Gophers' offense benefits from keeping it simple on the court

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 6, 2013 - 11:39 AM

Emphasizing constant movement and getting the ball inside have paid recent dividends.


Gopher's Wally Ellenson tried to save a ball going out of bounds.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

One thing is as clear now as it was when the Gophers were losing eight of 11 games: The half-court offense will never be Minnesota’s bread and butter.

But when they find themselves needing half-court baskets — an inevitable scenario in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments — Gophers coach Tubby Smith has decided to make things as simple as possible.

“I think we went back to the fundamentals, No. 1,” Smith said. “We sort of narrowed what we’re doing offensively as well. We limited what they could do with the ball.”

That experiment has been beneficial — so much so that Smith hinted at starting guard Julian Welch and forward Andre Ingram at Nebraska on Wednesday. Those two started on senior day Saturday against Penn State, when the Gophers simply got the ball inside and overwhelmed the Nittany Lions.

Even so, the Gophers have been succeeding mainly in spite of its half-court problems: Against Indiana, Minnesota scored nearly half of its points by way of offensive rebounds and off the fast break.

But a team can’t get away without some sort of functional half-court offense in this league. So in the victory over the then-No. 1 Hoosiers, Smith also relied heavily on the flex offense — basically a stripped-down offense that emphasizes constant movement by everyone and lots of back and down screens — a system the Gophers used effectively late last season when they went on a run in the NIT.

The flex can be successful because the cuts and screens are easy to remember and the philosophy essentially makes everyone’s role the same. And because movement can be more easily anticipated, it can help to cut down on poor ballhandling, perhaps the Gophers’ biggest weakness.

The fewer the turnovers, the more opportunities the Gophers have to work the ball into the paint, and the better chances for Minnesota to slow down the opponent and more effectively utilize their own transition game.

“We did things that we haven’t done a great job of doing in the past,” junior guard Austin Hollins said of the Indiana game. “We got some fast-break points, we were getting it in the post a lot more. … Coach stresses a lot playing inside-out, and that’s what we’ve got to do to put pressure on the defense.”

With a flex offense making it not as necessary to have Andre Hollins at the helm, the Gophers have used the talented-but-inconsistent sophomore off the ball more often, getting valuable minutes from either Welch or Maverick Ahanmisi at point guard. That implementation has given the Gophers another ballhandler to run the team while freeing up Hollins for what he’s best suited to do: shoot and score.

“[Coach] wants me out in transition because I’ll be harder to guard when I’m without the ball,” said Hollins of the adjustment, which he said allows him to be more aggressive. “It’s just a different lineup, a different look, makes me a little more dangerous because teams have to worry about me coming off screens instead of distributing the ball.”

As a side effect, both Ahanamisi (six points, three assists, no turnovers against Indiana) and Welch (10 points, seven assists, no turnovers against Penn State) have responded positively as well, along with big men Ingram and Elliott Eliason, giving Smith some realistic options for a shortened but more productive rotation.

“No question — Julian’s playing like he was playing last year, and that’s the type of Julian we know he can be,” assistant coach Vince Taylor said. “It makes us a lot deeper team and it allows us to move Andre off the ball and gives us another ballhandler out there, too.”

Whether the strategy will work long term is still uncertain, but the Gophers have averaged 75 points in their past two games after not reaching 60 in their previous five.

“I think our new scheme of offense will help all of us benefit,” senior forward Trevor Mbakwe said. “Coach has been great. I know he went to the blackboard and said, ‘How can we improve offensively?’ We went through a stretch where it felt like it was hard for us to score 30 points in games. Lately we were able to score more points.”

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


San Francisco 2 Bottom 6th Inning
Kansas City 7
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Houston 90 FINAL
Orlando 89
Brooklyn 86 FINAL
Boston 100
Washington 100 FINAL
New York 103
Cleveland 92 4th Qtr 0:22
Memphis 96
Minnesota 110 FINAL
Milwaukee 91
Atlanta 100 4th Qtr 8:32
San Antonio 82
Portland 18 1st Qtr 0:11
LA Lakers 22
Phoenix 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Toronto 0 Postponed
Ottawa 0
Philadelphia 4 3rd Prd 2:21
Pittsburgh 3
Washington 1 2nd Prd
Edmonton 1
Buffalo 9:30 PM
Arkansas State 40 FINAL
Louisiana 55
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Chivas USA 0 2nd Half
Real Salt Lake 1
Montreal 10/24/14 5:30 PM
Saskatchewan 10/24/14 8:30 PM
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters


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.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
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




question of the day

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

Weekly Question