I was forced to be away from the interwebz and the blog yesterday afternoon (and it was probably a good thing). But I was thinking about Gopher hoops and the current funk they are in. The team is on a modest 3-game losing streak, two of which are to excellent teams with the other being a rotten egg that was laid on the road against an inferior team. Everything is being over-examined and amplified right now, but people are forgetting that this is still a pretty good basketball team.
The problem, as we sit today, is that this team has been beaten down from a number of places. There has been a lot of talk lately of what is wrong with this team. They are turnover prone, they can't solve the 1-3-1, they are playing lethargic, their coach is pointing fingers at his players for pointing fingers and on Thursday night at Northwestern they kind of stunk up the gym.
But this is what we need to get away from. This team is talented, this team has beat some good teams and for most of the season they have played really well. What this team needs is to focus on what they do well. There was a time that we defended really well, we rebounded offensively at a record-setting rate and offensively we were pretty efficient. Get back to what we do well. For a little bit, ignore what needs to be fixed and get back to what you do well.
I've seen this before with teams I have been on or coached. This team needs to remember that this game can be fun. They have been hearing the same messages over and over all year and in recent weeks they have been hearing over and over again what they need to fix. Too much focus on the negative means you forget what you were good at in the first place.
Take a break from focusing on turnovers. Take a break from worrying about boxing out defensively. This is counter-intuitive for a coach (and it hurts my fingers to type it) and I'm certain that Tubby did not spend the last two days trying to create a more positive and fun atmosphere around the team. When we get playing with some confidence again, then we can get back to cleaning up mistakes, but for now... HAVE SOME FUN.
On Saturday we go back on the road, against a rival at a place where we traditionally don't play very well. Turnovers are still an issue, scoring is going to be difficult, free throws are going to be critical and this is a recipe for more tightness. This is a situation ripe for playing fearful.
I will reiterate, this is a really good team. Were this team playing with confidence I could see them not just beating Wisconsin but beating them going away. Pressure them defensively and set a fast-paced tempo where we push the ball for baskets and generate some Badger turnovers. Get some steals for points (dunks) and have some fun silencing the Kohl Center crowd. Do to Wisconsin what Michigan did to us to start the 2nd half.
This is not me being overly optimistic while burying my head in the sand saying "we are going to be OK, we are going to be OK, we are going to be OK." If they don't break out of this funk and continue to get beat down, they won't be OK and this will be one of most frustrating teams in a long time. But they are capable of breaking out. Play some basketball, have some fun and beat the Badgers on their floor.
A year ago, this Gopher team was struggling and was actually a mediocre team. Eventually they got into the NIT and started playing some inspired basketball, they were having fun and stormed their way to the title game. Right now we are a much more talented team that is in a funk, we need to find that passion again and start having some fun again. It starts with going back to what we do well. Stop playing afraid to make mistakes and go out and have some fun.