Kalscheur shines on defense, declines on offense

Kalscheur saw the effect of the sophomore slump on offense and is seeing it continue into his junior season.

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Nur B. Adam

Guard Gabe Kalscheur brings the ball up the court at Williams Arena on Monday, Dec. 2, 2019.

AJ Condon

The Gophers men’s basketball team has seen plenty of ups and downs throughout this unprecedented season. Junior guard Gabe Kalscheur has been one player who seems to have his ups on defense and downs on offense.

Kalscheur continues to be the best Gopher defender and gets praised constantly by head coach Richard Pitino.

“We talk constantly about Gabe’s shooting; I think Gabe is the best perimeter defender in the league,” Pitino said.

Kalscheur had one of his best games defensively in an upset win over then-No.7 Michigan Jan. 16. He was able to hold the Wolverines’ top-scoring guard to just eight points on 3-of-9 shooting. Sophomore Franz Wagner was unable to get things going and had his worst shooting performance of the season to that point.

Kalscheur did a good job against the 6-foot-9 guard, even with a five-inch difference in height.

“I just tried to make it as tough as possible, make him second guess his shots. … I just tried to make it as tough as possible for him to get to his right hand and make every shot difficult for him to take,” Kalscheur said.

The defense has never been a problem for Kalscheur since he first stepped foot on the elevated floor of the Barn. Another thing that wasn’t a problem during his first season for the maroon and gold was Kalscheur’s ability to shoot.

Kalscheur began his collegiate career successfully for Minnesota. In his freshman stint, he shot 41.7% from the field and 41% from deep while starting all 36 games that season. He posted 16 double-digit scoring games, with four being 20 or more points, while being the fourth leading scorer on the team with 10 points per game.

As of now, that has been the peak to Kalscheur’s career, which has been on a hard downfall since. His field goal percentage, as well as his three-point percentage, has been on a downward trend since his exceptional freshman year.

In his sophomore season, Kalscheur dropped down to a 37.6% field goal shooter, while seeing his three-point shooting drop down to 34.1%. That was just the beginning to his downward trend.

After such an abnormal offseason, Kalscheur still hasn’t warmed up yet in his junior season. After seeing his numbers fall after his sophomore stint, they have continued to drop in his third year. Through 18 games, those numbers have proceeded to follow suit as he’s shooting a career-low 31% from the field and 23.3% from deep.

Pitino doesn’t worry about the numbers and percentages around Kalscheur’s shooting. In the beginning of the season, he was making game-winning plays on defense that helped propel the Gophers to their undefeated start.

“I don’t judge Gabe’s play by made threes or not. This is back-to-back games where he’s made winning plays. I don’t make a big deal about that. I clearly have faith in him — he’s still playing major minutes because he brings a lot of other great things to the table,” Pitino said following the win over the University of North Dakota.

But as good as Kalscheur has been on defense, the shooting struggles are evident and are a problem for the Gophers on offense. Minnesota has relied on redshirt junior Marcus Carr and junior transfer Liam Robbins to run the offense, and when they are struggling, the team can’t seem to get anything going.

The team’s three-game skid has demonstrated these challenges and the team’s need for a consistent offensive threat outside of Carr and Robbins. Despite shooting a high volume of three-point attempts, Minnesota is one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the nation, allowing opponents to direct their focus on Carr and Robbins.

Kalscheur demonstrated his offensive abilities in the past, and if he were to return to his freshman form, that could greatly contribute to the Gophers’ offense. If Kalscheur can become a consistent third option once again, the sky is the limit for a Gophers’ team that’s already beaten the likes of Michigan, Iowa and Ohio State.