If a picture is worth a thousand words, from a Gopher fans perspective, all the words to describe Sunday’s embarrassing home loss would be negative. On a weekend that will go down in history in ways large and small because teams and individuals, against all odds, took it to their supposedly superior opponents, the Minnesota Gophers were not only beaten badly by their arch rivals, but in the process they appeared to not even care if they won. Along with the 15,000 or so fans in attendance, after the opening tip, they wanted the game to end as soon as possible. And to add injury to a thoroughly insulting performance by the Gophers, Minnesota is now the only Big Ten team besides Northwestern without any win that can be described as remotely meaningful.
It isn’t so much that the Gophers lost. I along with everyone else with critical thinking skills predicted Wisconsin would win. The real issue is how they lost. Close games that are within one or two possessions in the final minutes of the game can quickly balloon into 16 point margins in garbage time due to free throw shooting and desperate three point attempts. But on Sunday, Minnesota wasn’t within 3 possessions at any point during the last 33 minutes of the game.
It was disgraceful.
Last Thursday against Michigan it appeared the Gophers had turned some sort of mental and emotional corner. They came out aggressive and took control of a game on the road and won relatively easily. In that game Tubby Smith played the starters almost exclusively. He claimed it was because they were playing so well, but in Minnesota’s other wins, he used almost the entire roster. The real reason for the shortened bench was more likely because he finally came to the conclusion that there are only 4 or 5 players for the Gophers who are at this point ready to play extended minutes in the Big Ten.
To add a few more words to the thousand already describing the above picture: Spencer Tollackson is 6’9″ while Michael Flowers is 6’2″ on a good day. Who head is higher and who has the ball?
Tubby Smith undoubtedly wanted to play his starters again for most of the game, but they didn’t leave him much choice. Other than Damian Johnson, the Gopher starters looked like would rather be watching a Super Bowl pre-game show. Lawrence McKenzie gets a bit of a pass because is injured hand was noticeably bothering him, but Spencer Tollackson and Dan Coleman owe their teammates and every one else that wasted time or money watching the game an apology. While celebrating their big win, several New York Giant offensive lineman displayed a larger more vertical leap and more athleticism than Spencer Tollackson did at any point Sunday. The supposed senior leader was utterly useless as he manged 6 points (on 2-7 shooting) and 1 rebound. He was benched for most the second half, and deservedly so. Dan Coleman look less motivated than Randy Moss on one of the days when he does not want to play. It may have been his most tentative game in a career that will long be known for his unwillingness to be a leader or anything resembling assertive.
The Gopher seniors may have in fact led by example, because the rest of the team, with a few exceptions, didn’t come to play either. Al Nolen turned the ball over repeatedly. Lawrence Westbrook refused to shoot when he was open. Jonathan Williams forgot how to screen. Travis Busch did little more than foul early and often. Neither Blake Hoffarber or Jamal Abu-Shamala have learned how to create their own offense.
In his post game radio show Tubby Smith promised drastic changes. Hopefully this time he means he will be changing more than the warm-up routine. If he does, Sunday will not be a total loss. Neither of the Gopher centers is talented or athletic enough to play a legitimate role on a Big Ten team. Some might argue that in a conference noted for its bruising style of play, a wide body is a necessity. That might be true, but not when your wide bodies do more to hurt than help the team. Rather than wasting a spot on the court, and effectively played 4 on 5 on both ends of the court, the Gophers should go small and bench their under achieving big men.
Tubby should start Dan Coleman and Damian Johnson in the front court and Al Nolen, Lawrence Westbrook, and Lawrence McKenzie, and press every chance he gets. Playing traditional Big Ten basketball isn’t working, so why not go small and see what happens. What about rebounding you ask? Al Nolen had one fewer rebounds on Sunday than the entire Gopher starting line up. The Gophers might get fewer rebounds, but it isn’t like they can rebound with a big line up in the game.
For whatever reason, the Gopher seniors appear to have given up. If they can’t get excited about beating their arch-rival in front of a ready to explode audience, then what can they get excited for. They have at least 11 games left, and all but two or three should be winnable. Lawrence McKenzie, Dan Coleman, and Spencer Tollackson need to do a bit of soul searching, and decide whether they want to be leaders, display some pride, and play with a level of expert that will make the state they represent proud. If not, they should do the right thing, bench themselves, and let the players who care have their playing time.
Its not whether you win or lose, its how you play the game
An abbreviated “Who did what?”
- Damian Johnson recorded a career high 5 blocks. He was also much more willing to attack the basket, and consequently most of his baskets were the result of his own abilities and not the put back/garbage variety that he has so successfully capitalized on. Johnson finished with 10 points and 3 rebounds to go along with his blocks.
- Al Nolen turned the ball over 6 times, but his willingness to throw his body into the much bigger Badgers was admirable. He finished with 3 points and 9 rebounds.
- Kevin Payton’s role on the team clarified itself on Sunday. Yes, he is tentative, out of control, and usually produces an audible groan whenever he enters the game, but regardless of the score, he was excited, encouraging his teammates, and believed the Gophers had a chance to win even when they were down by 20. Anyone who suggests he should be forced to transfer or have his scholarship taken away really should have their Gopher fan-hood revoked. Every team needs a glue guy, regardless of whether he makes his contribution on the floor or on the bench.
- On suits and sneakers day, instead of breaking out one of his many expensive suits, Ryan Saunders chose to go casual. Talk about not taking a rivalry game seriously…