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Deandre Mathieu: Transfer Turned Difference Maker

The compact junior college transfer may hold the key to NCAA Tournament hopes for the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

While most pre-season prognosticators were of the opinion that the Gophers would struggle in the challenging B1G and be battling for a NIT bid, I saw Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins as keys to a very plausbile NCAA tournament bid. However, halfway through the season, a new candidate has emerged as Minnesota's most important link to a possible invitation to the Big Dance and he stands all of five feet nine inches tall. Deandre Mathieu, a Tennessee native just like both partners from the law firm of Hollins and Hollins, may now be the go-to litmus test to differentiate between a win or loss for the Golden Gophers.

Though the team will rely heavily on the Andre and Austin Hollins to provide ample scoring, the transfer junior college transfer via Morehead State has been the true indicator of a Gophers win or a Gophers loss. The diminutive and stealthy Mathieu has been essential in getting to the rim on a squad that lacks athletes outside the Hollins', providing a reliable ball handler to allow the Hollins' to work off the ball, and contributing to the hectic defensive press that coach Richard Pitino has implemented in the Twin Cities.

While the sample size may be relatively small compared to a career's worth of data, we can examine games against Minnesota's "toughest" opponents so far this year to fully grasp the importance of Mathieu's performance. For the sake of casually identifying average to good competition and getting a decent sample size, we will look at numbers from Gopher matchups against the top 120 from KenPom's rating system as of 1/9/2014 for a grand total of eight games thus far this season (KenPom ranking in parenthesis). This comes to five wins and three losses. The following chart separates the two to emphasize how closely success for Deandre and Minnesota are linked.

Wins Losses
Points A/T Ratio FG% Opponent Points A/T Ratio FG%
Richmond (85) 4 0.333 Syracuse (5) 7 0.400
Florida State (36) 7 0.250 Arkansas (53) 11 0.556
NE-Omaha (117) 27 0.818 Michigan (20) 9 0.300
Purdue (89) 11 1.000
Penn State (95) 16 0.455
Averages 13.00 2.67 0.55 9.00 1.40 0.42

The chart illustrates that the statistics back up what the casual B1G basketball fan might observe when watching the Gophers play a competitive team. While his assist average is slightly less in wins, look at the huge difference in assist-to-turnover ratio. Mathieu also averages 4 more points per game while shooting at a much higher clip (increase of 13.3%). When Deandre limits turnovers and shoots efficiently, the statistics state that Minnesota wins.

But not only is Mathieu contributing at a high level when the Gophers win, he is on the B1G leader board in several important categories for a defensively-minded point guard. He currently sits at 3rd in steals, 4th in steal percentage, and 4th in steals per game, 3rd in assists and 4th in assists per game, and a surprising 9th free throw shooting percentage.

While it is safe to conclude that respectable performances from both of the Hollins' are essential to Minnesota garnering wins in the stacked B1G this year, Mathieu's ability to consistently deliver above-average play from the point guard position will likely dictate if the Gophers are a NCAA Tournament participant or an NIT also-ran.