Tag Archives: Gophers

Tweetbag: Gophers v. UCLA Recap

Here we go!! The Madness is about to begin for your Minnesota Golden Gophers.

As always, we are using your tweets, as they happen, to tell the game recap. Y’all are more interesting than the standard recap anywhoo.


16:27: Gophers 2 UCLA 0

@Christopher_Stewart – “#gophers will beat #ucla 79-68.” 
We got a ways to go to hit that number. Yikes. Gophers 2-run HR (i.e. Hollins’s FTs) the difference in this one early. No flow for either team. UCLA’s Drew travels a sloppy foul from super-senior Trevor Mbakwe. Gophers have shown that, in games where the offense clicks, Rodney and Mbakwe get going early. Both teams are a combined 0-18 to start. Not. Good. 
The zebras in tonight's game were not close to good. We probably would have done better with actual zebras refereeing the game.

The zebras in tonight’s game were not close to good. We probably would have done better with actual zebras refereeing the game.

14:20 – Gophers 4 UCLA 2

@VitrualMurph – “Ok officials in Austin, we get it. You’re on the court too. #gophers”
No joke. UCLA already in the bonus!?!? Check that, double bonus. Hold on, triple bonus. Oh man, these refs are out of control. If the refs are going to call this like a UCLA Alumni Choir pick-up game, this bruising Big 10 squad is in trouble. Plus, and maybe most importantly, Gophers cannot win a race at the charity stripe.
11:42 – Gophers 9 UCLA 9
@ammarden – “Whistle whistle whistle. Basketball or train station? #ncaa #Gophers”
Love the old school reference. Wish it was not true though. This game is so disjointed. Neither team can get into a flow with all the whistles. Both teams are already in the bonus. Again, race at the charity stripe is not a race the Gophers want to be involved in. Gophers shoot 68% from the stripe. UCLA clocks in at nearly 73%.
10:59 – Gophers 12 UCLA 9
@FromTheBarn – “MOmentum!”
Great run from the big fella, Mo Walker. His 4 points off the bench currently account for a 1/3 of the team’s total. What is so infuriating about big Mo is that, if he lost 15 to 20 lbs, he could be a dominant big. Instead, all he has are moments or flashes of good plays. It is never sustained.
8:32 – Gophers 14 UCLA 13
@vikingsrube – “Free throw shooting is going to be the factor #Gophers”
Okay, now I am worried…Mbakwe just air balled the front end of a 1 and 1. Really. Not. Good.
E Squared's relationship with Dre could prove a promising one for Gophers' fans. Particularly if E Squared improves on the defensive end.

E Squared’s relationship with Dre could prove a promising one for Gophers’ fans. Particularly if E Squared improves on the defensive end.

5:24 – Gophers 26 UCLA 19

@andrewlacy52 – “Elliott playing well so far with four point. #Gophers”
Make it six Andrew!! E Squared cans a 20 footer off an Mbakwe double team and then lays in a pretty shot off a strong cut to the rim. The guy has been instant energy all season. He does have his deficiencies on the defensive end, but on offense he is solid.
If he can continue to improve on the defensive end. He actually might be able to replace Mbakwe next year down low. He does not have Mbkawe’s grittiness in the post, but he can definitely be a contributor on that end of the floor.
4:25 – Gophers 33 UCLA 19
@AmeliaRayno – “As a #Gophers beat writer, you learn not to assume to much from a 33-19 lead.”
We have our first Amelia sighting!! Welcome back to the Tweetbag Amelia. Though, what is up with the negativity. I mean, sure, the Gophers are shooting their highest percentage of the year. But, that does not means they are going to start missi…nevermind. You are right. Preparing myself for the worst.
1:32 – Gophers 35 UCLA 22
@goldandgopher – “Here we go. Mbakwe hits a jumper. #Gophers up 35–22. Shabazz has had no impact.”
Mbakwe shows a little versatility with a 15 foot jumper. Then, in true Gophers form, he misses another front end of a 1 and 1. Normally a very solid shooter at the stripe, he has now left 4 points there in the first half. Gophers need to tighten up the way the officials are calling this game. Also, need to buck the trend and start earning their scholarship at the stripe.
Half – Gophers 35 UCLA 25
@redma032 – “Up 10 at half, how are they going to blow this one? #gophers”
Amelia?? Is that you?? Are you ghost tweeting as @redma032??
In true Gophers fan fashion, no one is comfortable. No one knows how to react. In fact, I think if the score were flipped, Gophers fans would feel far more comfortable.
It is not like you can blame us. We have watched the tale of two teams act all season. The one blessing from this game is that at least the good half came first. This means the Gophers have a better chance of hanging on down the stretch.
Gophers need to continue feeding the bigs. Mbakwe, Eliason, and Walker accounted for  19 of the Gophers 35 points. We clearly have an advantage there. Plus, considering UCLA’s foul trouble, every shot should go right at the rim.
18:13 – Gophers 39 UCLA 27
@timegan2 – “RODNEY WILLIAMS!!!”
I appreciate the EMPHASIS Tim. Rodney flexes the potential by hammering home an offensive rebound. Gophers are pounding the rim and are relentless on the glass on both ends. Need to keep that up.
For Gophers fans who wanted to see Coach Saunders leading the maroon and gold, this performance against the Bruins may have assured Tubby's continued reign.

For Gophers fans who wanted to see Coach Saunders leading the maroon and gold, this performance against the Bruins may have assured Tubby’s continued reign.

14:56 – Gophers 44 UCLA 34

@flip_saunders – “#gophers looking good. We are so much quicker and more energized. Next 5 minutes huge! Bury em. Luv changing defenses.”
Coach Saunders…errrrr…I mean, Flip!! Spot on analysis. Changing defenses are causing this young Bruins squad headaches. Though, Gophers need to be careful. UCLA still has not made a run. One is coming. Burying em would be very nice. And now is the time.
13:32 – Gophers 50 UCLA 41
@MINNESOTA_NICE – “I am extremely confused as to why Otto O. has played so many minutes. #Gophers.”
Ouch. Is that handle sarcastic? I mean, I agree with you, but ouch.
11:54 – Gophers 54 UCLA 42
@Border_Rivals – “Terrible call against Oto?!? Guy actally makes a positive play and the refs take it away from him. #ZebrasHaveToGo #LetThemPlay #Gophers
Okay, I could not resist. I feel a little bad piling on Oto, but it really was a great play. Slid in front of David Wear and took a charge. But, these tewible refs decided to call a block. I thought these refs were supposed to be elite.
7:04 – Gophers 69 UCLA 54
@GopherHole – “Wow, Andre Hollins is playing fantastic tonight!! #Gophers”
Fantastic might be an understatement. Dre just canned his 5th 3 PT of the night. He has 24 total and has abused all UCLA defenders who have tried to keep up with him.
His performance tonight is looking a little like the run he put together in the NIT last year. If he can get on that kind of run, this Gophers team can be very dangerous.
 3:28 – Gophers 79 UCLA 56
@kellerjustin – “Good show, #gophers. Equally fortuitous draw, lucky they didn’t face Florida Gulf Coast. UCLA is flat out turrrrrible.”
Love the Sir Charles reference. This one is over. Gophers are up by 20+ and continue to attack. Not even the Tubby-led Gophers could find a way to lose this one.
If Dre plays even in the ball park of how he played today, Florida is going to have its hands full on Sunday.
We will be running a Tweetbag for that game too. Enjoy the Madness.

Illinois v. Gophers — Realtime Recap — Like You Were There

The Gophers need a win tonight. After a decent showing against the Spartans, they need to hold serve at home. That starts with a game against the giant-slaying Fightin’ Illini, who took down #1 Indiana on Thursday in dramatic fashion.

The only twist to tonight’s match-up, Gophers forward Rodney Williams is not playing. He is nursing a sore shoulder and, even though he warmed-up, reports are that he is unlikely to play. Considering his solid play, of late, this is a big loss for the Gophers. He is probably their second or third best perimeter defender, so we will see how that affects the Gophers.

Here we go…

1st Half

19:46: So much for Joe Coleman repeating the outstanding performance he had against these very same Illini. He clangs an 18 footer to start the game. Not a good sign for the Gophers.

16:10: Wait — so Trevor Mbakwe is a horse?!?! You are kidding??? Gophers feed the beast for two buckets. When Mbakwe is engaged early and often, the Gophers are a tough team to beat. While they cannot continue to feed the post with Elliot Eliason, getting Mbakwe touches is definitely the recipe for success.

He positions himself so well on the block and he has great body control. The body control allows him to get to the rim in a variety of different angles. And his massive shoulders make it very difficult for shot blockers to come over the top without fouling him. Put me down for the obvious statement of 2013, as Mbakwe goes, so goes this team. When he is not involved, the offense is pretty stale.

Gophers fans are usually not thrilled to see Maverick racing up the floor. It usually means bad things are happening for the team.

Gophers fans are usually not thrilled to see Maverick racing up the floor. It usually means bad things are happening for the team.

12:32: Maverick Ahanmisi bails out the Gophers with a wild, bank shot as the shot clock expires. Tubby’s mass substitutions now have Maverick, Oto Osieniks, Mo “Cheeseburger” Walker, Andre Ingram, and Austin Hollins on the floor. Not a recipe for offensive success. Maverick has provided a jolt or two for the Gophers in the past, but he is definitely a liability. Hopefully, the starters can catch their breath and get back in after the media timeout.

8:08: Mbakwe continues to take the ball right at the Illini defenders. He definitely has the right attitude. His dominance and Austin Hollins’ shooting has propelled the Gophers to a 10 point lead.

6:34: Austin Hollins continues to carry the Gophers. He has really stepped up for Rodney Williams, who at this point, is definitely a scratch for this evening. If the Gophers could stop recent YouTube sensation Tyler Griffey, they would be up by 20+. Instead, Griffey’s 7 early points are keeping the Illini in the game.

3:14: Let’s assess the situation — the Gophers have spent the last three minutes running the offense through  Mo “Cheeseburger” Walker who, no joke, is a man amongst boys, but who is too big and slow to play college basketball at this level. Furthermore, on the defensive end, his slow rotations left D.J. Richardson open for two consecutive threes. All of sudden, a 12 point lead is down to 4. Oh, and the Cheeseburger just turned the ball over on an offensive charge where the Illini defender literally had enough time to set his feet, tweet the following message – “Man, when is that big boy going to get here?! #Cheeseburger,”  finish a term paper, and then draw the foul. Tubby needs to stop playing Mo until he drops another 15 pounds. Period. I do not care how much he looks like a fat Royce White.

1:16: The Illini continue to rip 3 pointers to stay in the game. Brandon Paul, who has some of the worst looking shots in the conference, drains a pretty 3. For a guy who consistently clangs jump shots, when he makes one, the stroke is outstanding. Osieniks then compounds the issue by getting lazy with the ball, gifting Paul a steal, and then fouling Paul immediately.

Tubby has had little to smile about in the last half dozen Big 10 games. This one is shaping up no differently...

Tubby has had little to smile about in the last half dozen Big 10 games. This one is shaping up no differently…

Half: Gophers close the half like a junior varsity high school team. Hold up, that is an insult to junior varsity high school teams everywhere. It was more like a pick-up squad at a local YMCA (and even they might have played it better).

The Gophers take three terrible shots with the shot clock below 20 seconds. Rather than reset the offense following a pair of offensive rebounds and take the last shot of the half, the Gophers jack up three terrible shots. The Illini finally grab the defensive rebound and rush down to the other end to drain ANOTHER 3 and take a 1 point lead into the half.

This lack of execution falls on Tubby. No excuses. These are EXACTLY the type of plays that have come back to haunt this team.

2nd Half

19:46: Evidently the “…guard that Griffey kid speech fell on deaf hears. He quickly cans a 3 and puts the Illini up 4. The Gophers are struggling to guard an entirely one-dimensional team. This again falls on Tubby. All the Illini can do is hit 3s. That is it.

17:42: The Illini are wisely doubling Mbakwe (turns out we are a bit one-dimensional too). I guess the Illini coach actually tailors his team’s defensive strategy to the other team’s strengths. Crazy bastard. Thankfully, Dre finds a way to split the double off the pick and hit a rolling Mbakwe. Unfortunately, Joe Coleman continues to struggle. More than any one player, his season is the perfect analogy of the team as a whole.

Coleman started off the season hot as a pistol. He really looked like he had taken a jump and was ready to become one of the top players in the conference. That is not an overstatement. After a few solid games in the Big 10 (including a huge game against these very Illini), he has just fallen off the face of the earth. His jump shot was last seen on a milk carton at Washburn Elementary in Minneapolis, MN. His defensive intensity has waned and he consistently fails to rotate on the perimeter. If he ever regains the form from earlier this season, the Gophers will be a tough team to beat. Right now, he is a liability. When Rodney comes back, Eliason needs to get more minutes and Williams needs to slide over and play the 3.

14:06: Speaking of Elliot, Eliason continues to bring a lot of energy and intensity to the squad. However, having him feed the post or cutters on the baseline is like trying to landscape with hand grenades. It might work a few times, but the end results are probably going to be ugly. Coleman cannot handle Elliot’s fastball as he cuts to the rim. Turnover. Gophers should go back to feeding Mbakwe.

10:58: News flash!! The Illini can hit the 3 pointer. No, seriously. That Griffey kid cans another one. Looks like he wants to play the role of hero for another night. Unless Tubby can figure out a way to tighten up that defense, this game is going to end poorly for the home squad.

8:21: We have a Julian Welch sighting! His desperation 3 as the shot clock expires puts the Gophers back up 1. In fact, a little 6-0 run fueled by two 3 pointers has the Illini getting a taste of their own medicine. The Gophers cannot rely on this formula though. Shooting 3s is not a strength. They need to get back to pounding the ball inside and getting to the line. That is what this team does best.

6:49: Why is Andre Ingram getting minutes?!? He mishandles a great pass from Dre and the Gophers turn the ball over again. Still down 1.

The Gophers have been unable to find Hoosier-killer Tyler Griffey. He is looking to add Gophers to his hit list!!

The Gophers have been unable to find Hoosier-killer Tyler Griffey. He is looking to add Gophers to his hit list!!

5:08: Thursday’s hero likes the cape-look. Clearly. Griffey, who was 0-22 prior to the game against the Hoosiers, just canned his 4th 3 pointer of the evening. Evidently, Tubby’s game plan has been that the Gophers will refrain from guarding Griffey and see if he can beat them. Right now, he is annihilating them.

2:38: Austin Hollins, who has played a great game, commits the ultimate hoops no-no: fouling a shooter behind the line. D.J. Richardson hits two out of three and puts the Illini up 3. This is the EXACT kind of play that has killed the Gophers chances of being something more than a one-and-done tournament team.

1:12: The Gophers finally catch a break as a loose rebound bounces off of the Illini. Tubby has to draw up a good play here. Only down 1, the Gophers need to take the lead and put the pressure back on the Illini. Hopefully, something for one of the Hollins cousins.

Instead, Mbakwe panics when the double team comes and throws it into the 4th row. He has not handled the double team well this half. While he is normally a strong passer, the double team has really thrown him for a loop. Tubby should have recognized this and kept the ball in the Hollins’ cousins’ hands.

You just have a sense that the Gophers do not have the moxy to win this game. And just like that, Abrams promptly cans a 3 in Elliot Eliason’s grill. Play is eerily reminiscent of Austin Rivers’ 3 in Tyler Zeller’s face in a match-up between Duke and UNC. And right now, the Gophers are (shockingly) about as good as the struggling Tar Heels.

Final: Illini 57 Gophers 53

Couple of other quick things. Tubby’s offensive strategy, from game-to-game is brutal. As a head coach, the whole blaming the players schtik only lasts so long. The Gophers had a distinct advantage in the post and only rarely were running plays to capitalize on that advantage. Instead, the Gophers tried to kick and slash our way to the rim against a fairly athletic Illini squad. And I get that Rodney was a scratch, but still. Even in the game in Champagne, the Gophers carried the day by dominating in the paint. There was no such prolonged dominance in this game.

On the defensive end, it was the same old story. Poor rotation on the perimeter resulted in numerous opportunities from deep for the Illini. It was no suprise to anyone that the Illini were going to try and shoot the 3. I knew it. The fans knew it. The people watching the red carpet coverage at the Grammy’s even knew it. And yet, the Illini were 11 for 23 from deep. Nearly 50%. That is pitiful.

Until the Gophers coaching staff can figure out how to take advantage of their advantages on the offensive end and utilize their athleticism on the defensive end, this team will be, at best, nothing more than a one-and-done tournament team. At worst, we might as well book our tickets for the NIT right now to try and save on the flights.

Capitalizing On Irrational Confidence

The Minnesota Golden Gophers square off tonight with the Michigan Wolverines in what is sure to be a classic Big 10 hoops game. Both teams enter the match-up ranked in the Top 10. Both have signature wins against ranked opponents. Neither squad will shy away from the challenge that the other presents.

For Michigan, the hype for this squad was present from Day One. This team was stocked with blue-chip recruits and returning sophomores/juniors, some of whom have an NBA-pedigree (seeing Robinson and Hardaway in Michigan jerseys is definitely a treat). Super sophomore Trey Burke was a half a bucket away from preserving the Wolverines unblemished season. Nobody in the media’s pre-season poll picked this Michigan squad to finish any lower than 3rd in the conference.

Coleman's aggressive and attacking style has been a major reason for the Gophers early season success.

Coleman’s aggressive and attacking style has been a major reason for the Gophers early season success.

For the Gophers, there was only a little local hype regarding this squad. Everyone knew that Mbakwe coming back from his 96th knee surgery (approx.) would improve the squad. I think most fans (present company included) wanted to believe that last year’s run in the NIT was a precursor to something bigger. Hollins Squared had the look of a solid back court. Rodney Williams and Joe Coleman had a nice mix of athleticism and toughness. But Gophers fans have had a tough run the last 12 years. So it was guarded optimism at best.

None of the Gophers teams in the last 10 to 12 years ever looked like squads that could beat any team in the country on any given night. Tournament worthy? Sure. Though, none of those teams were good to the point where you would have included them in the conversation nationally. And frankly, I am not sure this team is that talented either. But do not tell them that.

This Gophers team has used its nonconference success – only one loss to a tough Duke team – as a catalyst for a strong start to the Big 10 season: 3-1 with two wins over ranked teams. However, solid wins aside, it may be the Gophers’ lone loss in Big 10 play that has been most telling.

In last Saturday’s game against the Hoosiers, the Gophers got down big in the first half. They played their game and Indiana basically shot the lights out and went up by 23. 23 you say? Well, the Gophers promptly came out and dominated for the entire 2nd half; coming within an Mbakwe defensive rebound of taking the last shot to tie the game. Throughout the entire game, and particularly in the 2nd half, you just had this feeling like the team never thought they were out of it. That kind of confidence, irrational or not, is a powerful thing.

They just do not make movie posters like this anymore. Classic Van Damme.

They just do not make movie posters like this anymore. Classic Van Damme.

To more fully understand the power of that kind of irrational confidence, I give you the classic 1989 flick: Kickboxer. This is Jean Claude Van Damme at his finest. Here is a brief recap in case you forgot the plot: Van Damme’s character is the corner man for his brother, an American kickboxing champion. His brother is paralyzed by the Thai kickboxing champion/overall bad dude, Tong. Van Damme swears to avenge in brother’s defeat. After a kidnapping, training montage, and a rape and rescue, Van Damme finally gets his chance.

Van Damme is told that he will be fighting Tong in the old style, which evidently means the fighters dip their gloves in broken glass first. Tong, in the ultimate bad ass move, gives his gloves a lick after the glass is affixed to them (skip ahead to the 10:00 mark for the madness). It is at that point where most people are like, nope, that is enough of that, I am out of here. Have fun everyone. Try the shrimp and scallops. This fool is crazy with a capital C! But not Jean Van Damme!! He was born irrationally confident.

You can guess the rest. Despite taking a massive beating (think Manti Te’o in the press right now), Van Damme overcomes the glass-licking psychopath and avenges his brother’s injury.

This Gophers team has that same irrational confidence that Van Damme has in Kickboxer. They play with a swagger that they can ball with anyone. In fact, the way this team rebounds, Tubby might actually have this squad eating glass as part of their university-approved diet. The mindset that you can hang with anyone and come back in any game is sometimes the difference between a nice little squad that makes the tournament and one that intends to make some noise when they get there. Tonight’s game will give us a good idea as to what kind of squad this Gophers team is. Personally, I think Michigan should consider getting out while they still can.

Do not forget, if you want tickets to tonight’s big game, head on over to Ticket King. The Barn is sure to be rocking and these local guys have the tickets for any seat in the house!!

Game Recap (Like You Were There) Gophs v. Illini

All right ladies and gents, great match-up of some aspiring Big 10 contenders. The Gophers come in 2-0 with solid wins against Northwestern and MSU. The Illini are 1-1 in the conference and are fresh off a big home win against an always-tough Ohio State squad.

Playing in Assembly Hall is always a tough test. The place was rocking tonight for this Top 10 clash.

Playing in Assembly Hall is always a tough test. The place was rocking tonight for this Top 10 clash.

20:00: Here we go!! The Gophers have great energy out the gates, but seem to have a difficult time harnessing that energy. Energy without that focus just leads to chaos, especially on the offensive end. Tubby needs his guards, Hollins Squared, to settle the team down.

16:31: Well, its official, our JV Big 10 Network announcers are thoroughly confused. They thought Brandon Paul just posterized Trevor Mbakwe. Instead, it was the savvy senior who drew the offensive foul. Tubby has this Gophers teams rotating on the defensive end really well. Quick aside, how come we did not get Gus and Len for this game?!?! Match-up of Top 10 squads and we get these two hunyucks.

14:38: Gophers show that flash in transition that makes them so tough to beat. Coleman goes hard to the rim and finishes with a strong dunk. That transition, up tempo style is what makes the Gophers so dangerous. Forcing that style on the Illini definitely favors the Gophers in this game.

12:10: Gophers cannot get into a 3 point shooting contest with the Illini. Poor rotation in transition and D.J. Richardson, that is right, D.J. Richardson, puts the Illini up 3. Gophers need to force the Illini to beat them in the paint, where they are weaker than Mark Wahlburg doing the traffic/weather.

9:52: Evidently D.J. Richardson did not crack Tubby’s scouting report because the Gophers cannot find him on defense. He is just daggering the Gophs from deep. With two buckets in less than three minutes, you can be sure Tubby will mark him on defense for the rest of the game.

8:01: Instant energy from Oto Osenieks????? Whhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaat?????? You got it! Young fella has played much better  in the last few games and he triggers a little mini-run for the Gophs. My only knock on Oto is that he is supposed to be a shooting specialist and yet, it seems like we never see him let it fly. Not sure if it is a confidence issue or just not getting the opportunities.

Mbakwe's fingerprints were all over this game. He dominated on the offensive end, wiggling/powering his way to open shots all night.

Mbakwe’s fingerprints were all over this game. He dominated on the offensive end, wiggling/powering his way to open shots all night.

6:49: Trevor Mbakwe reintroduces himself to fellow senior Brandon Paul with a less than soft foul. Could it be that Trevor was thinking about the near posterization that occurred a few minutes ago when he was decided to lay the wood to Mr. Paul on that drive? Nah. Young fella, meet a man. Man, go easy on the young fella.

4:45: The transition game is eating up this Illini team. Solid passing and cutting leads to 4 big baskets and is punctuated by a thunderous Williams dunk. Gophers stretch their lead to the biggest of the game at 6. Need to keep forcing the Illini to play this way because that definitely favors the Gophs.

2:08: Gophers continue to miss golden opportunities to extend their lead. Instead, the whistle-happy zebras bail out Brandon Paul, gift him 2 free throws, and now the Gophers are only up 4. Just when things are starting to unravel, Austin Hollins drains his second 3 PT of the game. His shooting touch right now is just absurd. The heck with the transition game, let’s get him the ball until he shows us he can miss.

Half: Gophers lead it 34 to 30. Played a strong 1st half. The Gophers dictated tempo and rotated well enough on defense to prevent the Illini from getting those 3 PT attempts they love so dearly. Mbakwe and Coleman have been particularly strong and hopefully they can continue to dominate in the paint and in transition in the 2nd half.

17:29: Joe Coleman wastes no time. He has been absolutely terrific in transition tonight. He has consistently beat his defender down the floor and disrupted the Illini defense as a result. Another two FTs for the visiting squad, Gophs up 9.

16:17: Alright, so it must be something in the Hollins family tree. Dre just cans a 35 footer as the shot clock expired. Are there any other Hollins brothers or cousins that we could get in a jersey? At this point, I am fairly certain any player in maroon and gold with Hollins on their jersey is going to have in-the-gym range.

14:33: Pause. Your not-s0-friendly Big 10 match-up has been interrupted by the officials. Evidently the zebras have decided that they are the reason that everyone is at the zoo. Need to stow the whistles and let the kids play. Instead, they call an incredibly silly double foul against Mbakwe and the Illini’s Egwu for  doing some twisted version of a waltz.

No, this is not a photo of  one of the referees from the game. This is an actual zebra.

No, this is not a photo of one of the referees from the game. This is an actual zebra.

13:41: J.J. Abrahm’s cousin is single-handedly trying to get the Illini back into this game. He has woken the crowd up by attacking and finishing at the rim. Combine that with the suddenly stagnant Gophers offense and the lead has been whittled down to 4.

11:35: The unrelated Hollinses have not done anything in a while. So, Dre picks up an intentional foul on a solid steal and Austin cans his 3rd PT of the game. Gophers stretch the lead back to 9.

9:12: J.J. Abrahms cousin just picked up his 4th foul. That is huge. The Illini comeback has been almost entirely driven by his aggressive play. Coleman cans the FTs and puts the Gophs up by 7.  The Illini look lost on the offensive end and settle for a 26 footer. Without Abrahms out there to dictate the pace and run the sets, this is an entirely different squad.

7:09: Coleman continues to dominate in transition. Another easy lay-up for the stellar sophomore. He now has 18 for the game. He is a smooth finisher and has solid body control after he leaves the ground. If he continues to improve, he is going to be conference player of the year materials sooner than later. Mbakwe has disappeared a bit. Now would be the perfect time for him to reassert himself.

6:15: Mbakwe heeds the call, snapping up an offensive rebound and finishing for the old fashioned three point play. Even though Mbakwe is rarely the tallest player in the paint, he uses his body to position himself so well. Just instinctual.  On this play, he grabs the rebound with his right hand and finishes his shot quickly with his left. He now has 19 in the game.

Coleman has been a thorn in the Illini's side all evening. Causing them headaches on both ends of the floor.

Coleman has been a thorn in the Illini’s side all evening. Causing them headaches on both ends of the floor.

4:43: Coleman nails another 3!!! That gives him 23 points on the night. He is having a coming out party in Champagne tonight. Even though he is not normally looked to for his shooting, he has made both of the wide open attempts he has taken tonight. It is also important to note that Coleman’s shot was set up by a great ball-reverse drive by Dre Hollins off the pick and roll. This is a move that he has perfected, where Dre will take one step like the ball handler normally would on a pick and roll and, when he sees the defender going underneath, he then cuts back to where he came from, essentially following the guy who was supposed to fight underneath the screen and using himself to screen both players, opening up a shot for a teammate on the elbow.

2:52: D.J. Richardson remembers that he is D.J. Richardson. It could not come at a worse time. He air balls a 3 PT attempt as the Gophers continue to rotate well on the defensive end. More than anything, the Gophers improvement in perimeter defense is what makes this season so promising. Under the Tubby regime, that perimeter defense has been a persistent flaw. Instead, the Illini are 3 for 23 from deep tonight. This is one of the best 3 PT shooting teams in the country and they are getting their faces rubbed in it.

0:51: Coleman dunks home his 28th and 29th points. What an amazing night for the stellar sophomore. He continually beat his defender down the floor and finished consistently. Overall, probably his best performance in a Gophers uniform.

0:00: Strong win for the Gophers. They come out and drop 50 on the Illini in the 2nd half. Aside from the solid burst from Oto, the bench was pretty quiet tonight. But, the whole team played absolutely smothering defense and, except for one little mini-run, the Gophers were in control of the game throughout. Next up: Indiana. They match-up better with the Gophers than the Illini did.  But, if the Gophs can dictate the athletic tempo they like to play at, the Hoosiers are going to have their hands full.

Quarterback Controversies? What Quarterback Controversies?

The 2012 edition of the tilt for Paul Bunyan’s Axe contains one exciting subplot after another. Can the Gophers bounce back from subpar performances against Iowa and Northwestern? Will the Badgers be able to maintain their momentum fresh off their most complete victory of the season? Is Coach Kill’s seizure issue becoming a distraction for the squad?

But all those issues are secondary to the indecision that has surrounded both programs at the most critical of positions: quarterback.

The Gophers have run out two different starters during the first six games of the season: Marqueis “Maybe I Should Be Playing WR” Gray and Max “Stop Comparing Me To Andy Dalton” Shortell. The Badgers have deployed the tandem of: Danny “Seriously, I Am Not Russell Wilson” O’Brien and Joel “Freshman This!” Stave.

Coach Kill has flip-flopped worse than Obama…I mean…Romney…I mean, blast, cannot make a political joke without alienating half the readers.

Most recently, the Gophers have seen both Gray and Shortell fail behind the helm. This has only fueled the speculation over who should start. And while starting Gray at wide receiver and letting Shortell grow into the QB position might be the best approach for the team’s success now and in the future, Gray produces just enough magic when behind the center to continue justify giving him another shot.

The game against Northwestern is a classic example. There were a half dozen plays where Gray used his athleticism to escape Wildcat pressure and make a positive play. Most times those plays were with his legs, but occasionally he would find an open receiver. Unfortunately, he does not do this consistently enough to solidify his claim to the starting role. Furthermore, putting Gray at wide receiver still ensures his athleticism is on the field while, at the same time, improving the Gophers at a position of need. Unfortunately, the Gophers seem reluctant to name Shortell the starter.

Interestingly enough, Coach Kill has had success with two starting QBs (see Chand Harnish and Jordan Lynch), but I am not sure that same strategy will work with Gray and Shortell. Further, if Gray has any hope of getting a real paycheck to play football…er….I mean….to play for real money….I mean…..to play on Sundays, he had better get used to the idea of catching the football. What better way than to start showcasing his talents now. Accept the Hines Ward conversion and hope you can even have half the career he did in the National Football League. Plus, making a decision will probably give Shortell a shot in the arm and we can find out what we have with him.

Now, the Badgers have dealt with their QB controversy a little more affirmatively (and it may be the reason they are printing these same t-shirts next year too).

O’Brien started the year. Struggled. Bielema went to freshman Joel Stave, despite little pressure to do so, and Stave has returned a mixed bag. What seemed like a desperation move has seemed to spark the offense to a certain extent. Stave’s numbers are not overly impressive, as he has completed a tick more than 58% of his passes (significantly less than Danny Boy). But he has had made more big plays, completing one pass for 50+ yard in 3 of his 4 starts (O’Brien only had 1 in his 3 starts). It is this type of stat that has many clamoring for Bielema to let Stave off the leash and let him sling it.

Tolzein was certainly not the flashiest of QBs, but he completed nearly 75% of his passes in 2010 and had only 6 INTs all season. Game. Manager.

But, this type of football is the norm for the Badgers. If any major football program is known for producing game mangers, it is Wisconsin. From Jim Sorgi to Scott Tolzein, the Badgers have consistently had guys that thrived at not making mistakes and systematically marching the squad down the field. The play-calling has limited Stave to the game manager mode. But, he has demonstrated (in limited opportunities) that he has the skill set to be something more. Once the play-calling expands, the offense could really take off.

All of that being said, it might be Bielema’s decision to make a decision and name Stave the starter that separates the Badgers from the Gophers (and maybe gives them an edge — which means more of these shirts too). The Gophers lack an identity because their coaches seem unwilling to pick a horse and go with it. Stave, for all his differences from the Wisconsin mold, is the starter. The team knows it. The fans know it. But, maybe most importantly, he knows it.

Ultimately, it is Stave’s self-confidence that just might be the difference in this Saturday’s rivalry game at Camp Randall. While the Gophers QBs struggle to assert themselves, Stave can march out there knowing he is the guy. Misguided or not, that kind of confidence can be the difference between making a play when it matters and doing something that hurts the team. Controversy? What controversy!

Seeing The Forest For The QBs

The Minnesota Golden Gophers are 3-0. That is right, undefeated. Zero losses. And, for this program, that represents a major step forward.

If not for the Wildcats winning season, Gophers opponents would have one win between them.

Last year’s squad was 3 and 9. So, for any Badger fans reading this, that is right, this year’s team has already equaled the win total from last year. That, in and of itself, is impressive. It does not matter that the three teams the Gophers have beaten have 3 wins between them — thank you New Hampshire. It was not too long ago when one Coach Brew was getting embarrassed by cupcakes on an annual basis (see here and here — for just a couple examples). It seems like fans are just about to the point where they feel comfortable sporting Gophers gear in public again.

Unfortunately, last week’s win was not without a few blemishes. For one, the win was not the walk in the park that Wildcats of New Hampshire were the week before. Perhaps most importantly, the game saw senior QB, MarQueis Gray, who was struggling to move the Gophers offense in the first half, go down to what appeared to be a serious leg injury. Insert the Max “Golden Armed Gopher” Shortell.

Shortell immediately lived up to his Twitter handle, firing up the Gophers offense, and connecting with A.J. Barker (twice) for TDs. He then put the Gophers up for good in the second half with a pretty throw to tight end Drew Goodger.

Under Shortell’s direction, the Gophers were able to move the ball through the air in a way that they rarely have all season. Shortell’s performance against WMU was eerily similar to his effort in the game against the Cardinal-allergic USC Trojans last season. Like in that game, Shortell seemed to get less effective as the game wore on. This might have to do with the fact that the less-than-fearsome WMU defense prepared all week for the dual threat that is MarQueis Gray. Not the more traditional, likely not going anywhere, Golden Armed Shortell. But, as the game wore on, WMU got acclimated to the switch and was able to turn the Gophers away.

Ultimately, Golden Arm’s 2012 relief appearance ended a lot more pleasantly than it did in 2011. The Gophers won. Did I mention they are 3-0? However, that victory has triggered an intense discussion regarding whether it should be him, versus Gray, who captains the Gophers offense moving forward.

Gophers fans cannot lose sight of the big picture. Regardless of who starts at QB, the squad is undefeated and on a bit of a roll.

I could go on for the next 5,000 words telling you why the Gophers should name Gray or Shortell the starter. Gray provides the Gophers a dual threat who can keep defenses honest with his scrambling. Shortell has a cannon where most folks have a right shoulder and with the new talent infusion at WR, he could really turn the Gophers offense into a force moving forward. But I think that debate is a bit short-sighted.

After all, we already have exactly as many wins as we did all of last season. Jerry Kill and his staff are the individuals who deserve the lion’s share of the credit for that turn around. Call me Gary Busey, but I trust the coaching staff that has engineered the beginning to this maroon and gold revival. Coaches Kill and Limegrover are qualified to decide which QB, Gray or Shortell, is most likely to lead the Gophers to their first successful season in five years. We as Gophers fans should just be happy with the current results — again, a 3-0 record — and excited about the rest of the season.