December Update on Gophers 2016-17

December Update on Gophers 2016-17
The following is a look at our preseason comments regarding the outlook for the Gophers in 2016-17,

We said: “It’s not unreasonable to set a goal of 9th or 10th place in the Big Ten.”

Most preseason prognosticators slotted Minnesota at #12 or #13 in the Big Ten. We continue to believe the Gophers can exceed those expectations. As of today, Minnesota is ranked #8 in the Big Ten per KenPom.

We said: “The top 8 man rotation is solid. You’ve got Lynch and Murphy inside, with Konate and Curry to help. At the guard/wing positions, Mason/Coffey/Springs/McBrayer provides four guys for three positions that we believe can have strong seasons.”

The 8 we mentioned are the only players averaging more than 6 minutes per Minnesota game. Bakary Konate hasn’t gotten quite as much time as we projected, but everyone else is averaging more than 21 minutes per personal game played (Coffey and Lynch have both missed one game each due to injury)

We said: “Offense: eFG% will jump, but 3FG shooting (quantity and %) is a concern”

Minnesota’s eFG% this season is 49.4% vs. last year’s mark of 45.9%. The Gophers rank low – #261 in the nation – in 3PA/FGA%, but have hit a respectable 34.5% of their 3-point attempts (#173 in the nation and slightly lower than the national average). Nate Mason (45.3%) and Dupree McBrayer (40.0%) are leading the way so far, but it may be difficult for them to maintain their current percentages.

We said: “(Offense) TO% – hope to maintain or only rise slightly, not much room for improvement”

The Gophers have seen only a slight rise in turnover rate – from 16.5% to 16.8% (#64 in the nation). Keeping turnovers relatively low in conference play will be important.

We said: “(Offense) OReb% – Joey King gone, Murphy, Lynch, Konate, Curry will help drive this up nicely”

Last year, Minnesota’s OR% was just 26.6%. In 2016-17, the Gophers have corralled 30.8% of their offensive board chances, but there is still room to improve. The four players mentioned all have strong OR%’s. Reggie Lynch has the lowest among the group – 9.8% – which is still good enough to place him in the top 300 nationally.
We said: “(Offense) FT rate – Lynch & Murphy should produce here.. don’t sweat the FT%.”

Minnesota’s free throw rate is strong at 43.5% (#39 in the nation) and up from 37.1% a year ago (#163). This will likely dip in conference play, but so far, so good. Lynch leads the team in drawing fouls, doing so at a 6.0/40 minute clip, and free throw rate at 80.0%.

Fans complain about free throw shooting, but Minnesota is an average free throw shooting team at 69.7%… not to mention, team free throw shooting isn’t well correlated to good offense. Certainly you wouldn’t have one of the poor free throw shooting bigs on the line with 1 second left on the clock and needing two to tie if you had a choice, but team free throw percentage is essentially a non-issue that deserves little to no attention by fans.

We said: “Defense: eFG% should improve nicely… 3FG% due to personnel and luck, 2FG% without King and with Lynch should show great improvement”

Minnesota’s defensive eFG% is #7 in the nation at 41.0%. 3FG% has dropped to 28.1% from 38.1%. Obviously we expected this, but a warning would be that we expect this figure to rise as the year progresses.

Minnesota’s team block rate is an impressive 16.2% and Reggie Lynch is #2 in the nation individually at 16.7%. As expected, this has helped to greatly improve 2FG% defense down to 40.4% compared to 48.8% last season.

We said: “(Defense) TO% – maintaining is fine, but opportunity to improve with reach of McBrayer, Coffey and gang is there”

The Gophers turned the opposition over at a 17.8% rate last season (comparable figure throughout nonconference and conference play) and that’s up to 18.9% this year. Amir Coffey leads the regulars with a 2.0% steal rate. We believe there continues to be opportunity here to trend more favorably.

We didn’t mention DR% year over year in our preseason commentary. It’s been essentially flat (29.1% vs. 29.2%). This is another area where Minnesota could improve, but by design they seem content with having their guards and wings not be very involved in defensive rebounding.

We said: “(Defense) FTrate – might trend a bit unfavorably, but that’s not a big deal.”

Defensive free throw rate has been a positive so far this year, but there was a fairly dramatic unfavorable movement last year when the conference season came around.

We said: “Jordan Murphy is well respected by the Gopher fan base, but he had a sub-100 ORtg and only shot 47.6% eFG%. Should focus on what he does well (e.g., 41 3FGA’s was too much last year) and he can show a lot of improvement.”

Again Murphy has a sub-100 ORtg (90.% on 24.2% possessions) and this is a concern. He’s still tempted by the 3-ball about once per game (1/10 for 10% this season) and we’d be fine if he cut down on his attempts from deep, but Murphy also needs to improve upon his 48.5% 2FG% (target: 56%) and lower his turnover rate of 18.4% (target: 14%).

We said: “McBrayer is waaaay better than his 90.5 ORtg last year shows. Upside is considerable here.”

Dupree is recognizing a lot of his upside so far. While his usage hasn’t moved much, his ORtg is not only vastly improved, but very good.

We said: “We’d say a lot of the same things about Amir Coffey that we did four years ago HERE. We project his usage at 17% to 18%… would like to see him push it up closer to 22% to 24%. A little more aggressiveness scoring the ball would serve him well. Special talent – how involved in the offense will he be?”

Overall, we’re pleased with his 21.2% usage, but his involvement has been a bit inconsistent and we would still like the usage increased a bit more.

We said: “Nate Mason’s shooting last year was poor. Must be better and he can be. Looking for a nice bounce back this season.”

At first glance, the nice bounce back is evident, but there are some concerns. Nate shot 44.8% eFG% last season (44.4% 2FG% and 30.2% 3FG%). This year his eFG% has shot up to 50.8%. However, the gain this year is from his 3-point shooting (45.3%) which we project to decline over the remainder of the season. Where Nate must be better is on his 2FGA’s. Mason is shooting just 37.7% 2FG%, where more than 56% of his attempts come.

We said: “Reggie Lynch’s presence – blocks, shot alterations – is so important. Must show huge improvement at staying away from fouls. Not sure he can do that this year and would expect foul trouble for Lynch to be the norm. Still, very important piece.”

As discussed earlier, Lynch has been a primary driver of Minnesota’s block party and lowered defensive 2FG%. He’s also done a respectable job in the area of picking up fouls at 5.2 FC/40.

Looking ahead:
We have no significant changes to what we said at the beginning of the year. Lynch is a game changer for this team’s defense and they’ll need him to stay healthy.

Offensively, this team has issues (e.g., they’re not very good).

With the schedule already played, a 9-9 Big Ten season would produce a nice NCAA tournament resume. The opportunity is great, but the margin for error is slim. This season could come down to a couple of coin-flip games finishing one way or another.

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