The Gopher basketball team has one game remaining in their brutally challenging 9-game stretch. Since they are getting a week off before the host Michigan, this seemed like a good time to take a quick pause and asses what is really the narrative of this 2020-21 Gopher hoops team.
On the one hand they seem to be meandering on offense much of the time, average defensively and have had their asses kicked in all three games they have played on the road. Perhaps you could conclude they were competitive at Iowa, but ultimately they lost by 15, which was the closest of any of their road contests.
On the other hand this team has beat at top 5 Iowa team, are undefeated at home, been ranked for 3 consecutive weeks and are currently projected to be a 5 or 6-seed in the Tournament.
So why is there so much angst and conflicting opinions on this current season? Are you seeing the glass as half-full or half-empty? As usual the answer lies somewhere in the middle, but people hold strong opinions based on what they have previously held.
Much of the 2020-21 frustration is really a carry over from the previous season. Having gone through a pretty massive roster turnover heading into the 2019-20 season, that was rather disappointing, and then having another round of transfers and new faces in the lineup for this season.
Collectively, over 7+ seasons under Pitino, the Gophers have never really turned a corner. A career Big Ten winning percentage of 0.369 (not including this year) and only 2 NCAA Tournament appearances in 7 years. While neither mark is dramatically lower than the program average, but also neither one really inspires the casual or passionate fan. At some point there has to be more. Right? Please?
Someone who falls into the half-empty category will look at some of the most disappointing seasons and pair those memories with the three road ass kickings. That’s great that we beat Iowa at home. But Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa all beat the crap out of us on the road. Further cementing the notion that this program is going nowhere and this season in particular is just another season that is somewhere within earshot of the NCAA Tournament bubble.
This year, feels like much of the same. BUT, is that true? is this team better than we are giving them credit for? The glass-half-full fan, may see this team differently.
Back to the notion of hoping for more...is this a Final Four caliber team? No. Not remotely. Is this team going to compete for a Big Ten title in 2021? Nope. But. BUT, this team is actually coming together nicely and capable of having a nice season?
It partially depends on your expectations and definition of success. Would a 5 seed or higher constitute a season that met or exceed expectations? Would making it to the second weekend of the tournament be a success? (the answer to both of those is yes).
So the Gophers currently are sitting with a 3-4 record in the Big Ten. Which may not sound like much. But keep in mind what their first 7 games have looked like. Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa x2, Ohio State and Michigan State. That is 7 consecutive conference games against ranked teams. The one non-conference game thrown in there was St. Louis, a likely tourney team. When they play Michigan on Saturday it will be 7 consecutive games against ranked teams. That has never happened in program history. The previous record was 4.
This 9-game stretch is quite possibly the most difficult 9-game stretch in program history. And at worst, they will finish 4-5. A couple months ago, I would have been thrilled to come out of this with 3 wins. Currently at 4 with tomorrow’s shot at a 5th win is remarkable.
This also means that the rest of the schedule is much lighter. After 5 games in this stretch against top-10 KenPom teams, we have 1 left all season.
Of course how they finish the season matters. The likes of Purdue, Indiana, Rutgers, etc are no puchovers.
But this team is currently in the midst of an incredibly brutal stretch and they have acquitted themselves nicely. Maybe this current Gopher squad deserves our attention as they push to remain well above the bubble fray.
I’ve bene skeptical of this year’s team, but maybe they are only getting better and maybe (just maybe) this is a good team.
I’m coming around to this season being half-full.