Once upon a time, like a month ago, the Gophers were flying high. They had beaten a well-respected Louisville team on a neutral site. They had traversed a a non-conference slate unscathed. Then, after an expected hiccup against Michigan State, the Gophers rolled up four straight, including an inspiring come from behind win at Wisconsin.
Things were looking up. Then everything went south.
After that overtime win, the Gophers went to Northwestern and were run out of the gym in the second half when the team didn't adjust to the Wildcats' 1-3-1. The Gophers then returned home and lost their second straight against a Purdue team that had Robbie Hummel in the lineup. We'll excuse this loss.
Then the Gophers went to Indiana and squeaked by the worst Indiana team ever. It was a lackadasical performance. No fire. No intensity. The Gophers were lucky to grab the win. Riding that momentum, the Gophers took advantage of Illinois' worst offensive game of the year and absolutely stifled the Illini 59-36. Momentum regained, right?
The Gophers took so much momentum from that win that they went to East Lansing and were immediately down double-digits. At no time did a Gopher rally the troops. Rarely was Tubby Smith seen upset on the sidelines. Dejected maybe, but not upset. On the second game of that road swing, the Gophers played competitive with Ohio State, but were bitten by 17 turnovers (this was the only game this year, I missed, so I leave the editorializing to others).
Next came another uninspired performance against Indiana, this time without Devan Dumes. This time the Gophers had 17 turnovers and the game was in doubt until late in the second half. A 3-13 night from three point land didn't help. Again, little to no passion was evident.
And then we all know what happened Saturday. The Gophers played yet another turnover-happy game, this time in Happy Valley. And if it were not for a super-hot Devoe Joseph, the Gophers would have been run out of the gym.
So, after all that, does anyone notice a theme? Sloppiness and a lack of determination. Perhaps one begets the other.
I want to throw out a number of things that I think could be ailing the Gophers (any maybe a couple things that are just bothersome).
1) Tubby Smith has no patience: It's pretty clear that if you make one mistake, any mistake, Tubby will yank you out of the lineup. He claims to have a deep bench after all and he's going to use if if you mess up. But what does that do to a player's confidence. Devron Bostick complained at the beginning of the year that Smith was overbearing. Could his players be playing tight, constantly worried about upsetting coach?
2) No leader: Has anyone here seen any Minnesota player this year call in his teammates and get the group back on the same page? Has anyone seen a Minnesota player react with passion when things are going the wrong way? I know there is a fine line here, but not once have I seen players or coaches get upset. Simple question: Who is this team's leader? I don't have an answer.
3) Complacency: Could this team have started to believe its own headlines? Once Joe Lunardi had the Gophers has a 4 or 5 seed, perhaps the Gophers thought they could just show up, forgetting that it took one hell of an effort to beat Louisville or come back in Wisconsin.
4) Offensive woes: The Big Ten isn't pretty basketball. But the Gophers seem to be regressing on offense. When they run a set play, they seem to be fine. But there motion offense is stagnant. They pay only token attention to getting the ball inside. The guards can't create their own shots. Heck, nobody can create their own shots. Does this team have an offensive game plan? Does this team have a coach that consideres himself an offensive oriented coach? It sure seems that they have no plan at all on offense.
5) Rotation: We've been over this, but would this team benefit from a shorter rotation? Perhaps Nolen, Joseph, Westbrook, DJ, Carter, RSIII, Iverson and Hoffarber? Does the infrequent minutes work to stymie continuity?
6) Regression: At the beginning of the year, Colton Iverson looked like he was going to set the world on fire. And now? He's obviously regressing and losing confidence. Al Nolen hasn't really improved in many aspects of his game and seems more turnover prone. Lawrence Westbrook is still out of control too often. Blake Hoffarber's shot has went way south. In short, aside from RSIII, I can't think of one Gopher who has shown demonstrative improvement in one area. Why is this?
7) Pressing is for the non-conference slate only: Mysteriously, since the Big Ten season began, Tubby Smith has pulled his team back into a half-court defensive set. I understand that some Big Ten teams have very good guards that will beat a press. But let's look at the Wisconsin game. When did the tide turn? It was when the Gophers applied the full court press. Could it be that it was Minnesota's full-court pressure that ignited the team's energy? During the non-conference slate, Minnesota was typically the aggressor. Lately, the team is playing back on its heels, applying only token full-court pressure. Could that shift in defensive attitude have some role in the team's overall demeanor?
8) A return to the mean: Maybe the Gophers are just coming back to reality. They aren't a top-25 team but they aren't a conference cellar-dwellar either. But I don't necessarilly buy this. In fact, especially against Indiana, they've played more like a team that should be competiting with Iowa and Indiana for the 8th seed in the conference tournament.
9) Preparations: I know Northwestern plays an extended 1-3-1 zone. You know Northwestern plays a 1-3-1 zone. It looked like the Gophers didn't. How could they not spend two or three days in practice preparing to beat such a defense? Similarly, the Gophers had one week to prepare for a first-place game with Michigan State. Yet they seemed shell-shocked that Michigan State would crash the boards. It was as if they weren't beaten a few weeks earlier by MSU's well orchestrated run-outs after makes and misses. In both instances, I see a total lack of preparation.
10) Youth: Maybe this team is just young. It's a team with no senior who plays a meaningful role. Perhaps the team is struggling to adapt to a rough conference schedule.
I've been meaning to get this out. Forgive the stream of consciousness nature of the post, but something is wrong with this team. Hopefully the coaches and players realize the same thing and come out against Michigan this week and control the one thing they can. That is, they need to want it. It'd be nice if that was evident.