I spent 10 minutes searching our image base for a tire fire picture. None of the options adequately described the second half of the Minnesota-St. John's game. Much of the second half was unwatchable to a disinterested party, not least because Dan Dakich was commenting. Minnesota is a much better team than their performance against St. John's.
It was a no good very bad night in New York for just about everyone. DeAndre Mathieu and Andre Hollins are very good basketball players who had terrible games. Joey King continued his shooting slump. Squirrel Morris kept taking inefficient shots instead of using his athleticism to get to the rim. Elliott Eliason regressed on the offensive end and lost his temper with the officiating at exactly the wrong time. (His technical was still absurd). Mo Walker was unable to make quick moves to the basket against Chris Obekpa.
Normally when a team loses every single factor, it is because they have been badly outclassed. Last night the Gophers played badly and still lead by 9 at the half. Then the second half happened. The numbers show that the Gophers could not make a shot, turned the ball over a little more than one out of every five possessions, and rarely made it to the foul line.
Richard Pitino may not have wanted to take anything from St. John's, but I do. I don't think that St. John's is a poor team. They could make the NCAA Tournament, but yesterday St. John's was decidedly unimpressive. They put on the worst free throw shooting performance I've seen in the last year from a Gopher opponent. The team was so allergic to 3-point shots that they might as well have been coached by Byron Scott. This loss has the potential to keep Minnesota out of the NCAA Tournament. The margin of error is that thin this year.
Look at the back half of that score distribution. Marvel at how flat that gold line becomes.
And oh the bad shots. Over and over Minnesota proved that actual attempts to run an offensive set would be successful against St. John's defense. Then, once that was established, the Gophers decided to hijack their own possessions with hurried inefficient shots. It was particularly disappointing that many of the bad plays came from players who are simply better than that. Dre Hollins did not magically become a player Boise State wouldn't bring off the bench. DeAndre Mathieu has not forgotten how to play point guard. Pitino may have made the wrong choice to not play Nate Mason more in the second half, but he's right that if the team cannot rely on their senior leadership Minnesota is not achieving anything this year.
Minnesota had 17 transition shots and 60% of those were two point jump shots. On back to back transition possessions, Carlos Morris did not make the correct pass and the Gophers came away with no points. Andre Hollins had five transition attempts and missed all of them. In a vacuum, that's a bad night. Hollins is too good of a shooter and Morris, despite being a chucker, is a D1 quality basketball player.
Even in the half court, Minnesota settled for far too many two point jumpers. Some of that was scheme dependent because St. John's was letting the Gophers have free reign in that area, but there's a reason for that. Long 2s are almost always bad shots if your name is not Dirk Nowitzki or LaMarcus Aldridge. Minnesota proved that by shooting less than 30% on non-transition two point jumpers.
As much as this post is a downer, I'm willing to write it off as one of those games. The team hit every bad break. In an alternate universe with better shot selection, some shot luck on 3s, and a reduction of unforced errors, and the Gophers win this game by 8.
What is important is the next game on Friday. I have no doubts that the Gophers were affected by Daquein McNeil's arrest for alleged domestic assault, and that internally the team is fighting through a lot of adversity. We should see what kind of character the team has against Georgia, and I believe that Minnesota is a mentally tough team. Even if they lose on Friday there is still plenty of time to correct errors before the Big Ten season.