Is Maurice Walker the Cornerstone of Minnesota’s Postseason Hopes?Posted by Brendan Brody on February 13th, 2014
Getting consistent inside play- specifically on offense- is something that most Big Ten teams have struggled with. You could look at every single team in the league and say “well they would have more wins right now if (insert pivotman from whichever team you’d like) would have scored more or gotten more rebounds. AJ Hammons, Amir Williams, and Alex Olah are just a few that have failed to consistently make an impact down low, while pick-and-pop players that are centers in name only like Frank Kaminsky, Donovon Jack and Walter Pitchford aren’t consistently lighting up scoreboards either. This is why people need to take a look at what Maurice Walker is doing right now for Minnesota.
There wasn’t really a “coming out party” so the speak with Walker. He hasn’t busted out for a 30 point-15 rebound game or anything. But despite the bulging stat lines he’s been producing, the Purdue game could be served as a marker in the sand for people to take notice and realize that this might be what he’s capable of producing for the rest of the year. This is the game where he took Hammons on and was able to consistently score on him in the deep post. He did so in some crucial situations in a game that took 15 minutes of overtime to settle. The Gophers were looking for him and he delivered, scoring 8 of his 17 points in overtime. Early in the season, there’s no way he would have even touched the ball in critical situations like that. This wasn’t just a one-time thing however. Despite the fact that Minnesota has lost 4 of their last 6, Walker has averaged 23.2 MPG. He’s shot 58.2% from the field, contributing double-figure point production in 4 of the 6. He’s shown a confident and consistent low-post game that many of the big men I mentioned in the first paragraph struggle with. Walker has gotten the ball in the deep post and displayed the ability to either go with a jump hook, or with quality footwork to maneuver his way to a layup.
Walker is playing well, but the Gophers have lost four of their last 6. So why does his improved play mean anything other than him putting up good numbers for a struggling team? Quite simply, he serves as a bit of an insurance policy for when the Gopher guards are struggling. Andre Hollins is still shaking off the rust from being out with an ankle injury. Malik Smith is in the middle of a 2-for-17 shooting slump from behind the arc, and Austin Hollins hasn’t shot the ball well lately either. The guard-dominated team from the early season now has a legitimate threat down low to get the ball to when they’re struggling. Teams now have to account for Walker in their schemes and decide whether or not to send a double-team, which will free the guards up with better looks that should get them out of their collective shooting doldrums. Walker doesn’t even have to play 35 minutes a game, but the tag-team of Walker and Elliott Eliason gives teams different looks. Both players can ideally (foul trouble negates this) play really hard in shorter spurts, with Eliason especially knowing now that a more confident and able Walker can spell him and vice versa. All in all, Minnesota is much deeper now than they were at the beginning of the year. The schedule they have in front of them is going to be a challenge. However, if their guards get back to shooting the ball like they are capable of, the combination of Walker post play and three-point shooting could lead to an NCAA tournament berth in Coach Richard Pitino’s first season at the helm.