I’ll spare you the gory details of what has become a disturbing trend; Minnesota’s inability to close the door on a winnable game. I could throw statistic after statistic at you, try to determine the exact moment that things began to slip away, and bemoan what has become of a team that just last week seemed to be on the verge of making a major leap up the rankings, but I don’t want to write that and you don’t want to read it. I also don’t want to bore you with a preview of what should be a 40 point win on Saturday, so I’m going to skip that as well. What matters now is where we go from here.
I’m a Gopher fan not because I want my team to win. I’m a born and bred Minnesotan and I know better than that. I’m a Gopher fan because I like to see the player learn, grow, and work hard. It hasn’t been easy being a Gopher fan this week. Not because they aren’t working hard. They have been, and with their shooting lately, they wouldn’t have been in any of their games by being lazy. Right now the lack of growth is the fun-killer, but not surprising either.
Growth happens in good competitive practices, and there is no way the Gophers have had productive practices lately. They have practiced at odd hours, as early as 6:30 in the morning and as late as 9:30 at night, and that is when they even have time to practice. Last weekend the Gophers played on the West Coast. Last night they played on the East Coast. They have traveled more than 5,600 and three time zones in the last week. With so many games and so much travel, they haven’t had much of a chance to improve. And improve they must.
The Gophers will have to play better to make the NCAA tournament and salvage this season, and their level of improvement will determine if this season is known as the road to redemption or the road to ruin. With their recent losses they will have to finish the Big Ten season at least 10-8 to make be on the right side of the bubble, and that is how it should be. There is no shame into backing in to the Big Dance. It definitely beats the NIT. However, few would have argued if the Gophers did not make the tournament last season with their 9-9 Big Ten records. They were equally deserving of the invitation and staying home, and it just worked out their way. This year, backing in will not be an option.
The good news is the Gophers can still play their way in, get Tubby another 20 win season, and quickly make us forget the these early season stumbles. The road to redemption leads to a 9-3 non-conference record and 10 Big Ten wins.
- Win the rest of the non-conference games, which will bring Minnesota’s record to 9-3
- Sweep Iowa and Indiana for four Big Ten wins.
- Win the winnable home Big Ten games, in addition to Iowa and Indiana, this means wins over Penn State, an at the moment a very beatable Michigan Team, and Northwestern . That jumps the Big Ten win total to 7.
- Split the Wisconsin and Illinois home games, two teams the Gophers beat at The Barn last season, for 8 wins.
- Win one of the other winnable road games, which would be a win over either Northwestern, Michigan, or Penn State. This would guarantee at least a 9-9 Big Ten season.
- Pick off one of the big guys, once. The Gophers have six chances to beat Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State. Not only would one of these win be a huge statement game, but it would get the Gophers to the magic 10-8 record.
- Win one in the Big Ten tournament, just as an insurance policy.
The Gophers clearly need to play better to accomplish this, but it is hardly impossible. The great thing about playing in a power conference is that even half-way decent teams control their own destiny, and the Gophers will ultimately decide which road to take.