Minnesota lost to Northwestern 67-59 at Williams Arena in a game that more or less eliminates them from NCAA Tournament contention. The Gophers dropped to 13-11 on the season and 6-11 in conference play.
Today’s loss was a done in a metaphor for the whole season. The Gophers jumped out to a 17-3 lead in the first half. At one point, Northwestern had a 4:1 turnover to point ratio. Minnesota followed that by scoring just two points in the next seven minutes to allow Northwestern back into the game. What should have been an easy kill shot night turned into a six point lead at the half. The Gophers opened the second half by not scoring for the first six minutes, letting Northwestern take the lead. While Minnesota was able to go on a brief scoring run, the Wildcats managed to take the lead for good at the under five mark.
Why did Northwestern win this game? Because Minnesota cannot shoot. The Gophers are the worst shooting team I have seen in my lifetime. Before a flurry at the end of the game, Minnesota was 5% from three-point distance.
Oh but two of their best players were out and they only had nine scholarship athletes on the roster.
The Gophers finished 4-27 from distance, a new record for futility this season, and 23-62 from the field. That is not injuries. That is just a complete inability to do the basic objective of basketball.
There were two games left in the regular season that Minnesota could not afford to lose. Tonight and the make-up game against Nebraska. The Quad 1 wins early in the season would still carry weight as long as the Gophers had no bad losses. Minnesota now has a bad loss. With three games left, I do not realistically see a path that gets them into the tournament.
At the beginning of the season, the roster was an NCAA Tournament team on paper. Through the absolute gauntlet of the schedule, they came out with wins against multiple potential number 1 seeds in the tournament. The Gophers were a Top 20 team and on their way to a 5 seed or better in the NCAA Tournament. Yet here they are, needing to do the inconceivable (win the BTT) to make it into the tournament.
In normal times, the Gophers would have a new coach next season. They might anyway regardless.
Over half of Minnesota’s three point attempts before the last two minutes were wide open. Like make a campfire, roast marshmallows, make s’mores, eat the s’mores, then shoot wide open. The offensive game plan did what it was supposed to do, but none of that matters if a Big Ten basketball team is shooting 5% from distance and cannot make a wide open jump shot.
Northwestern is terrible. There is no moral victory here from keeping it close against a good team. There is no “well they are a potential one seed in the tournament” here. There is no chance this is even a tournament team. Minnesota should beat Northwestern in a must win scenario. If the Gophers cannot do that, then in a normal year there should be full scale change.