Men's basketball: Gophers at their best: Steal. Layup. Repeat.
By Marcus R. FullerSt. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- If Gophers coach Richard Pitino is looking for video that showcases his full-court pressing style at its best, the first four minutes of Saturday's victory over Purdue would work. Purdue tu...
By Marcus R. Fuller
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS - If Gophers coach Richard Pitino is looking for video that showcases his full-court pressing style at its best, the first four minutes of Saturday’s victory over Purdue would work.
Purdue turnover. Minnesota layup. Purdue turnover. Minnesota jumper. Purdue turnover. Minnesota layup. Purdue turnover. Layup. ... Turnover. ... Layup.
Crowd goes crazy. Pitino gets hyped.
By the time it was over, Minnesota had outscored Purdue 14-0. The Boilermakers had no answer for 94 feet of pressure defense, which, by game’s end, had forced 23 turnovers - the most in a game by any team in Big Ten play this season.
Minnesota’s 17 steals were the most by a Big Ten team in league play since the Gophers hit that mark in a win at Iowa in 2009-10.
The Gophers (15-9, 4-7) lead the Big Ten and rank second in the nation in steals per game (10.8) and opponents’ turnovers per game (18.1).
“I think that stretch of four or five minutes was about as close to how we want to play,” Pitino said. “We want to create offense from our defense. We want to play a fast and fun style. But that’s not going to happen overnight.”
The Gophers have made pressing look easy the past two games. Against Purdue and Nebraska, they forced 43 turnovers off 27 steals combined, resulting in consecutive conference wins for the first time this year.
Whether that trend will continue tonight (Thursday) at Iowa (15-8, 6-4) in Iowa City is a big question mark; Minnesota has lost seven straight conference road games, five this season.
Pitino Ball doesn’t work as well away from Williams Arena.
“You get a little bit more amped when you have 13,000 people screaming when you get a steal, as opposed to it being quiet when you’re away,” senior guard Andre Hollins said. “We’re going to have to bring the same intensity no matter what. That first four minutes of the second half (against Purdue), we’re going to have to try to put that heat on them for the entire game.”
Last year, Minnesota accomplished its goal of making the most three-pointers in school history with 272 on a school-record 773 attempts. After the Purdue game, players talked about closing in on breaking the program’s record 298 steals set in 2007-08. This year’s team has 260.
Pitino said he mostly focuses on game-by-game defensive goals, such as getting 12 or more steals and 35 or more deflections.
“You don’t want to get too steal happy because it ruins your fundamental defense, as well,” he said. “We want to get steals, but we also don’t want to do it while jeopardizing the way we want to play.”
The Gophers’ 2-2-1 fullcourt press is similar to Louisville’s under Pitino’s father, Rick.
Last season, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim thought Minnesota and Louisville were identical in their full-court press defenses as he watched video to prepare to play the younger Pitino in the Maui Invitational. Minnesota also plays more 2-3 matchup zone this season, just like the Cardinals.
The Gophers are pretty much trying to see whether Louisville’s defense can work in the Big Ten. Maryland is the only Big Ten team that is closest to matching the frequency that Minnesota presses. The Terrapins forced 19 turnovers but still got blitzed over the weekend at Iowa, 71-55.
Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery noticed differences with Minnesota’s press.
“What they do is they steal it from you,” McCaffery said. “They get it and go and go score it. It’s one thing to throw it away; it’s another thing to make a pass that they read and steal it, and next thing you know there is a 2-on-1 and they’re dunking the ball and back into the press. It’s different.”
The Gophers are trying to make up in speed what they lack in backcourt size with 5-foot-9 DeAndre Mathieu, 6-2 Hollins and 6-1 Nate Mason.
“I think they’re playing to their strength,” Big Ten Network analyst Stephen Bardo said. “They don’t have big guards, so they need to utilize their quickness. I think the only guard with size is Morris at (6-5). Their ability to turn people over gives them chances to score.
“If you look at Minnesota, it won’t beat too many teams in the Big Ten playing half-court basketball.”
Pitino says recruiting players that fit the system is a work in progress. He also believes his team doesn’t have the same spark defensively on the road because it can’t feed off the home crowd’s energy.
On Wednesday, Pitino used an example of Morris rotating and going for steals more aggressively at home. Morris had five steals Saturday against Purdue, but he also had eight steals in a road win over Wake Forest this season.
“We would like to take the same amount of chances anywhere,” Pitino said. “I think the style will continue to get better as we recruit to it. I don’t think it’s a Big Ten thing. I think when you get the roster that’s tailored toward the way you want to play, it’ll continue to get better. I’ve only been here one year and a half. It takes time.”
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