Williams Arena was rocking. The undefeated #1 Ohio State Buckeyes were in town to face the #20 Golden Gophers. An upset was possible. After all, this Buckeyes team had looked vulnerable in recent close wins. But, alas, the game wasn't close and the Buckeyes did more to demonstrate just how dominant they are in the Big Ten than the Gophers did to show that they're legitimate contenders for a top 8 seed come March.
The Buckeeyes were very good on Sunday afternoon, but Minnesota ought to look inward. The Gophers gave up an amazing 20 offensive rebounds. I know Jared Sullinger and Dallas Lauderdale are a lot to handle, but Trevor Mbakwe, Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III should never, ever let that happen. At least 4 of those rebounds, maybe more, came off OSU misses at the free throw line. The Gophers weren't boxing out.
If that wasn't bad enough, the Gophers were incredibly sloppy with the basketball. 19 turnovers. Some were because of a lack of poise. Others were just because of bad decisions. 20 offensive rebounds. 19 turnovers. Ohio State wins 82-69. For most of the second half, the game didn't feel that close.
The loss pulls the Gophers to 5-6 in conference play, having lost 3 straight. The schedule does lighten up from here, and considering we're playing without a point guard, I think we should be careful about throwing in the towel on this team. They didn't play well against OSU. They didn't play well at Indiana. But all is not lost. It just might have felt that way Sunday early afternoon.
One of the reasons it might feel like all is lost is the Gophers didn't seem to have much fight. The bigs didn't seem to have the pride to fight in the paint. No one hit a clutch shot when the Buckeyes let the door crack open. Blake Hoffarber led the Gophers with 16 points. He looked uncomfortable at times again playing point guard. Sampson added 14, mostly during an effective first half for the junior.
David Lighty, who to me is the best all-around player in the Big Ten, led all scorers with 19. Sullinger added 18-13. Mbakwe, who many thought could hold down or match Sullinger, was as big of a non-factor as he's been all season. Mbakwe didn't crash the offensive glass. He forced things offensively and finished with a pedestrian 8 points and 7 boards.
Aside from OSU's domination in the paint, the other thing that stood out was Minnesota's lack of playmakers in comparison to OSU. Where Minnesota will look to Chip Armelin or Austin Hollins, the Buckeyes have Lighty, William Buford or Deshaun Thomas. When Minnesota needs a guard off the bench, Tubby looks to Maverick Ahanmisi. When Thad Matta needs a guard to eat up 20-plus minutes, he goes to Aaron Craft, who continues to look fantastic. Simply put, the talent differential between the two teams right now is significant.
Some bullet points after the jump.
** Rodney Williams disappeared again. I don't see any chance how Williams will go pro after this year at this point. While he shows flashes that excite all of us, he's just not taking steps forward.
** Another player who shows occasional signs of progress is Ralph Sampson III. Even Dan Dakich on the telecast today noted that he has sretches where he's very good, followed by stretches where he stands around and watches. That was the case today, where he was active in the first half and lackadaisically in the second half. His unwillingness to be physical was also on full display, as Lauderdale or Sullinger could easily maneuver him in the paint. Does Sampson lift weights?
** Another point Dakich made that deserves some attention was his comment about Matta's focus on keeping Sullinger and Jon Diebler on the same side of the floor offensively. That forces defenses to guard both players at once, oftentimes picking between doubling Sullinger and leaving Diebler open or letting Sullinger have a one-on-one opportunity. In contrast, Minnesota has never done anything to pair Hoffarber with a post player to create a two-man game. I realize Sullinger is a far better low post scorer than Iverson, Sampson or Mbakwe, but can someone tell me why after 3 years with Tubby that Iverson and Sampson have a still limited low-post game? All Sampson will ever do is a jump hook.
** Armelin's minutes were solid today. I'd almost like to see him start. He's our only guard that can get his own shot. Armelin has his moments of sloppy play, but I'll take his energy more times than not. He had 14 points, 4 rebounds an 1 turnover in 23 minutes.
The ESPN crew was reporting that Saul Smith suggested Al Nolen could be back by the Big Ten Tournament. The Gophers could sure use him before that. Lets hope that Saul was giving the worst case scenario!