Al Nolen’s Defense Desperately Needed for Gophers

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Al Nolen

It is rare that a player affects a team on the defensive end of the floor as much as Al Nolen does for the Gophers.

In what seems to be an annual me-praise-Al event this time of year, in 2010 it seems more clear that his defense should be what’s applauded, rather than my claim last year around this time that he was “the key to the Gopher offense.”

I’d continue to make the claim that he is ONE OF the keys on the offensive end of the floor, especially considering how savvy he is with the ball and how little he turns the ball over.

But in the four games without him so far this season, the more important issue is how lost the Gophers look on the defensive end of the court.

The Gophers will continue to put up big offensive stats the rest of the non-conference season with or without Nolen, as Blake Hoffarber rains threes and the return of Devoe Joseph gives the Gophers a playmaker and sparkplug.

But consider these stats defensively when looking at the importance of Nolen to this team.

In the six games they were with Nolen, they gave up 67 points per game.  In the four games without him, they have given up 71.

That may not seem like a large difference, but consider this:  The Gophers first six games included four 2010 NCAA tournament teams and two of those opponents were ranked in the top 30 at the time they defeated them (#8 UNC, #27 West Virginia).

Harrison Barnes

The Gophers opponents in their last four?  Virginia, Cornell, St. Joe’s, and Eastern Kentucky.  Of those, only Cornell made the tournament last year, and their combined record is 16-21 on the year.

In the six games Nolen participated in, opponents were shooting a measly 34% from the field, and made 42 threes in those games.

In the four since Nolen has been out, opponents are shooting nearly 42% from the field, and have made 43 triples in that span.

Specifically when the Gophers are in the zone with Nolen at the top of it, he is extremely important in limiting open looks and guards ability to create.

With Nolen’s replacement, a porous defender in Devoe Joseph, the Gophers give up defensive intensity for offensive prowess.

While that has worked these last three games, the 87 points they gave up against Virginia and the 10-13 from the arc are clear warning signs of a Nolen-less defense against power conference opponents.

Nolen is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country and his speed and agility in the zone as well as man-to-man is something that Minnesota will sorely miss if Nolen’s planter fasciitis does not subside by December 28th, their first conference game vs. Wisconsin.

-Mike Gallagher

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