Minnesota lost to Northwestern at Williams Arena 77-52. Minnesota drops to 0-4 in conference play and 6-10 on the season. Northwestern is now 2-2 in Big 10 play and 14-3 on the season. Aaron Falzon led all scorers with 20 points.
I'll be upfront that I thought this was a pick 'em game. The line was Northwestern by 2. KenPom had Northwestern by 3 without including the loss of a key starter. Instead, Minnesota only scored above 50 because the Wildcats emptied their bench. I cannot say this is the worst loss of the season because the season is not over and the South Dakota game happened, but it is a loss that makes me question what exactly the Gophers do in practice.
What do I mean? Northwestern scored five times off a simple pick and roll from the the top of the key where no one bumped the roll man. The most basic help defense on the pick and roll was not executed five times, including twice in a row. Perhaps the Gophers were sticking with shooters? Doubtful. For the game, Northwestern was 11-25 from three and should have been above 50% with two favorable bounces.
Do they practice zone defense? If so, Minnesota has an interesting strategy of leaving slow footed players to cover multiple shooters on the left wing. At a certain point in the second half, this seemed to be the key feature of the Gophers' match up zone. For that matter, what is the utility of playing a defense designed to force a defense to take three point shots if that team is good at shooting? The zone did not stop Bryant McIntosh penetrating through the defense all game on his way to 11 assists.
Then again, if the defense is practicing against Minnesota's offense these are likely not going to be taught. The Gophers do none of what Northwestern did well. Minnesota on an offense is a performance art piece on the nature of inertia. They are so bad at shooting that Northwestern basically ignored open three point shooters in favor of clogging the paint.
And why not? Minnesota is a horrific shooting team. The Gophers finished 5-18 from deep, and less than 40% from the field in total. Their effective field goal percentage was under 50% for the tenth time this season. A fair number of looks are open every game, a consequence of defenses daring the Gophers to make a shot. When the Gophers are not taking bad shots, they are dribbling into multiple defenders as if on purpose.
All of this is on the head coach. Players missing shots once in awhile is acceptable. Players consistently missing shots indicates a failure of instruction, motivation, recruitment, or all of the above.
Richard Pitino decided to move Jordan Murphy, his best offensive threat, from the block to the corner where he was a non entity. Richard Pitino decided to base out of a zone defense against a hot shooting Northwestern. Richard Pitino decided to teach an offense that leads to a lot of standing around watching one player try and create.
Those decisions have led to the worst basketball team Minnesota has trotted out in my lifetime. I remain cautiously optimistic about the potential for a quick turnaround next year, but any turnaround will have to start with a full reevaluation of the coaching staff.