First a few positives:
- The inane chatter about the Gophers making the NCAA tournament will finally end. They weren’t going dancing anyway, and for sure they won’t now unless they win the rest of their games.
- There won’t be any more predetermined outcomes. Before tonight the Gophers won every game they were supposed to win, and lost every game they were supposed to lose. It is anyone’s guess how Minnesota will finish the season. Of course, they are probably more likely to lose games they are supposed to win, but at least it will be a surprise.
- It should be much easier to get a seat in Williams Arena, a close parking spot, and a place to rest your feet or coat.
- The Gophers scored more than 11 points in each half. Way to play Kentucky.
Other than that, this was embarrassing. Illinois won for the 18th straight time over the Gophers by a score of 84-60, Minnesota’s worst home loss since 1992 (this could be wrong, please correct me if it is). No Dan Monson team, regardless of how untalented or poorly coached, manage to play this badly in front of a home crowd.
Once again, it wasn’t just that the Gophers lost the game, but how they lost. Minnesota was nothing special in the first half, and they were able to string together a few runs to cut what had been an eleven point Illinois lead to four just before half time. But in what proved to be an omen for the second half, Illinois raced down to score just before the buzzer sounded, and the rout was on.
Minnesota’s offense wasn’t run well in the first half. The spacing was bad, the timing was worse, but somehow Minnesota still managed to shoot a 57% from the floor. In the second half, the shooting reflected how bad the offense looked. What was a 6 point half quickly ballooned to 20 half way through the second half, and that is as close as the Gophers got as they managed only 8 second half field goals on 20% shooting.
As bad as Minnesota’s offense was, their defense was worse. No one on the Gophers exhibited any sort of effort, which allowed Illinois to shoot 58% from the floor for the game (54% behind the line). Of course, open shots are by no means guaranteed points, and Illinois still had to put the ball through the basket, but Bruce Weber, who spent has a hard time staying off the court while the ball was in play, played better defense against his own team than the Gophers could.
Al Nolen, Damian Johnson, and Lawrence Westbrook didn’t look exceptionally bad, but the Gopher seniors did. On loose ball after loose ball Illinois eagerly dove the floor to gain possession or cause a jump ball. Spencer Tollackson reluctantly looked at loose balls and refused to risk a floor burn or a broken nail. He was repeatedly beaten badly down the court by some not exactly fleet footed interior players from the Illini, and showed that he is essentially worthless against any player with a shred of athleticism. The other seniors were severely hampered by foul trouble, and weren’t in the game long enough to have much impact.
I won’t pretend for a second that the officiating cost the Gophers the game. Their terrible offense and defense more than determined that. But the referees played a greater role in the game than official ever should. It was much more subtle than the officiating disaster that took place last night, but the constant fouls on the perimeter and no-calls on the interior disrupted the flow of the game and made a bad game ugly, and excruciatingly long.
With NCAA chances gone for good, Tubby Smith needs to make some a few decisions. Does he pack it in and give what will the core of next year’s team a chance to play? Does he play the seniors every second of every game and let them reap what they have sown? Does he even bother to try?
After the Wisconsin game it became obvious that the Gophers just weren’t that good, but I didn’t think they were this bad either.
Who did what:
- No Gopher scored more than 11 points or shot above 40% from the floor (Dan Coleman and his 2 shots attempts don’t count).
- Damian Johnson pulled down 10 rebounds, 7 on the offensive end, for what could be considered something of a bright spot.
- Al Nolen had 5 assists, but more than made up for it with 2-10 shooting.
- Minnesota’s seniors were a combined 6-15 from the floor for 18 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist and 4 turnovers.