Hindsight review: 2014-15 Minnesota Predictions

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.

If certain things happen, Minnesota can certainly move up a few spots and be sitting pretty on Selection Sunday. Similar to last year at this time, we believe the Gophers have the look of a bubble team. However, this year’s squad has an upside relative to the conference standings that is more promising than a year ago.

Simply put, the team underperformed. It’s not a story of close games. It’s not a story of roster turnover during the year. They simply underperformed.

Dre Mathieu’s decision-making – he shot 54.7% eFG% against D-I teams last season, but we project this figure to fall. While FG% declining isn’t desired, there are two stats we wouldn’t mind seeing lower for Mathieu this year: Usage (24%… just down a touch to 22% or so) and turnovers (24%… sub-20% would be nice)

Mathieu’s eFG% did drop as projected – from 54.7% down to 48.5%. His 50% 3-point field goal shooting on limited attempts in 2013-14 wasn’t real. Behind the arc, the senior guard shot just 31% and his 2-point field goal percentage declined by .023.

Mathieu was a different player this season. We thought his usage could drop and it did – but the decline was substantial – down to 19.1%. In conference games, his usage fell from 25.6% as a junior to just 18.3% as a senior.

His turnover rate was cleaned up, improving to a respectable 17.9% compared to 23.6% in his first season with the Gophers.

Rebounding help for the centers – Joey King’s sub-10% DR% was brutal a year ago; that must improve. Josh Martin, Bakary Konate and Carlos Morris have an opportunity to help on the boards

Joey King’s defensive rebounding fell an additional percentage point, down to 8.8% for the year. In conference games, King’s DR% was a concerning 7.7%. That put the 6’9” King just ahead of 5’10” Michigan State freshman point guard Lourawls Nairn and at #77 among 85 Big Ten players who played at least 40% of their team’s conference minutes.

Martin left school, but Konate and Morris did help the team some. Konate’s DR%’s were very good (20% for the season, 25% in conference), but his minutes were low. Morris started the season looking King-like, but beefed up on the boards during conference play (11.9% season, a solid 13.4% in the B1G… as a comparison, 2013-14 wing Austin Hollins put up 12.1% and 11.7%, respectively).

If he was going to get big minutes, King’s DR% had to improve or it was going to hurt the team’s defense. He got big minutes, but his DR% went down. The result? Minnesota’s defensive rebounding percentage in conference games was dead last in the Big Ten.

The Gophers ranked #12 in the nation for tallest effective height in 2014-15, yet were #281 in DR%. In 2015-16, one way for players to earn minutes will be their work on the glass. If King plays similar minutes again in 2015-16, the wings and guards have to make more of an impact.

Reduce fouls – Mo Walker’s foul rate will decline; the freshmen will be concerns

Mo Walker’s foul rate did decline – and impressively so. His 6.4 fouls called per 40 minutes as a junior (and 6.9 in conference) fell to 4.5 (4.1 in conference) as a senior.

Returning sophomore big men Bakary Konate (a ridiculous 7.0 FC/40) and Gaston Diedhiou (5.3) have an opportunity to see a large increase in playing time… but they must avoid silly fouls.

  • Dre Hollins health – the Gophers say he’s 100%, but we have our doubts. Hollins is an excellent player when at his best and he could boost his 47.0% eFG significantly this year. Minnesota absolutely needs him

While he didn’t appear to be 100% physically, he did boost his eFG% significantly. Last year’s 47.0% rose to 52.7% in 2014-15. This was especially important because Dre was not able to draw contact and get to the line at anywhere near the same rate he did as a junior. His 2013-14 FD/40 of 5.2 and FT rate of 49.7% tumbled to just 3.7 and 24.6%, respectively, in 2014-15. Again, we believe this is due in large part to health.

  • Who steps up? – Carlos Morris can score points – how efficient can he be? Nate Mason and Daquein McNeil have an opportunity to earn minutes with solid play – if one or both of them can be strong contributors it really changes the look of the team.

Morris did score points because of his usage and %Shots (both around 24%), but the efficiency wasn’t there, as projected. Carlos had an ORtg of 99 for the season and just 96 in conference play.

Nate Mason had a strong nonconference performance and his season ORtg of 105.5 with a usage of 20.5% was very good. However, he struggled to make shots – many of them getting blocked – against the bigger, more physical defenders of the Big Ten. Mason’s ORtg in conference games was 98.6 and his eFG% in the Big Ten was a poor 42.3% (47.8% for the season).

Mason’s low turnover rate (12.0%) and solid assist numbers (19.7% assist rate) were good, but he’ll have to shoot the ball better in 2015-16. We like how he projects and believe he can take a nice leap as a sophomore with regard to shooting the ball.

  • For the past several seasons, media has seemed fixated on the idea that Minnesota is deep. The truth is the top 6 is super-solid; after that, they need help. That’s not to say they won’t get help – but they need a player or two to emerge.

Mason emerged to a degree, but fifth year senior center Eliason was disregarded and offset the good coming from Mason’s contributions.

  • Centers – If Mo Walker stays healthy and cuts down on turnovers and fouls, it’ll be hard to keep him off court for long periods of time. That said, the excellence of Elliott Eliason’s rebounding and shot blocking is often overlooked and it’ll be equally difficult to keep him on the bench. Two good fifth year senior centers is a good problem to have

As mentioned above, Eliason was kept on the bench and it hurt the team. We believe this was a miscalculation by the coaching staff. That’s not to say Walker should have been sitting; rather, Eliason’s minutes should not have been handed to Diedhiou and, to a lesser degree, Konate. In addition, some creative possibilities with Walker and Eliason on the court together could have been further explored (although our main point is that it was bizarre to play Diedhiou and Konate together in early, meaningful minutes of games).

  • Minnesota’s conference opponents shot 37.2% from 3-point range. That’ll drop.

It didn’t drop. We were wrong.  It rose to an ugly 38.9%, worst in the Big Ten since the 2011-12 season.

All in all.. the early read would be that the defense can improve for Minnesota in 2015-16. Offense is a different story. More to come. Thanks for reading.

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