Is This the Emergence of Minnesota's Blake Hoffarber?

Kevin LindseyAnalyst IDecember 21, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - MARCH 13:  Blake Hoffarber #24 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers brings the ball up court against the Northwestern Wildcats during the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 13, 2008 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Something amazing happened once the Golden Gophers came back home in December.  The team known for defense became a juggernaut on offense.

In their last four games, Minnesota has scored more than 90 points against Brown, Morgan State, and Saint Joseph’s and 89 points against Northern Illinois.

If the Gophers were coached by Paul Westhead, the offensive numbers wouldn’t be surprising.  However, they are coached by the defensive-minded Tubby Smith.

One 90 point game in a season for a Smith-coached team in a season is noteworthy.  Twice almost never happens.

In the last 10 years, the only Tubby Smith team to score 90 points more than once in a season was his 2003-2004 Kentucky Wildcats squad that went 27-4.

What explains the offensive explosion?  While the competition the Gophers faced is part of the explanation, the lack of top flight competition does not completely explain what has happened with the Gophers.

The reason the Gophers are putting up big numbers on the offensive end is that they are being more active and aggressive moving the ball.   When the Gophers struggled to score this year, the problem was attributable to lack of movement away from the ball and poor rotation to the open man.

After getting some home cooking, the Gophers are now moving without the ball and are now quickly finding the open man with the ball.

The biggest beneficiary of the improved ball rotation has been Blake Hoffarber.

Most college fans know Hoffarber as the junior in high school who won the 2005 ESPY award for best play of the year. 

Hoffarber won his ESPY award for making a three point shot while laying on his backside as time expired to send the 4A High School Basketball Championship in Minnesota into double overtime, which his team went on to subsequently win.

Hoffarber came to the Gopher program with a reputation of being a long range sharpshooter.  Many fans expected that Hoffarber would easily average double figures shooting from the perimeter reminiscent of former Gopher Sam Jacobson.

As a freshman, Hoffarber shot very well shooting .436 from the field, .427 on three-pointers and .758 from the free throw line on his way to averaging 8.4 points a game.  

Gopher fans expected Hoffarber to improve upon his first year numbers in his second season at Minnesota.  Unfortunately, Blake often struggled to find his shot.

As a sophomore, Hoffarber saw each of his shooting percentages drop—.413 from the field, .341 on three pointers and .724 from the free throw line resulting in him averaging 6.4 points a game.  

This season started slowly for Hoffarber.  At the end of November, Blake was averaging less than five points a game.  Against Portland and Texas A & M in the Anaheim Classic, Hoffarber was held scoreless despite seeing 17 and 24 minutes respectively.

The month of December has been a different story.  Against Miami in the Big Ten/ACC challenge, Hoffarber had a solid outing scoring nine.

In the last four games, Hoffarber has elevated his game.  Blake may have played his best four consecutive games as a Gopher.

Hoffarber has lead the Gophers in scoring in the last four games, and on December 5 against Brown, Blake even led the team in rebounding with 10 boards.

Hoffarber has done his damage primarily from downtown.  In the last game for the Gophers, Hoffarber hit a school record eight three-pointers on 10 attempts against Northern Illinois.

The game against the Huskies was not a fluke.  Against St. Joseph earlier in the week, Hoffarber poured in 20 points shooting 5-for-9from three-point land.   Hoffarber is shooting 21-35 from behind the arc in December for a shooting percentage of 60 percent.

Blake, for his efforts against Northern Illinois and Saint Josephs, was named Big Ten Player of the Week.  The last Gopher to be so honored was Dan Coleman on December 24, 2007.

The Gophers are being more aggressive on the offensive end; they are moving without the ball and their ball rotation has improved.  Hoffarber has seen more open looks, and he has been taking advantage of the opportunities.

Could Hoffarber be emerging as the reliable deep threat for Minnesota?  Hoffarber is now averaging more than 10 points a game and Minnesota fans are hoping that this upward trend is just the beginning of good things to come for Blake.

If Hoffarber can continue to provide consistent shooting from behind the arc, the Gophers may become as well known for their offensive prowess as they are known for their defensive intensity.