Hindsight review: 2014-15 Minnesota Predictions
We had nailed Minnesota’s Big Ten finish for the first few years we made predictions, but failed this past season. They underachieved. We’ll have more prior to the start of the 2015-16 season, but the reality is the defense failed. From a turnover and steal perspective, Minnesota was elite. However, we knew that wouldn’t be enough and it wasn’t even close. The opportunity for young kids to make their mark has never been greater for this program – and there are many new faces. 2015-16, if nothing else, will be entertaining.
Bold: Our preseason comments
The Gophers have a veteran core. Their offensive efficiency can be similar to last year and their defense can improve substantially, but they’ve got a ways to go to compete for a Big Ten title.
Minnesota’s kenpom adjusted offensive efficiency was ranked #43 in 2014-15, which was similar to the previous year’s ranking of #40.
However, the Gophers saw their adjusted defensive efficiency ranking fall from 82 to 106. We talked about it before, during and after the season: Stealing was not the answer. Indeed, Minnesota’s steal rate of 13.6% and defensive turnover % of 24.7% were both elite and far above the previous year (11.5% and 18.7%, respectively), but their defense had bad issues that offset the good.
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Minnesota’s Mo Walker: Stealing The Show
Known for his offensive prowess, Gophers’ fifth-year senior Maurice Walker has made a statistically remarkable impact on the other side of the court in 2014-15.
The Gophers have the nation’s second-highest steal rate and their style of play has helped Walker to register a high steal percent, but as the team’s last game at Iowa reminded us, a lot of it is square on him.
Walker’s steal from Iowa guard Mike Gesell late in the game helped to seal Minnesota’s important 64-59 road win on Thursday. Earlier in the game – as he has many times this season – Mo stepped around his man to get his arm into the passing lane and deflect an attempted delivery to the low block, resulting in a turnover.
The figures below are from KenPom.com and include only players who have been on the court for at least 40% of their team’s minutes. To put into context, there are 88 Big Ten players who meet that minimum through games of February 13, 2015.
The Gophers have the top four thieves in the conference (all games, including nonconference):
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Minnesota: Conference Shooting Splits
In Richard Pitino’s first season, the Minnesota Golden Gophers shot an impressive 52.3% eFG in Big Ten games (#3 in conference). This year that figure is down to 48.4% (#9) and is the primary reason they’re not scoring as well in 2014-15 (on a points per possession basis).
The team’s 3-point shooting isn’t the issue. This year’s squad is shooting better (35.1% vs. 34.5%) and more often behind the 3-point stripe. (37.7% 3FGA/FGA vs. 34.6%).
Minnesota’s 2-point shooting has taken a significant dip from 52.5% (#2 in B1G) to 45.9% (#10).
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Minnesota’s 2FG% Dooms Them at Nebraska
Free throws (9/19 for 47.4%) get the attention from many, but they weren’t the primary issue in Minnesota’s loss at Nebraska.
Although the Gophers could have used some more made free throws in the 52-49, there were more important factors to them losing.
The biggest one factor was 2-point field goal shooting. Their mark of 25.0% (8/32) was the program’s worst performance going back at least five years. Had Minnesota made slightly less than the D-I average of their 2-point attempts (D-I average is approximately 47.5%; Minnesota averages better than 50.5% on the season), they would have scored an additional 14 points.
Free throw percentage is nearly irrelevant to a team winning or losing a basketball game.
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Gophers: Stealing Still Is Not The Answer
“Head coach Richard Pitino has talked about more steals as a way to improve the 2014-15 Gophers, but the Gophers aren’t likely to improve their defense much by creating more steals.” — LateNightHoops.com, October 2014
The Minnesota Gophers have the nation’s third best steal rate and are #2 among Big Ten teams in conference play at 12.2%.
Nonetheless, the team’s defense has been poor and now ranks #12 in the league. We have a suggested potential partial fix, but this roster isn’t likely to put together many impressive defensive performances no matter what changes are made.
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Minnesota: Conference Advanced Player Stats
Notes and details on the Gophers’ team and player stats (see PDF) through the first four Big Ten games are included in this article.
Minnesota’s eFG% lags far behind their opponents, but in two of their four losses the Gophers have shot better than the other team.
at Purdue – 72-68 loss: Minnesota was the better shooting team, but Purdue held slight edges in turnovers and rebounding and a big advantage in free throw rate.
at Maryland – 70-58 loss: The Gophers shot a miserable 36.1 eFG%, the worst performance of any Richard Pitino-coached team (including FIU).
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Concerns Realized; Gophers Fall at Purdue
Minnesota allowed an 11-point lead with less than ten minutes to play to quickly evaporate before losing to the Boilermakers 72-68 in the Big Ten opener for both teams.
The win probability chart at KenPom.com had a Gopher win at 94% when they were leading 55-44. What happened from there was Purdue giving the visitors a taste of their own medicine: great shooting on offense and turning Minnesota on defense.
- With 9:35 on the clock and trailing 55-44, Matt Painter called a timeout
- On the next 6 possessions Purdue would shoot 5/6 from the field (2/2 3FG) and 2/2 from the line (2.33 points per possession)
- Over the next 5 possessions Minnesota shot 1/3 from the field (0/1 3FG) and 1/2 from the line. The Gophers also turned the ball over twice (0.60 ppp)
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Gophers: 2014 vs. 2013 Nonconference Advanced Stats
First off, there is a lack of strength at the top of the Big Ten. A mediocre team can absolutely finish in the conference’s top 4 and the margin of error for a team to finish 8-10 instead of 10-8 is small.
The Gophers have an excellent opportunity given this season, but so do a number of their peers.
Late Night Hoops calculated advance statistical data for both the team and individual players for pre-conference, non-conference games against D-I opponents. In other words, we calculated statistics for the first 12 games of this year (excluding Franklin Pierce) and compared them to last year (excluding Chaminade). Although Minnesota’s efficiency margin (offensive efficiency less defensive efficiency) is higher this season, we see reason for concern. (See also: Does Minnesota Have an Assist Problem?)
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