Anonymous Nate Mason Fitting in Nicely at Minnesota

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 11th, 2014

After winning the NIT last year, Minnesota‘s fortunes this season were widely believed to be keyed by their veterans. Seniors Andre Hollins, Deandre Mathieu, Maurice Walker and Elliott Eliason all played large roles in last season’s transition from Tubby Smith to Richard Pitino’s NIT championship squad. They are in fact doing so this season, with Hollins leading the team in scoring, Walker leading the team in rebounds and blocks, and Mathieu leading the team in assists. But it has also been freshman Nate Mason who has made his presence felt as the first guard off the bench. His importance has been necessary with the loss of Daquien McNeil to his ongoing legal issues, and Mason has shined with all of the extra responsibility.

Nate Mason (right) has been a key cog for Minnesota in the early season so far. (Kathy Willens, AP)

Nate Mason (right) has been a key cog for Minnesota in the early season so far. (Kathy Willens, AP)

On Monday night, the Gophers forced North Dakota into a whopping 25 turnovers (33.8 percent of their possessions). Most of the damage was done with their pressure defense, with Mason serving as the catalyst with six steals. Mason also ended the game with eight assists, which along with his steals output were career bests for the first-year player. On Wednesday night, the Gophers forced Southern into another 20 miscues, logging 11 of those in the form of steals. Mason has been excellent in Pitino’s pressure style, showing the athleticism necessary to recover when other teams beat the press. The precocious freshman is averaging 9.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.7 steals per game, while hitting 46.7 percent of his threes. This comes from a player who was ranked only 135th in his class, according to 24/7 sports composite rankings.

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Big Ten Feast Week Primer

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 24th, 2014

Seven Big Ten teams will be competing in tournaments during Feast Week. Some are expected to do well, while others are looking to pick up some quality wins and defy preseason expectations. Here’s a primer for those hoops-obsessed fans who want to schedule some Big Ten basketball watching around their annoying relatives. The fun gets started later today in Maui, New York and Kansas City.

Progressive Legends Classic: (Monday and Tuesday)

Caris LeVert needs to continue to fill up the stat sheet if Michigan wants to win the Legends Classic. (Getty)

Caris LeVert needs to continue to fill up the stat sheet if Michigan wants to win the Legends Classic. (Getty)

  • Teams: Michigan, Oregon, VCU, Villanova
  • Favorite: Villanova
  • TV: ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU
  • Outlook: Michigan will face its first big-name opponents of the season when the Wolverines take on Oregon in the first game. Should they win, they’ll face off against the winner of the VCU-Villanova game after that. The perimeter trio of Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert will have to continue to score at a high level, as the trio is producing a robust 67.5 percent of Michigan’s points thus far this season.
  • Predicted Finish: First if they play Villanova; second if they play VCU.

CBE Hall of Fame Classic: (Monday and Tuesday)

  • Teams: Maryland, Arizona State, Iowa State, Alabama
  • Favorite: Iowa State
  • TV: ESPNU, ESPN2

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Big Ten Opening Night: Three Things to Watch For

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 14th, 2014

Eleven Big Ten Teams will make their season debuts tonight. While the only true marquee game on the schedule is the Minnesota-Louisville clash in Puerto Rico, here are three things to watch for if you’re checking out the league as the season begins.

  • Hampton vs. Iowa: Hampton went 18-13 last year, and the Pirates hung with Penn State in the first round of the CBI before ultimately losing by four points. They return eight players from their top 10 in minutes played for a team that ran at the 11th-fastest tempo in the country last season. They did a tremendous job in blocking shots and holding teams to a low percentage on two-point attempts, and have good front line size to match up with the Hawkeyes on the interior. Iowa no longer has Roy Devyn Marble to handle the ball and take all of its big shots, so Mike Gesell and Josh Oglesby will have to be hitting from long range because points in the paint will not be easy to find. This game bears watching because it will be a track meet up and down the court, and because there is also some small upset potential here if Iowa doesn’t come to play.
Mike Geselll will have to take care of the ball Friday night against Hampton. (Getty).

Mike Geselll will have to take care of the ball Friday night against Hampton. (Getty)

  • Michigan State vs. Navy: The Midshipmen went 9-21 last year, so thinking that they will push Sparty tonight might be something of a stretch. But they do return almost everybody from that team, and they did a solid job forcing turnovers last season. Michigan State, of course, has a new floor general, and although Travis Trice has gotten plenty of reps in his three years in East Lansing, he’s never been the guy. Denzel Valentine has a tendency to cough up the ball on occasion, and Lourawls Nairn will be making his much-anticipated collegiate debut. Keep an eye on whether Michigan State can avoid making silly mistakes here. A sloppy effort against a clearly inferior opponent might be a bad sign as the team gets set to take on Duke in the Champions Classic in four days.
  • Minnesota vs. Louisville: This game is the obvious call if you’re looking for opening night intrigue. Minnesota has an early chance to grab a huge non-conference win by playing a top 10 team. Richard Pitino will coach against his dad, who probably knows the Gophers about as well as his son does. Richard, of course, served as an assistant at Louisville just a few seasons ago, so the same likely holds true with the younger Pitino’s knowledge about the Cardinals. If you like guard play, you will get a chance to watch Andre Hollins and Deandre Mathieu take on Chris Jones and Terry Rozier. If the battle in the post is more your cup of tea, then check out Elliott Eliason and Maurice Walker trading haymakers with potential All-American Montrezl Harrell. This one sells itself.
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Can Minnesota’s Andre Hollins Regain His Scoring Touch?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 6th, 2014

Despite his excellence for three seasons, the collegiate career of Andre Hollins has arguably flown under the radar. He has been a heavy contributor at Minnesota since day one, topping the 20-point plateau five times as a freshman and leading the Gophers in scoring in both his sophomore and junior seasons. He even has an outside chance at cracking 2,000 points for his career if his team makes a deep run in the postseason this year. He’s played under two coaches utilizing vastly different systems, yet still managed to thrive. Last season was his most challenging in Minneapolis — after suffering an ankle injury, he came back too soon and proceeded to look like a shell of his former self. He went from averaging 16.2 PPG before the injury to 11.3 PPG in the 16 games afterward, and he just looked tentative and unsure of himself in February and March. Now in his second year under Richard Pitino, he is flanked by a core of experienced seniors. Can Hollins recapture his scoring touch and lead the Gophers back to the Big Dance?

Andre Hollins needs to regain his scoring touch if Minnesota wants to rise in the B1G standings. (Getty)

Andre Hollins needs to regain his scoring touch if Minnesota wants to rise in the B1G standings. (Getty)

At his best, Hollins is a scorer who does most of his damage from the outside. He’s made quite a few three-pointers in his career, topping out at a superb 41.8 percent in his junior season from behind the arc. He also does a nice job getting to the free throw line, and converts when he’s there, with a career free throw percentage of 84.4 percent. For someone that gets so much of his scoring output from the outside, he still managed to rank ninth in the league in free throw rate, getting to the charity stripe at a 49.7 percent clip. He’s capable of playing both guard spots, as he led the team in assists (3.4 APG) as the primary facilitator in 2012-13. When Deandre Mathieu took over the point guard duties last season, Hollins played off the ball where he was able to get quality looks on kickouts from the speedy Mathieu. The Gophers’ backcourt tandem might be the best in the league this season, and it will need to be if Minnesota hopes to avoid another trip to the NIT.

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NIT Preview: Three Keys for Minnesota Against Florida State

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 1st, 2014

Minnesota has made the most out of its experience in the NIT, as the Gophers have made it to New York City to take on Florida State in the semifinals of the event this evening. This is a rematch of an earlier meeting in December’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, when Richard Pitino’s team defeated the Seminoles 71-61 at Williams Arena. Despite a lack of prestige and eyeballs on this game, Minnesota is the only Big Ten team still playing basketball other than Wisconsin. In order to advance to Thursday night’s championship game, here are three things for Minnesota to concentrate on to beat FSU again.

With Elliott Eliason probably not playing due to an injury, Minnesota needs a big night Tuesday from Maurice Walker. (Pioneer Press, Ben Garvin)

With Elliott Eliason probably not playing due to an injury, Minnesota needs a big night Tuesday from Maurice Walker. (Pioneer Press, Ben Garvin)

  1. Create turnovers: Florida State turns the ball over slightly less often than Indiana, and anyone who watched any Big Ten basketball this season knows what that means. The Seminoles turn the ball over on over 21 percent of their possessions, and out of the 92 ACC players who played over 40 percent of their team’s available minutes, Devin Bookert and Ian Miller rank fourth and fifth from the bottom. Miller also uses 25.6 percent of the team’s possessions, so taking advantage of his propensity to give the ball away is a must. Minnesota needs to remain aggressive on the perimeter, forcing turnovers instead of letting the  guards — both of whom shoot over 40 percent from deep — get hot from the outside. Read the rest of this entry »
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Some Key Questions Heading into Minnesota vs. Michigan

Posted by Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso on March 1st, 2014

Minnesota traveling to Ann Arbor for a rematch with Michigan highlights the slate of the games this weekend in the Big Ten. There is a great deal on the line for both teams, as the Gophers look to pick up what would be an enormous resume boost that would come from beating the league’s first place team in their building. Michigan would inch that much closer toward picking up at least a share of the Big Ten regular season crown with a victory. RTC’s Big Ten correspondents Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso  look at some of what to watch for if you’re tuning in (BTN 6:oo EST).

Jordan Morgan must keep Elliott Eliason off the glass Saturday when Michigan plays Minnesota. (Adam Hunger, Getty Images).

Jordan Morgan must keep Elliott Eliason off the glass Saturday when Michigan plays Minnesota. (Adam Hunger, Getty Images).

Brendan Brody: Michigan showed how dangerous they can be when they hit threes and play at a quicker tempo in their last win over Iowa. Does Michigan try and run with them, or do they try and play at a slower pace?

Alex Moscoso: I’ve coached exactly zero minutes of organized basketball, but it would seem to me that deviating from what you do best is a recipe for disaster. And what Michigan does best is offense. Granted, Minnesota has also shown it’s at its best when they are getting up and down the court-relying on the sharpshooting of Andre Hollins and Deandre Mathieu’s ability to get to the rim. However, if I was John Beilein, I would be ecstatic if Minnesota wanted to get in a track meet with his squad on Saturday. Michigan scores more efficiently (1.21 to 1.14 points per possession), shoots the ball better (55.2% to 51.4% eFG), and virtually runs the same pace as the Gophers (63 to 64.7 adjusted tempo). The question may be, are the Gophers going to be able to run with Michigan. I mentioned Hollins earlier, and he clearly hasn’t been the same since hurting his ankle against Wisconsin. How can Minnesota still win this game if Hollins isn’t effective offensively?

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Weekend Preview in the Big Ten

Posted by Alex Moscoso & Brendan Brody on February 22nd, 2014

Typically, RTC Big Ten microwriters Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody preview the weekend’s most important or interesting conference game. This week the problem is — and it is a good problem we might add — that all the games on this weekend’s slate have some level of significance. So we decided instead of focusing on just one to quickly preview and analyze each of the five weekend match-ups in this single post. Enjoy.

Wisconsin at Iowa (Saturday, 12:oo PM ET, ESPN2)

Fran McCaffery Was Not Happy About His Previous Ejection (AP)

Fran McCaffery Was Not Happy About His Previous Ejection (AP)

AM: This is one of the most consequential games this weekend as it pits the current third and fourth place teams against one another. If Wisconsin loses, the Badgers will likely be out of contention for a regular season championship as they’ll find themselves three games back of the Michigan-Michigan State winner with only five games remaining. In their previous meeting, Iowa came firing out of the gates and built an 11-point lead at half before blowing it as Fran McCaffery was ejected for an incensed outburst towards the officials. Look for Iowa to try to set the pace once again, but this time get players other than Roy Devyn Marble involved. It would also help to defend the three-point line better than they did at the Kohl Center, where Wisconsin shot a tidy 45.5 percent.

Minnesota at Ohio State (Saturday, 6:oo PM ET, BTN)

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Big Ten Weekend in Review: The Plot Thickens

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 17th, 2014

After Michigan got beaten pretty badly at home against Wisconsin early Sunday afternoon, Michigan State knew that all they had to do was beat Nebraska at home to take over sole possession of first place in the league. The broadcasters even said that the Spartans were watching the Michigan game in the locker room before their game. So of course Sparty got upset by the Cornhuskers because nothing is normal in the 2013-14 Big Ten season. With Wisconsin and Iowa winning over the weekend, there are now four teams within two games of the top spot. With all of these teams playing against each other next weekend (Michigan State at Michigan, Wisconsin at Iowa), absolutely nothing has been settled with three weekends left in the conference schedule. Minnesota got an important win at Northwestern to keep their tourney hopes alive, Purdue annihilated Indiana, and Ohio State and Illinois combined for a whopping 87 points. Here’s the rest of the weekend rundown.

Frank Kaminsky posted his third double-double of the season by scoring 25 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in Wisconsin's weekend win at Michigan. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky posted his third double-double of the season by scoring 25 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in Wisconsin’s weekend win at Michigan. (Getty)

Player of the Weekend: Frank Kaminsky: This was probably the closest contest so far in the seven weeks of doling out this prestigious award. Sterling Carter and Melsaan Basabe were also worthy candidates, but Kaminsky gets the nod. He destroyed the Wolverines all day, and surprisingly did the majority of his damage inside the paint. In his other games this season where he’s gone for over 20 points, he did so by taking a good number of threes. Specifically, in his 43-point monsoon against North Dakota, Kaminsky went 6-for-6 from three and 4-for-7 on two’s. Sunday afternoon, he only took 2 shots from behind the arc. He was 10-for 14 on two’s and did a good deal of damage on the boards (4 offensive rebounds, 11 total). Kaminsky was as aggressive as he’s been all season trying to corral rebounds, and he attacked the basket the whole game. If he and Nigel Hayes can provide consistent paint points for the Badgers to go along with the ever-present outside attack, then Wisconsin just got a lot more dangerous.

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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.

Maurice Walker has been a force in the post for Minnesota in their last 6 games.   (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)

Maurice Walker has been a force in the post for Minnesota in their last 6 games. (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)

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.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review: A Slight Return to Normalcy

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 11th, 2014

After the finish of the Penn State-Illinois game on Sunday afternoon, a look at the standings showed that the upside-down nature of the first six weeks of the Big Ten season has self-corrected a little bit. The five teams that the media and our microsite predicted to finish in the top 5 are situated that way with just three games separating first through fifth place. Illinois climbed out of the basement with a win at Penn State, Nebraska got a road win, and Indiana continued to be as inconsistent as any team in the league/country. Here’s the rest of the highlights from the weekend:

Mike Gesell tallied 8 assists with only 1 turnover in Iowa's win over Michigan Saturday. (Matthew Holst, Getty)

Mike Gesell tallied 8 assists with only 1 turnover in Iowa’s win over Michigan Saturday. (Matthew Holst, Getty)

Player of the Weekend: Mike Gesell. Iowa got solid efforts from pretty much everyone in their rotation in their vital home win over Michigan. Roy Devyn Marble hit six three-pointers in the first half and carried them offensively. Their starting frontcourt of Melsaan Basabe, Aaron White, and Adam Woodbury combined for 11 offensive rebounds. Although he didn’t put up a ton of points, Gesell played the biggest role. Part of the problems he has had at times this season has been forcing things on the offensive end. His assist-to-turnover numbers coming into the game in Big Ten play was 2.38/1. So for him to deliver 8 assists to 1 turnover in the game shows what the Hawkeyes can do when he is playing well. He had an offensive rating of 170 and he also had 3 steals. Although he didn’t take many shots, he was efficient in knocking down both threes he attempted, going 3-for-5 from the field for the game. Gesell has gone from a bit of a timeshare with Anthony Clemmons, to playing more minutes. If he can continue to distribute and cause problems on the defensive end like this, Iowa can make a run late in the season at winning the league.

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Key Questions in Advance of Minnesota vs. Michigan State

Posted by Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso on January 11th, 2014

One of the best games of the Big Ten weekend slate should be in East Lansing this afternoon. Minnesota (13-3, 2-1) takes on Michigan State (14-1, 3-0) in a game that pits a team looking to climb into the the top half of the league against a team looking to get healthy and find some consistency on its way to a national title. RTC Big Ten microsite columnists Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso decided to take a look at some key questions heading into this interesting match-up.

Andre Hollins needs a big game for Minnesota to pull off an upset in East Lansing.

Andre Hollins needs a big game for Minnesota to pull off an upset in East Lansing.

1. Both teams are relatively equal nationally with Minnesota ranking 44th in offensive rebounding rate, and Michigan State checking in at 45th in defensive rebounding. Who wins the battle of the boards?

Alex Moscoso: For once, I’m going to disregard the numbers and predict that Michigan State wins the rebounding battle under its own basket. When it comes to rebounding, I’m not betting against Tom Izzo, especially when the Spartans are at home. While Michigan State has Adreian Payne as its only consistent low-post presence, wings Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine have stepped up and are accounting for 5.7 and 4.3 defensive rebounds per game, respectively, as well. This should work to their advantage against Minnesota, who shoots a ton of threes (12th in the nation in attempts), and allow them to go after long rebounds. Add to the fact that Payne’s ankle is getting healthier every day, and I think Sparty wins the battle of the boards in this game.

Brendan Brody: Rebounding for Minnesota starts and ends with Elliott Eliason. He’s been pivotal in the Gophers’ efforts on the glass, and with Payne still struggling with some foot issues, look for Eiliason to continue to clean up Minnesota’s misses at a high level. He’s second in the league in grabbing offensive rebounds (13.5%), and he along with Maurice Walker will enable the Gophers to get second-chance opportunities if the Gophers aren’t hitting from deep.

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Minnesota’s Press is Somewhat Unique in the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 16th, 2013

Minnesota has gotten off to a pretty successful start in the Richard Pitino era, as the Gophers have beaten two not-so-horrible mid-majors in Lehigh and Montana so far. The Gophers were one of the more enigmatic Big Ten teams to try to figure out in the preseason. They are playing a much different system, and although they have some players back with experience, they’re incorporating several new pieces that make this a team to keep an eye on going forward. Everybody knows that two games does not a sample size make, but since it’s all we have to go with so far as Minnesota heads into its game today with Richmond, here’s are a few things I’ve observed in those two opening games.

Andre Hollins  is off to a good start for Minnesota.

Andre Hollins is off to a good start for Minnesota.

One question mark about Minnesota was its obvious lack of size, and the Gophers have started the year by going with a three-guard lineup in DeAndre Mathieu, Andre Hollins, and Austin Hollins. But whether this will hurt them once they hit the league schedule remains to be seen. One of their potential options in the low post, Maurice Walker, is suspended for six gamesEliott Eliason has shown early on, however, that he can be a force by altering shots and hitting the glass. So far he’s been the only true big man on the floor, and if he can continue to come close to getting 23.8 percent of the Gophers’ offensive rebounds and blocking shots at a 17.9 percent clip, he will go a long way toward alleviating these concerns (unsustainable numbers, but good ones nevertheless). He’ll never be Kevin McHale on the low block, but he’s shown so far that he can mix it up and get after the Gopher misses. Joey King and Oto Osenieks are more European-type big men, so while they’ll help some, it will be interesting to see what comes about from the Walker-Eliason combination once the suspended player comes back.

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