Gophers attack with efficiency, not speed

Minnesota ranks 270th in pace of play, according to KenPom.com.

Minnesota head basketball coach Richard Pitino calls to his players on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013.

Daily File Photo, Holly Peterson

Minnesota head basketball coach Richard Pitino calls to his players on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013.

Jace Frederick

Gophers head coach Richard Pitino persistently spoke of his up-and-down tempo when he took over the program in April.

His message was clear: Even if Minnesota wasn’t good, it was going to be fast.

That hasn’t been the case midway through Pitino’s first run through the Big Ten.

As of Wednesday night, the Gophers ranked 270th in pace of play, according to KenPom.com — a website that analyzes college basketball statistics.

“Teams are really doing a good job of getting back in transition and stopping our fast break,” junior guard DeAndre Mathieu said. “I guess they know that’s how we’re trying to play.

“Teams are sending two or three back before we even get a chance to really get it going.”

The Gophers’ offense is significantly slower than the one Pitino ran last year at Florida International. FIU ranked 48th in the country in tempo.

Minnesota senior guard Malik Smith, who played under Pitino last season at FIU, said the difference in tempo lies in the difference between the Big Ten and the Sun Belt conferences.

“This is more of a slow-it-down league than the Sun Belt conference,” Smith said. “A lot of teams like to run in that conference.”

That’s not surprising, given the reputation the Big Ten has as a slow-it-down conference. It’s 26th out of 33 conferences in terms of tempo in conference games, despite the fact that some coaches try to sell a faster pace of play.

In conference games, the Gophers have been the third-slowest team.

Pitino said earlier in the season he felt his team might be better playing at a slower pace.

“I want to play fast, but I don’t want to be dumb,” he said. “I certainly want to be intelligent about the way that we play. And I want to execute. … I’m not just going to play fast so that we can brag about our tempo numbers.”

While it may not be fast, Minnesota boasts an efficient offense. The Gophers sport the 20th-most efficient offense in the nation. That level of efficiency is surprising for a squad learning a new system under a new coach.

“We’ve been pretty good offensively all year,” Pitino said. “Implementing a new system is hard to do, and they’ve picked up on it. … I’m happy with the way they’ve picked it up.”

Smith isn’t surprised. He said Pitino’s style is easy to understand.

“He doesn’t hold anybody back from shooting,” Smith said. “I’m sure everybody in the country would like that.”

Gophers junior guard Andre Hollins said Pitino adds different wrinkles to the offense before games, but it’s always easy to adjust because the offensive system has a nice flow.

“He’s done a good job of establishing what he wants done, and we’re understanding that,” Hollins said. “It’s just clicking.”

That execution has helped Minnesota win games regardless of the tempo of the game.

“We’re really capable of adjusting to other teams while still playing our game,” sophomore forward Joey King said. “We want to do what we want to do, but at the same time, there are times where we’re going to have to adjust just so we can be successful against some of these other teams that play different styles.”

The Gophers’ two slowest games this season in terms of possession were against Wisconsin and Northwestern — the same two opponents they play this weekend.

Minnesota put up 81 points on the Badgers on Jan. 22 at Williams Arena, but it lost a 45-44 slobberknocker at the Kohl Center last season.

And while Pitino’s offense has found success in a slower style of play, he said he hopes to out-perform last year’s showing.

“I’d like to score more than 44 points,” he said, “because that would make me miserable.”