Short Nugz today. By the time you read this, I'll be on the road to the Cities. I hope everyone has a great first day of the Big Dance and that you don't find yourself being too unproductive.
- THE WORD OF THE DAY IS ENERGY. Amelia takes a look at the problems that have been plaguing the Gophers and what they've been doing in practice to fix it.
Minnesota, for all of its talent and potential, has had a real problem in the past couple of weeks: energy. It’s showed in the players’ demeanor at the start of games. It’s showed in the midst of those contests, when a visibly frustrated Tubby Smith has coached from the bench, head in cupped hand.
And mostly, it has showed up on scoreboards and in boxscores, with the Gophers losing to Nebraska and Purdue to end the regular season and then getting bounced out of the Big Ten tournament in the first round by Illinois after a sluggish first half.
So heading into the NCAA tournament — the Gophers open against UCLA in the South Regional on Friday — Minnesota is desperately searching for a renewed intensity; a renaissance to make the most of this new life.
Seriously though, there are some details in the story that are understandable but concerning:
"Coach has been back to his old self, yelling and everything, and I think that’s needed," said Mbakwe, a sixth-year senior. "It’s a whole new season. He knows what it takes to win games, and we have to pick up our level of intensity and play with more urgency."
It’s been a long season for the players and their coach. Minnesota came in with high expectations and climbed to No. 8 in the nation in early January, then crashed in the final month and a half of play, losing 11 of its last 16 games.
That kind of defeating stretch can wear on everyone.
"No question," Smith said. "It’s not easy, especially with the disappointment of not playing as well or reaching your potential. It just takes a lot of energy out of you, as a coach, as a player, anyone. It’s much easier and you’re much more excited and you’re much more anxious to get to work and do things when you’re winning and when things are going well than when you’re not. But ... we’ve got this second opportunity to play in postseason play. ... I’ve been energized, and hopefully they sense it and they’ll pick up their intensity as well."
Sigh...I'm glad their admitting the problem that we could all see on the court, but it doesn't make it less frustrating as a fan. I do understand what their going through. My freshman year we had a pretty talented team that underachieved and didn't live up to expectations. And towards the end of the year some of the guys were checking out and our coach (normally a bundle of energy) was clearly worn down. Sometimes that's just how it goes. That's little anecdote is not meant to excuse it all. I'm just saying I get it. That said, someone, ANYONE, has to take the lead and make sure that these good words turn into good deeds on Friday. I'm hoping it's Trevor Mbakwe, because if he comes out flying that bodes well for the Gophers given UCLA's weakness inside.
- It's no surprise then that the biggest enemy the Gophers need to overcome is themselves.
- Amelia also has a bundle of notes. On the top of the list? The team's problems with fouling and how Tubby handles them:
But the third deserves a lot of attention as well, especially with Trevor Mbakwe missing all but 12 minutes of the last two first halves for Minnesota combined after the sixth-year senior picked up two early fouls in each game (at Purdue at against Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten tournament).
After the Gophers were eliminated in the conference tournament, Mbakwe expressed frustration at himself for getting into quick foul trouble once again, and hurting his team.
Smith, afterwards, second-guessed his decision to sit Mbakwe for the rest of the first half while the Gophers were reeling, but on Tuesday, he defended his coaching move, saying that based on history, his hands were tied.
"Two fouls -- there’s nothing I can do about that, and Trevor can’t play with three," Smith said. "He’s proven that. Once he gets his first or second foul, he’s winding down defensively. And that’s a real problem for us, because now an opposing team just throws it inside on him and he’s just going to back off."
The solution, the coach said, is for Mbakwe to be more aggressive earlier in the possession, rather than be forced to foul a guy who is going at the basket.
- Wondering what channel TruTV is for you? The STrib has you covered (well, if you live in MN or have one of the satellite providers):
• Comcast (in Minneapolis): Ch. 51 or 848 (HD)
• Comcast (in St. Paul): Ch. 27, 29 or 848 (HD)
• DirecTV: Ch. 246 (standard or HD)
• Dish Network: Ch. 204 or 242 (standard or HD)
• If you have a different cable system, go to www.trutv.com and enter your Zip code in the channel finder.
- Rachel Blount has a good piece on the end of the WCHA. It's full of reflections from people sad to see the conference go.
- The players know what a big deal this last Final Five is. C'mon boys, time to finish step two of the treble.
- Kyle Rau and the art of the game winning goal.
- Logan Storley is looking to rebound from a disappointing B1G tournament performance.
- Dylan Ness is healthy and looking to boost the Gophers in the NCAA tournament.
- ESPN1500 has a new intern...
- I'm loving this new trend of dubbing Jim Ross over big sports moments: