Christmas is just around the corner, Hanukkah is over and it seems like everyone is celebrating for one reason or another with several other holidays cruising into session and yes, possibly making lists as well.
Minnesota coach Richard Pitino struggled with the question of what he really wanted for Christmas when he was asked by his weekly radio host Mike Grimm on 1500-a.m. last week, but I’m betting if he made one for the Gophers it would be long and passionate.
My guess at what Pitino wants (on the court) for Christmas:
A magically disappearing boot. And a healthy foot underneath it that is. Pitino said this week that freshman Kevin Dorsey is expected to be out for Wednesdays’ game against Milwaukee with a bruised heel, but there’s a decent change, he believes that the pesky 5-11 guard will be available a week later, when the Gophers start the Big Ten by facing an Ohio State team that just downed then-No. 4 Kentucky. Dorsey is key in Pitino’s press defense and has played a scrappy and clutch role offensively as well.
Implantable rip-cords to pull and turn his players into Gopher-Talks-A-Lots. Minnesota’s biggest concern this year has probably been defense, and a lot of the struggles have been brought on by the fact that the Gophers simply aren’t communicating on the court. Chemistry often comes with time, and this particular collection of Gophers hasn’t had much of it together. But in the meantime of that natural clicking Pitino hopes will occur, Minnesota has to force it. Of course, simple things like boxing out, closing out on shooters and helping in the paint would be good too.
Temporary hand-safe super glue and magic macho powder for his big men. Both centers Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou have taken steps from where they were last season, but they’re still not where they need to be. Both are too easily pushed around in the paint and balls have sprung from their hands far too easily, whether it’s when trying to grab a rebound or trying to make a move to post up. Both are still young and raw, but if the Gophers want to avoid getting stampeded in the Big Ten, they’ll need more in the short term.
Visions of out-stretched hands at the perimeter. Another big problem for Minnesota all year, the Gophers’ three-point defense has been slipping lower and lower in national rankings as they leave opponents open at the arc or lose them on rotations. Currently, Ken Pomeroy has their 38.8 percent allowance at 309th nationally. Considering the shooters are going to get better, Minnesota has got to find a way to rectify its porousness at the arc.
A little Christmas luck. Minnesota lost nine games by one or two possessions last year and this year the Gophers have already dropped three such games. Simply put, Minnesota and Pitino have not been very good in close games, and not very lucky. The team and the coaches could use a little of that Santa dust in the days and months ahead.