0 FINAL
Portland 3
Houston 0 2nd Half 44:55
Philadelphia 0
New England 0 1st Half 1:00
Columbus 0
San Jose 0 1st Half 5:00
Montreal 0
Seattle 0 2nd Half
Red Bull New York 1
D.C. 7:30 PM
Chicago
FC Dallas 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 8 2:40
Hamilton 3
Calgary 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Ottawa 9/21/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Montreal 9/26/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 9/26/14 9:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/27/14 5:30 PM
Winnipeg
Brt Columbia 9/27/14 8:30 PM
Calgary
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Vikings and Gophers do this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close