Rushed Reactions: #14 Minnesota 71, USC 57Posted by AMurawa on December 9th, 2012
Drew Murawa is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from tonight’s Minnesota-USC game in Los Angeles.
Three Key Takeaways.
- 500 Wins. Tonight’s win was Tubby Smith’s 500th victory in his career and he becomes the 19th active head coach to reach that mark. Despite a national title, a National Coach of the Year award, and numerous other accomplishments under his belt, Smith gets overlooked regularly since he left Kentucky, but despite some offseason distractions, he looks like he has put together his best team at his current stop. After the game, he paused to reflect briefly and typically understated his accomplishment: “I have been in good situations and on programs who have been committed to basketball. Not everyone has that opportunity.”
- Golden Gophers For Real. Balanced scoring, superb athleticism up front, talented and savvy guards, depth and great coaching. Yup, that’s a pretty good recipe for a Top 25 team. Eight players saw seven minutes or more for Smith and seven of those guys scored at least six points. In the early moments of the game, it was clear that one of these teams was ready to go from the opening tip and one was not — Minnesota looked crisp, moving the ball around quickly and getting enough open looks to send USC looking for cover in a 2-3 zone. As it is now, Minnesota has a 10-1 record with wins over Memphis, Stanford, Florida State, and USC, and a loss to #1 Duke the only blemish. We knew teams like Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State were going to be a load, but coupled with Illinois’ big win at Gonzaga on Saturday, it looks like we can throw another pair on the Big Ten pile.
- Working Things Out. We’re a month into the season and Kevin O’Neill has no idea what he has here. His rotation seems to be little more than subbing guys in and out based on a whim. Eleven guys played in the first half, and while O’Neill tightened up his rotation to great effect in the second half, it just isn’t feasible to generate a brand new rotation every night out. Guys need to know their roles in order to give the coaching staff what they want. Start with the players you absolutely need to have on the floor (e.g., Byron Wesley, Jio Fontan, and Omar Oraby) and build an eight or nine-man rotation from there. There is enough talent here for the Trojans to make some noise in conference play, but O’Neill’s got to cobble together some type of coherent plan for that to happen. He certainly knows that, as he discussed after the game trimming his rotation based on effort.
Star of the Game. Omar Oraby. You hate to name a player on the losing team the star of the game, but in the second half at least, Oraby was the best player on the floor. He scored 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting, the Trojan offense ran smoothly through him in the post, he crashed the boards and challenged many shots at the rim, including a dunk attempt by Trevor Mbakwe on a breakaway that wound up with both players crashing to the floor. The whistle went against Oraby, but he maintained his innocence, even after the game. Oraby got 14 minutes in the second half and O’Neill sang his praises (except for his woeful free throw shooting) after the game, noting, “he’s gonna have to get a ton of time.”
Sights & Sounds. After starting the game 0-for-5 from the field (not to mention blowing more than one defensive assignment), junior guard J.T. Terrell was benched to start the second half in favor of 5’9” freshman point guard Chass Bryan. Midway through the second half, O’Neill reinserted Terrell for a stretch, but after falling down after another missed jumper, Terrell slowly got up and walked downcourt while the Golden Gophers scored. Suffice it to say, O’Neill was having none of that and pulled Terrell at the next dead ball, whereupon Terrell marched straight to the far end of the bench and sat down by himself to pout. After letting him steam for 30 seconds or so, teammate Ari Stewart came down, sat next to him, talked some sense into him and sent him back down the line to sit down next to the coaches. Regardless of all that, Terrell did not return to the game.
Quotable: Kevin O’Neill: “I’m gonna play the guys who play hard. We’re going to find a group of eight or nine guys who do that and we’re going to go with them. [...] We’re gonna play guys that play with energy all the time and we’re gonna play guys that play with force. And we’re gonna play guys that play team basketball.”
Wildcard. Dunks. One of the great things about watching Minnesota is that, when this team is going good, they’re going to wind up with a handful of dunks per half. They move the ball exceedingly well, they’ve got guards with great awareness, and most importantly, they’ve got superb athleticism up front. Between Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe pounding the glass and running the floor and guys like Austin Hollins and Joe Coleman creating turnovers with pressure defense, this Minnesota team is a joy to watch.
What’s Next? The biggest worry ahead of Minnesota between now and conference play is likely finals. They’ve got North Dakota State on Tuesday followed by Lafayette two weeks from now, but the Golden Gophers should head into their conference opener at home against Michigan State on New Year’s Eve with a 12-1 record. For USC, they get a bit of a breather as well after playing a brutal first nine games: They’ll host UC Riverside next weekend then UC Irvine the following week before wrapping up their non-conference slate with a decent pair of games at Georgia and back at home against Dayton. There’s enough talent here that if the rotation gets dialed in, they could get back above .500 before conference play.