Minnesota lost to Michigan State at the Breslin Center 65-47. With the loss, Minnesota drops to 15-3 on the season and 3-2 in conference play. Both conferences losses have been to Michigan State. The Gophers could not hit a shot all night, and Michigan State cruised to the win on the strength of their first half output.
Now that the lede paragraph is out of the way, that sucked. Minnesota put up .72 points per possession, the worst mark in the Pitino era. The Gophers missed double digit shots around the basket. As a team, Minnesota had twice as many turnovers as assists. Beyond that, the Gophers were the victim of the unfriendliest rims I have ever seen. At least 13 points were taken off the board by balls that went halfway down before rimming out.
Pitino said that his team looked young for the first time all season, and there is some truth to that. I would add that the coaching staff looked young for the first time as well. Michigan State successfully kept the Gophers out of driving lanes that Minnesota feasted on in their previous match up. Pitino and his staff were not able to adjust to how the Spartans defended their main motion actions. Granted, the Gophers could not hit the broad side of a barn so there was some constraint on the coaches’ ability to change the game. Nevertheless, the Gophers went away from dribble penetration early to settle for horrible mid range jump shots.
Mid-range jumpshots are a killer for this team because they indicate two things. Either the team has taken a bad shot with about 24 seconds remaining on the shot clock or the team has taken a desperation shot late in the clock. Both of these are bad for different reasons. The former is bad because there is no reason to take a mid range shot that early in the clock. There will be another opportunity. Dupree McBrayer and Mason were both guilty of this during tonight’s game.
The latter is bad because the Gophers failed to get the Spartans out of their defensive rotations. Michigan State packed the paint and was very physical with Minnesota players trying to break free on screens. As a result, the Spartans put Minnesota out of rhythm and position throughout the first half when the game was still in doubt.
In the second half the Gophers calmed down enough on defense to stem the tide. They ended up holding the Spartans to an average offensive game from an efficiency standpoint because of second half defense. Some of that was due to Izzo resting key players and the inevitable letup of being up big at the end of the first half. All in all, this is a game that will provide very little from a film standpoint, but hopefully a lot for the team’s mental toughness.
Nate Mason finished strong but had another brutal offensive game. Thanks to a late spurt in the last three minutes he finished with 14 points on 6-15 shooting. It’s a little early in the season to believe that he’s tired, but the last two games have been concerning. Mason has played as many minutes as anyone in the country, and the lack of a backup PG that the staff trusts has meant that he might be being overplayed. Hopefully the last three minutes is a confidence booster heading into Penn State.
Reggie Lynch fouled out for the fourth time in five games. Two of the calls were interesting, but Lynch has a deserved reputation as a foul prone player. Given how important he is to the team, and that he is a redshirt junior, his fouling is unacceptable.
Eric Curry is still firing away from downtown, but the shot is still not falling. At a certain point, Pitino may need to take away the green light.
Minnesota next plays Penn State on Saturday. Very few people would have expected them to be 3-2 after five games. A win in Happy Valley would make the magic number 5 to get in the NCAA Tournament. The Gophers will be favored, and a strong performance will do much to alleviating concerns for the rest of the season.