Long Q&A with The Athletic: Minnesota coach Ben Johnson on establishing a culture and what’s next for Dawson Garcia, Jamison Battle

Bobek

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Wow, great interview.

Really interesting to see him talk about Ihnen guarding the 1-4. IMO that means he will see more of those wing/guard minutes than I thought. I had him pegged as mostly a "4".

Also love hearing the mentality from Garcia.

Man basketball season is far away!
 

Bobek

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Part of it is speaking the truth to the player part of it is psychology to help motivate Ihnen. Most coaches understand that concept, especially with HS and college players.
 

Bayfieldgopher

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It would sure be interesting to see the guys lace em up and go at it for 20 minutes or so. But we will have to be patient with that. Good stuff from Ben.

My thoughts.

IMO, our strength will be versatility and guys being able to play more than one spot on O. We have to be better on the boards just because of our size and mobility. But with Battle, an active Fox, rangy II and a stronger TT, things look promising. And we can put guys out there who have played hoops at college level but not the BIG. But we know how that worked out. I think our overall play in the paint will be better.

Who will provide the points other than a healthy Battle? Garcia has the most upside and hope he can replace Willis's output. But Cooper has not been an aggressive guy with the ball and will do well to duplicate his numbers last year. A mobile Fox should be able to match Curry. II has a lot of areas to improve upon as well as TT. The newbies??? If Battle gets 18, Garcia 15, and Cooper 10 thats 40-45. About same this past season with our top 3 but we only averaged 67 ppg and 69 in BIG The others need to put up 30-35+ which we will need. Unless we improve greatly on D, we need to up our ppg to 75+.

My concern is D. IMO, we have no lock down defender(s). We always knew we could count on Gabe and Luke did a decent job last year. Battle did OK and same for Cooper and Garcia after watching some tape but that may be a bit generous. Can Fox and Payne hold their own in the paint? Garcia got absolutely destroyed by PU's Williams and Edney last year so I don't expect much help there. We all know about TT. Who can guard the quick PG's and others good with the ball? Defending the dribble was a huge problem last year. Our D gave up 69ppg and 75 ppg in BIG.

Ben gave an encouraging report on II which was interesting. I can see him defending the PG area in a zone setting. Is a zone a better fit and will Ben use it more? Get them to play with hands up and that takes up a lot of space and cuts down the passing lanes.

I hope we get Samuel as he seemed to have the ability to defend the PG and one more experienced player. I watched some highlights of Merrimack and the Watson kid is small although he showed some hops. They seemed to play a lot of zone. I'd rather have Samuel and I think he can push Cooper for PT.

We did above average in taking care of the ball, TO/asst ratio and FT's. Not sure if this group can do a match.
 

Dakota2

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That's a great interview. Makes me excited about the coming year. I like the attitude!

It will be very interesting to see what he can do with athletes like Ihnen and Henley. I was very surprised to hear him talk of Ihnen's guard skills. We have not seen him put it on the floor and beat guys off the dribble which has led to the perception by some that he can't do it. I think Ben believes he can and has seen him do it in practice but also sees that he has not had enough confidence in the past to do it in games.
That interview almost makes me think PJ is mentoring Ben.
 

Dakota2

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Or maybe its coach speak to try to get a kid more confidence? Tough call!

Like what do you think he is going to say? Nah Ihnen blows, I cant believe he is still here....

I hope hes great but just because the coach says he is great in May doesnt mean much.
If he thinks Ihnen blows he wouldn't bring him up for long comments in answering a generalized question.

The question wasn't "what about Ihnen". It was "who do you think ... ?"
 



bga1

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Anything else means we have a big surprise in store.
I think that the starting lineup by Big Ten season could include any of the following names in some mix:

Cooper, Carrington, Henley, Fox, Ihnen, Battle, Payne, Garcia

Only the bolded 3 are pretty much etched in stone at this point. Henley would be the biggest surprise, but I would argue that it is because he is most unknown also.
 

MennoSota

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I like what Ben said about Ihnen. He has some serious talent, but he gets paralysis by analysis. He reminds me of how Andrew Wiggins would play with the Twolves. Shades of greatness followed by large moments of being non-existent. In that regard I think of Charles Buggs who had flashes, but couldn't break free of his own, self imposed limitations.

Ben is right to try get Ihnen out of his own head and just have confidence in what he is capable of doing. If Ben can do that, then Ihnen is going to be a huge asset this year.
 

VolitileGopher

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Ben seems to have pretty high hopes for what Ihnen can bring this year. That would be a very pleasant surprise that I think most fans aren't expecting.
Not really, its Minnesota. 3 months reminding ourselves that the great outdoors are great, then 2 months of Gopher Football to distract you, and suddenly, the calendar has turned. I think time tends to fly in a state where you have two seasons: Winter and Summer.
It would sure be interesting to see the guys lace em up and go at it for 20 minutes or so. But we will have to be patient with that. Good stuff from Ben.

My thoughts.

IMO, our strength will be versatility and guys being able to play more than one spot on O. We have to be better on the boards just because of our size and mobility. But with Battle, an active Fox, rangy II and a stronger TT, things look promising. And we can put guys out there who have played hoops at college level but not the BIG. But we know how that worked out. I think our overall play in the paint will be better.

Who will provide the points other than a healthy Battle? Garcia has the most upside and hope he can replace Willis's output. But Cooper has not been an aggressive guy with the ball and will do well to duplicate his numbers last year. A mobile Fox should be able to match Curry. II has a lot of areas to improve upon as well as TT. The newbies??? If Battle gets 18, Garcia 15, and Cooper 10 thats 40-45. About same this past season with our top 3 but we only averaged 67 ppg and 69 in BIG The others need to put up 30-35+ which we will need. Unless we improve greatly on D, we need to up our ppg to 75+.

My concern is D. IMO, we have no lock down defender(s). We always knew we could count on Gabe and Luke did a decent job last year. Battle did OK and same for Cooper and Garcia after watching some tape but that may be a bit generous. Can Fox and Payne hold their own in the paint? Garcia got absolutely destroyed by PU's Williams and Edney last year so I don't expect much help there. We all know about TT. Who can guard the quick PG's and others good with the ball? Defending the dribble was a huge problem last year. Our D gave up 69ppg and 75 ppg in BIG.

Ben gave an encouraging report on II which was interesting. I can see him defending the PG area in a zone setting. Is a zone a better fit and will Ben use it more? Get them to play with hands up and that takes up a lot of space and cuts down the passing lanes.

I hope we get Samuel as he seemed to have the ability to defend the PG and one more experienced player. I watched some highlights of Merrimack and the Watson kid is small although he showed some hops. They seemed to play a lot of zone. I'd rather have Samuel and I think he can push Cooper for PT.

We did above average in taking care of the ball, TO/asst ratio and FT's. Not sure if this group can do a match.
I've said it elsewhere on this message board, but I firmly believe Johnson & Thorsen looked at the lack of athleticism and talent on last years team and decided getting back on defense (i.e., avoid giving up easy points) was far more important than rebounding. Look at the rebounding efficiency of the 2021-22 team. Only 2 teams were worse. The 2022-23 team will feature not only more talent, but also more length. If the Gophers could just be an average rebounding team, that means fewer second chance points given up on defense and more second chance points on offense.

As you say 69 points in non-conference versus 75 points in conference. That equates to 2-3 more made shots surrendered on defense. Just be an average rebounding team and you can vastly improve. The same logic applies to our offense. The goal has to be reducing your opponents second shots on offense. Because they performed at such an extreme, the path to success can't be clearer.
 



Holy Man

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Not really, its Minnesota. 3 months reminding ourselves that the great outdoors are great, then 2 months of Gopher Football to distract you, and suddenly, the calendar has turned. I think time tends to fly in a state where you have two seasons: Winter and Summer.

I've said it elsewhere on this message board, but I firmly believe Johnson & Thorsen looked at the lack of athleticism and talent on last years team and decided getting back on defense (i.e., avoid giving up easy points) was far more important than rebounding. Look at the rebounding efficiency of the 2021-22 team. Only 2 teams were worse. The 2022-23 team will feature not only more talent, but also more length. If the Gophers could just be an average rebounding team, that means fewer second chance points given up on defense and more second chance points on offense.

As you say 69 points in non-conference versus 75 points in conference. That equates to 2-3 more made shots surrendered on defense. Just be an average rebounding team and you can vastly improve. The same logic applies to our offense. The goal has to be reducing your opponents second shots on offense. Because they performed at such an extreme, the path to success can't be clearer.
Bolded is absolutely true. But I think it is also part philosophy. Someone noted on the board that Colorado State had similar rebounding stats the previous year when Thorson was on staff there. I'm not a data scanner, but my eyes told me last year that a lot of teams were going the route of not crashing the offensive boards and getting back on defense without even trying to rebound. I think it makes sense, especially when you are short handed and the risk of getting fouls going after offensive boards is high.

I agree that size, depth, and talent will help the rebounding stats this year, but I would not expect a philosophy change in getting back on defense. The stats guys can verify, but I think there is advanced data saying that avoiding fouls and keeping the other team off the line is more important than most of us thought before. Preventing other teams from free throws and fast breaks is a great start to keeping points down.
 

Dakota2

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I think that the starting lineup by Big Ten season could include any of the following names in some mix:

Cooper, Carrington, Henley, Fox, Ihnen, Battle, Payne, Garcia

Only the bolded 3 are pretty much etched in stone at this point. Henley would be the biggest surprise, but I would argue that it is because he is most unknown also.
Fox and Ihnen are starters early going. They have college experience and maturity. Carrington would be first frosh to have a chance to crack the starting lineup depending on opponent and match ups. Payne will get expanding role off the bench. Nobody knows at this point what Henley brings. IMO, of course.
 

VolitileGopher

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Bolded is absolutely true. But I think it is also part philosophy. Someone noted on the board that Colorado State had similar rebounding stats the previous year when Thorson was on staff there. I'm not a data scanner, but my eyes told me last year that a lot of teams were going the route of not crashing the offensive boards and getting back on defense without even trying to rebound. I think it makes sense, especially when you are short handed and the risk of getting fouls going after offensive boards is high.

I agree that size, depth, and talent will help the rebounding stats this year, but I would not expect a philosophy change in getting back on defense. The stats guys can verify, but I think there is advanced data saying that avoiding fouls and keeping the other team off the line is more important than most of us thought before. Preventing other teams from free throws and fast breaks is a great start to keeping points down.
 

VolitileGopher

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Bolded is absolutely true. But I think it is also part philosophy. Someone noted on the board that Colorado State had similar rebounding stats the previous year when Thorson was on staff there. I'm not a data scanner, but my eyes told me last year that a lot of teams were going the route of not crashing the offensive boards and getting back on defense without even trying to rebound. I think it makes sense, especially when you are short handed and the risk of getting fouls going after offensive boards is high.

I agree that size, depth, and talent will help the rebounding stats this year, but I would not expect a philosophy change in getting back on defense. The stats guys can verify, but I think there is advanced data saying that avoiding fouls and keeping the other team off the line is more important than most of us thought before. Preventing other teams from free throws and fast breaks is a great start to keeping points down.
That tracks as well. Minnesota was #23 (out of 358) in terms of FTA/FGA percentage allowed on defense (i.e., don't foul, don't give up free opportunities to score). On the offensive end though, the Gophers ranked #337 (out of 358) in terms of FTA/FGA percentage. My thought would be that as your offensive length and talent improves, you could earn a few more FTA attempts on offense due to your weapons being a little quicker, stronger, and perish, the thought, playing with a lead late in games.

That said, your point is spot on about coaching philosophy. The theory and data driven approach behind the choices that our coaches made in 2021-22 stands in stark contrast to the prior regime (i.e., clear outs, pick 'n roll, talent show).
 






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