Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Does Minnesota's AD watch "The Office"?
Today I continue my alphabetically sensitive preseason walk-arounds of each Big Ten team with some thoughts on that enigmatic but reportedly feisty band of who-dats from Minneapolis, proud members of the Big Ten since its founding in 1896....

Last year
16-15 overall, 5-11 in conference. Lost to Cincinnati in second round of the NIT, 76-62.

Spencer Tollackson (8.1 PPG, 1.14 PPWS, 12.1 reb. pct., 3.0 assists per 100 possessions, 4.4 TOs per 100 possessions)
Dan Coleman (7.3 PPG, 0.97 PPWS, 10.4 reb. pct., 1.2 a/100 poss., 3.5 TO/100 poss.)
Jamal Abu-Shamala (5.0 PPG, 1.24 PPWS, 7.8 reb. pct., 2.1 a/100 poss., 2.9 TO/100 poss.)
Brandon Smith (3.0 PPG--missed last 18 games due to academic ineligibility)
Jonathan Williams (1.4 PPG)

Lawrence McKenzie (6-2 G, transfer from Oklahoma--enters as senior)
Limar Wilson (5-11 G, JC transfer)
Kevin Payton (6-5 G, redshirt freshman)
Damian Johnson (6-7 F, redshirt freshman)
Bryce Webster (6-9 F, St. Paul)
Lawrence Westbrook (6-0 G, Chandler, AZ)
Engen Nurumbi (6-7 F, JC transfer)

Vincent Grier (15.7 PPG, 0.99 PPWS, 10.4 reb. pct., 4.4 a/100 poss., 5.0 TO/100 poss.)
Moe Hargrow (11.2 PPG, 1.06 PPWS, 7.1 reb. pct., 6.0 a/100 poss., 5.2 TO/100 poss.)
Adam Boone (10.3 PPG, 1.04 PPWS, 5.0 reb. pct., 8.1 a/100poss., 3.9 TO/100 poss.)
J'son Stamper (6.1 PPG, 0.95 PPWS, 14.6 reb. pct., 3.1 a/100 poss., 3.9 TO/100 poss.)
Rico Tucker (4.5 PPG, 0.85 PPWS, 4.9 reb. pct., 4.9 a/100 poss., 7.8 TO/100 poss.)
Zach Puchtel (2.3 PPG, 1.15 PPWS, 12.3 reb. pct., 2.8 a/100 poss., 2.0 TO/100 poss.)

Official motto for 2006-07
"We hereby swear that we're entirely comfortable with the following sequence of words: 'Leading returning scorer Spencer Tollackson.'"

What we think we know in November (read the warning label)
Last March 22 the Minneapolis Star Tribune, citing anonymous "sources outside the university with knowledge of the situation," reported that Dan Monson was "not expected to return" as head coach of Minnesota for the 2006-07 season.

That evening Gopher athletic director Joel Maturi held a press conference and said the report was incorrect, that Monson would be staying on as coach.

And here is how Maturi said that:

I've told this to Dan, if this were the Timberwolves and I were the GM, maybe he wouldn't be coaching next year....But I don't want to be the Timberwolves and I'm not the GM. I'm the athletic director at an academic institution that has some values, has some integrity and we're going to live that and walk the talk.

Keep in mind this was meant as a vote of confidence from an AD standing behind his coach. Boldly counterintuitive Steve Carell-like supervisor Joel Maturi, Wonk salutes you! With positive reinforcement like this, who needs criticism?

BONUS coverage! My annual shamelessly obvious gimme-a-Pulitzer dabble in investigative reporting!
But there's more to this story that what's been reported thus far! My crack team of investigative reporters has uncovered an EXCLUSIVE transcript of the full conversation between Monson and Maturi on March 22 and learned that the Minnesota AD's unique take on the word "support" indeed runs deep.

The key passages read as follows:

MATURI: Dan, if this were the Timberwolves and I were the GM, maybe you wouldn't be coaching next year.

MONSON: Oh. Well, um....

MATURI: No, seriously. I mean it. If this were the NFL and you were a quarterback, you wouldn't be anywhere close to Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. You'd be Charlie Frye.

MONSON: Gosh, that really speaks volumes, boss. It does. And I think the important thing moving forward is--

MATURI: What I'm trying to get across here, Dan, is that if you were a Corleone, you can forget about being Michael, much less Vito. You'd be Fredo, Dan. Do you hear what I'm telling you? Fredo.

MONSON: Gee, boss, message received, you know. I think I have a handle on your thinking. Really. Having said that, what I think we need to focus on now is--

MATURI: Dan, I look at it this way. If you were a car, you wouldn't even be allowed in the same lot as a Mercedes or BMW. You'd be an '81 Ford Fairmont. Dark brown with a tan vinyl top. Manual. And a trunk lid that won't shut.

MONSON: Wow, gotta give you that one, boss. Now, about next year's team, I think--

MATURI: Maybe this will help you get a clearer fix on my thinking, Dan. If you were a breakfast cereal, you can just forget about being something tasty like Cookie Crisp or Count Chocula. You'd be All-Bran. You know All-Bran, Dan? It gets mushy and tasteless before I'm even done pouring the milk. I hate that. Don't you hate that, Dan?

MONSON: Man. Gotta tell you, this is really coming through crystal-clear. It is. And that's important because as we build toward next season we'll need to--

MATURI: Dan, if you were one of the Village People....

The 2007 Gophers: can they steal a page from 2005?
Maturi's creative endorsement of his head coach has added still another challenge to what is already intrinsically one of the three or four toughest coaching gigs in the Big Ten. Add to that the fact that graduation and attrition have subtracted no less than 50 points a game from a team that went 5-11 in the Big Ten last year and you're looking at a daunting situation for 2007, to say the least.

Then again two years ago at this time things looked equally grim. Minnesota was being picked for the Big Ten cellar. The team had lost Kris Humphries to the NBA and Adam Boone was out for the year with an injury. No one expected anything from the Gophers that year. And yet that team, led by newly-arrived transfer Vincent Grier, went to the NCAA tournament on the strength of one of the best defenses in the nation. Will that history repeat itself this year?

Monson thinks maybe it can. In fact, he says his 2005 team started the preseason with even "less" on hand than this year's team.

Me, I'm not so sure. We know now what we should have known then about that 2005 team: it had a seven-footer in the post (Jeff Hagen) and a swarm of energetic perimeter defenders (Grier, Rico Tucker, Aaron Robinson, et. al.). This year's team definitely doesn't have a seven-footer--but can they match the defensive intensity of the 2005 Gophers?

It will be very difficult to do so for the simple reason that the seven-footer in question appears to have catalyzed that team's perimeter D. Last year in Hagen's absence Minnesota's interior defense actually improved slightly but opponents nevertheless shot much better on their threes and gave away many fewer turnovers. Bottom line: you can go a long time without seeing a defense as good as the one the Gophers had in 2005. And Monson may have to go at least another year without seeing its like again.

As for the offense, no one can say what we'll see this year, least of all Monson. What we do know is that for two years Minnesota has struggled mightily to put the ball in the basket. Assuming that there is no inherently dominant big man in Minneapolis this season, the emergence of one or two reliably dangerous perimeter shooters (Lawrence McKenzie? Jamal Abu-Shamala?) would be a big help in thinning opposing defenses and opening up the post.

Formally Spencered
Give the man his due: Spencer Tollackson's a surprisingly efficient scorer. But after that the numbers turn meh: he's the most anemic rebounder in the league among returning big men (and particularly nonexistent on the defensive boards) and he never goes to the line. (Good thing! He's a 54.3 percent FT shooter.) Numbers like these can change for the better, of course. Monson hopes they do.

Lawrence of Academia
Oklahoma transfer Lawrence McKenzie has returned to his native Minneapolis and is getting a fair amount of preseason pub. And why not? McKenzie made 43.5 percent of his threes coming off the bench for Kelvin Sampson in Norman in 2005.

Impressive, no? Absolutely. Just remember, though, that shooting threes was all McKenzie did at OU--roughly 71 percent of his shots were threes (about like Mike Walker of Penn State last year). There's nothing wrong with being a three-point specialist, of course. But the three-point specialist usually needs help on offense, either in the form of a big man or other perimeter threats. Otherwise a three-point shooter put in the position of having to carry an offense single-handedly can quickly become a not-so-good three-point shooter. (What hoops analysts in white lab coats term "pulling a GMac.")

McKenzie also appears to have been something of a foul-magnet in his Big XII life. Keep an eye on this.

A riddle wrapped in an enigma cloaked in a Gopher jersey
For someone listed at 6-9, Dan Coleman has a strikingly low 2FG pct.: just 42.7. Otherwise Coleman barely hits the box score--on either side of the ball.

Rudy comes to the Twin Cities
Jamal Abu-Shamala started the year as a walk-on last season but was put on scholarship when it became clear the young man possessed something that's been in short supply in Williams Arena of late: an outside shot. Abu-Shamala hit 47.5 percent of his threes last year but only attempted 59 of them. Agenda for this year: more threes and more of everything else, too, particularly D.

Spielzehn mit die Gophers?
Redshirt freshman and dual-American/Austrian citizen Kevin Payton is reported to be the team's best athlete and could see time at point-guard, shooting guard, or even small forward.

Limar Wilson: "the fastest, quickest guy I've ever played with," according to Tollackson.

Bryce Webster: his "6-foot-9, 240-pound body gives him an edge over most players coming out of high school," according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. More Webster mania here.

In the Gophers first exhibition game last week, freshman Lawrence Westbrook scored 21 points against Bemidji State.

Jonathan Williams blocks shots. If he can stay out of foul trouble, this skill would come in handy this year in Minneapolis.

Engen Nurumbi: "a work in progress," according to Monson.

Ryan Saunders, son of Pistons coach Flip Saunders, is a Gopher co-captain along with McKenzie.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Michigan State beat Brown 45-34 in East Lansing last night in "lethargic" opening-round action in the loquaciously titled "2K Sports College Hoops Classic benefiting Coaches Vs. Cancer." The Bears held the pace to just 51 possessions, recorded a mere eight turnovers, and shot just four free throws--meaning I don't care what it says on their jerseys, this team's from Princeton, if you get my drift. BONUS very sophisticated analysis! Turning the ball over 18 times, as did the Spartans last night, in a game with just 51 possessions is really bad. Maurice Joseph led MSU with 12 points. Marquise Gray got the start but Drew Naymick got the minutes....Tom Izzo did a pretty good Shecky Greene in his postgame remarks: "Before everyone panics, let's look at the positives....There were none." Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz says Drew Neitzel has to play better....The Spartans will play Youngstown State tonight in East Lansing for the right to play in the semifinals next week in Madison Square Garden. (Box score.)

Winona State beat Minnesota 69-64 last night in an exhibition game in Minneapolis. The Gophers were notably weak on the defensive glass, giving the Warriors 16 offensive boards on 36 misses. "We've got to understand that we're 0-0, and we've got an opportunity to learn from [the loss] and move on," Dan Monson said afterward. Dan Coleman led Minnesota in minutes, shots, and points (20). Lawrence McKenzie attempted 10 threes and made three. Winona State is the defending Division II national champion and, with a prior victory over Drake, has now beaten two D-I teams this exhibition season. (Box score (pdf).)

Wisconsin beat Carroll College 81-61 in an exhibition game in Madison last night. Michael Flowers pulled down 13 boards, 12 of them defensive, in 32 minutes. Alando Tucker attempted five threes and made none. (Box score (pdf).)

Illinois beat Southern Illinois-Edwardsville 76-57 last night in an exhibition game in Champaign. Warren Carter led the Illini in shots and points (17). Bruce Weber was pleased with his team's effort: "They have really played their butts off." (Box score.)

Purdue beat Wisconsin-Platteville 78-46 in an exhibition game in West Lafayette last night. Look in the dictionary under "scoring efficiency" and behold the picture of Carl Landry, who led all scorers with 26 points and needed only 14 shots to do so. David Teague added eight boards for the Boilers. (Box score.)

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