I am very fortunate. The opportunity to have this blog, to enjoy the daily conversations with the rest of the people on staff and the fun interactions with the community here are all things I’m thankful for. One of the benefits of having TDG and having the solid relationship we have the U allows me to attend live events. I was able to attend the Gophers loss to Middle Tennesse State and sat near mid-court just 2 rows up from the court.
These events and this kind of access isn’t common so I stuck around and watched the Purdue win and most of the Iowa State/Nevada game (I enjoyed watching Eric Musselman very much). As I left the arena I asked if I’d be allowed back in on Saturday. I was told I could get in, but I probably wouldn’t have a seat. Which didn’t matter to me, I’d find a spot and really thoroughly enjoyed the post-game press conferences.
Aside from hearing how impactful some of these coaches are in the lives of these young men. Particularly following an end to their careers. But as someone who once dreamed of a career in the coaching profession I soak up what all of these coaches are saying. And a few of the things said struck me as valuable thoughts from a Division head basketball coach to help us, Gopher fans, to better cope with the loss on Thursday. Not excuses, but I think some of these quotes are appropriate for what happened with the Gophers in round 1 of the NCAA Tournament.
The first quote comes from Matt Painter, following his team’s win over Vermont on Thursday.
“Sometimes you know you are playing hard and making shots and you play hard and you miss shots sometimes. Lots of people want to know what’s wrong. There’s nothing wrong. It’s a really good team out there. This could have went either way. Vermont is a really good basketball team. They made some tough shots. They made some tough plays. We obviously made a little bit more.”
Butler Coach Chris Holtmann said something similar when asked to identify one or two things that lead to his team’s win on Saturday.
“We made shots, for one. You know, things look differently when you make shots.”
As I sat there and heard him say this, I thought of the Gopher loss, particularly the 1st half where we went 2/12 from three. And most of those misses were wide open for Dupree McBrayer and Nate Mason (the Jordan Murphy three and Mason took a very deep one would be the lone exceptions). They just missed them. It happens, and it happened at the worst time. Look at the following game when MTSU’s Giddy Potts went 0-7 in the their second round game. Was that all Butler? Their defense deserves some credit, but sometimes you just miss shots.
There was also a lot of fan angst about how the Gophers did or did not properly attack the 1-3-1 of Middle Tennessee State. Personally, apart from the first couple possession, I felt we attacked it well. But even if things are properly prepared for, sometimes you just aren’t ready for it till you see it. This from Butler’s Andrew Chrabascz who talked about the tenaciousness of the Blue Raider 1-3-1.
“We’ve seen the 1-3-1, but nothing like that honestly. That’s way more extended than we were seeing. I know I was a little sloppy with it today, but once you get comfortable with it, you look over the top of it a little bit more. That’s when we were able to find opportunities in the corners especially and penetrate. But, yeah, it’s something very unique and definitely - you can practice it as much as you want, but once you see it in a game, it’s something completely different because they practice it over and over and over again. We were luckily able to adapt pretty quickly.”
And I think that played out for Minnesota as well. It was discombobulating at first, but it really didn’t cause many turnovers nor did it keep us from scoring in the second half. The first couple possessions we couldn’t get the ball moved. But eventually we were getting wide open shots. And in the second half, when Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch were on the floor, I believe we had 4 dunks inside because we adjusted the offense.
I’m not making excuses for the loss and I’m certainly not taking any quotes from Gopher players or Coach Pitino as excuses for their own loss. But basketball is a simple game sometimes played by incredibly athletic and competitive individuals. The difference between winning and losing is slim. The Gophers faced a good team, they were down a key player and they received sub-par performances from a couple key guys.
If poor shooting had been common throughout the season, then we have cause for concern. I think this team was well-prepared but they were just outplayed. It happens. It’s frustrating at this stage, but it happens and I don’t feel it is an indictment on the coaching staff, whom I’ve often been critical of, nor is this a problem with the direction of the program. After taking a day or two to reflect, it was a fantastically fun season that ended on a bad game to an aggressive opponent. MTSU put us on our heels and we couldn’t get the rhythm back. MTSU’s coach Kermit Davis, after their loss to Butler.
“It’s something that happens, you know, people who come to our games have seen it. It was not nerves at all. maybe a little frustration you know. Our team just didn’t play with the identity we played with most of the year.”
It happens and hopefully it left a bad taste in the mouths of the returning Gophers.