Minnesota lost to Nebraska 78-68 tonight in Lincoln. With the loss, the Gophers are 1-1 in the early non-conference* conference play. Minnesota played poorly on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. Nate Mason led all Minnesota scorers with 20 points.
First a bit of credit to the opposing squad. Nebraska had a good gameplan to defend against Minnesota inside. Minnesota shot just 30% on two point attempts. Jordan Murphy, plagued by early foul trouble, was a non factor for most of the game. Reggie Lynch was rarely involved in the offense. The Gophers had nine assists and 13 turnovers. They were frequently content to play isolation ball and throw up bad shots.
Down by eight at the half, Minnesota did nothing in the first five minutes of the second half and allowed Nebraska to extend their lead to double digits. The Gophers eventually made a late run to cut the game to eight points, but were unable to get it any closer. Much of that was due to their own defensive effort. The Gophers were late on rotations, closeouts, and positioning. Nebraska was able to get into the lane nearly at will for much of the first and second half. It is an open question in my mind why Pitino did not decide to go to a zone defense earlier, especially with the foul trouble the Gophers found themselves in.
Nate Mason had 20 points, four rebounds, and just three assists. Assists are a bit of a tricky statistic sometime because they rely on the recipient of the pass making a shot, which the Gophers had difficulty with. Nonetheless, Mason needs to have more assists for the Gophers to win no matter who their opponent might be.
Amir Coffey finished the night with 17 points, five rebounds, and a technical foul. Coffey was noticeably frustrated by the Cornhuskers’ physicality, a point that I will return to in a bit. One positive from this game was that the Gophers did a better job in the second half running action to get Coffey the ball driving north/south with his dominant hand.
Despite sitting for 12 minutes of the first half, seeing immediate double teams all night, inexplicably having trouble handling rebounds, and seeming a bit out of sorts, Jordan Murphy still finished with a double double. That is his 10th double double on the season and makes him the first Big Ten player since Reggie Evans to accomplish that feat. Certainly this was Murphy’s worst game of the year, but he’s still having a special season.
The bench once again finished with five points, all from Isaiah Washington. Davonte Fitzgerald attempted three shots and missed every one of them. Tonight was a bad night in general from the Gophers, but at this point I’m going to write some text that I will likely self plagiarize the rest of the year. Minnesota’s bench provided no offensive help whatsoever.
I’m not a big believer in body language, momentum, or much in the way of intangibles, but the Gophers definitely looked somewhat lethargic tonight. Dupree McBrayer is still recovering from recently losing 19 pounds and needing IVs, so he gets a pass. The rest of the team not so much. Minnesota did not exhibit much energy until about 32 minutes had passes. Granted, if the shots fell that’s not an observation we would make. Your mileage may vary on how much you want to put into that.
Minnesota’s next game against Arkansas will be an important test. The Gophers dropped a winnable game tonight, and most of the road games during the real conference season will be harder. For a team with aspirations of high seeds in the NCAA tournament, winning after losing a tough road game is essential. Minnesota will once again be the favored team on paper.
Now that I have written over six hundred words about all the reasons that Minnesota lost on their own, let me take a bit of time to talk about the men wearing stripes. The first half was an utter abomination of officiating. Reggie Lynch picking up his second foul because the officials made an incorrect out of bounds call. Jordan Murphy was 1-7 to start the game in large part because he was consistently hit while attempting shots. If the blueprint to defend Minnesota relies in large part on officials swallowing their whistles, that’s not a defensive gameplan I’m terribly worried about.
To end on a game note, Pitino should experiment more with a zone defense. Minnesota has struggled to defend high pick and rolls in two of their last three games. Against teams that are not deadly from outside, moving to a zone would be advisable. If nothing else, the zone would give the opponent a different look.
*non-conference because I refuse to accept the ludicrousness of playing two conference games in early December.