Last week, I talked about being thankful for the Vikings' turnaround, since it gave us something to cheer about in Minnesota. Well, that sure went downhill fast...after the Vikings collapsed against the Redskins, it looks like yet another Minnesota team will be left out of the playoffs. And if the Vikes do indeed miss the playoffs, my attention's turning to Tubby's team.
I'd like to personally accompany Randy Wittman to a Gophers basketball game--if he took a gander at how Tubby's squad is playing, maybe he'd be a little less incompetent in his current position.
Both the Wolves and Gophers share similarities...the biggest being that neither team is terribly talented. The Wolves have potential talent on their roster, but as of now, their talent level is (obviously) inadequate when compared to the rest of the NBA. Meanwhile, Tubby's working with Monson's players--and with a few exceptions, we know that Monson was a lousy recruiter.
OK--so both teams lack talent. Why, then, are the Gophers 10-1 (with yesterday's win against Kennesaw State, they surpassed their 2006-07 win total), while the Wolves are an embarrassing 4-25 (easily the worst record in the NBA)?
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You could argue that the Gophers have played a weak schedule thus far, and that's true to an extent. Yeah, they've played some patsies, but they've also beaten several teams that they frankly wouldn't have beaten last season.
Having watched this team on several occasions (yes, I'm one of the few in the Twin Cities who actually has the Big Ten Network), I can safely say that Tubby Smith is a genius at getting the most out of his players...and because of that, the Gophers will finish ahead of more-talented teams in the Big Ten this season. When compared to last year's Gophers squad, Tubby's team is better conditioned, plays A LOT harder, and makes fewer mistakes.
The Wolves have proven to be the opposite. Just because a team has youth doesn't mean they'll automatically play hard--the poor transition defense that has consistently plagued the Wolves is directly related to effort. Make a better effort to get back on defense, and we wouldn't constantly be getting burned on the fast break.
And watching the Wolves during their traditional second half meltdowns, I've noticed that when this team is struggling, the offense grows absolutely stagnant. Our players become spectators on the offensive end...no movement without the ball, no cutting, nothing to generate any easy baskets.
It sickens me to watch teams like the Celtics and Spurs, because offensively, they're everything that the Wolves are not. Both teams are a helluva lot more opportunistic than the Wolves are--indeed, on the offensive end, you will NEVER see anyone on either team take himself out of the play.
Does Manu Ginobli park himself on the perimeter while Tim Duncan goes to work? Does Paul Pierce take himself out of the play when KG has the ball in the post?
No--the great teams will always present a plethora of threats on the offensive end. Unfortunately, when the Wolves go through their usual second half struggles, they do not present a variety of offensive threats. When was the last time you saw Rashad McCants cut to the basket? When was the last time you saw someone take advantage of the double and triple teams that Big Al routinely faces? When was the last time you saw them run a freaking pick and roll? When was the last time you were impressed with how the Wolves were moving without the ball?
The Wolves are an EASY team to defend against, and it's no accident that they rank 25th in the NBA in team PPG. This team does very little to generate easy baskets--instead, they often settle for contested jumpers.
Back to Tubby's squad. I'm extremely impressed with the offensive schemes Tubby's running. I had the chance to watch a behind-the-scenes feature on Tubby, and it showed him giving a halftime speech to the Gophers--he preached the importance of cutting to the basket, getting easy shots, and moving without the ball. Standing around on the offensive end? Parking yourself on the perimeter rather than cutting to the basket? Tubby will give you a seat on the bench.
He realizes that his team can make up for their lack of talent through hard work on both ends of the floor. And that's a refreshing change from the team at 600 First Avenue.
Finally, as I mentioned, Tubby has his team playing smart basketball. This season, the Gophers are averaging 14.8 turnovers per game, while their opponents are averaging 20.4 turnovers per game. Winning the turnover margin is always a huge advantage, and the Gophers have consistently accomplished that with Tubby at the helm.
For the Wolves, taking care of the basketball has always been an issue this season. As a team, they average 16.1 turnovers per game--their opponents average just 13.8.
And even the most casual observer of basketball will tell you that turnovers have a lot to do with coaching--the best basketball coaches put their team in positions to succeed, and when that doesn't happen, one of the consequences will be a high turnover rate.
In the Twin Cities, we have two basketball teams that lack talent, when compared to other teams in their respective leagues. One is having surprising success; the other is a bottom-dweller. One coach knows how to get the most out of his players; the other doesn't seem to have a clue.