In the darker days of Gopher basketball, and for the last 40 years or so in Gopher football, there was always a saving grace to even the most atrocious season. Beating the Badgers has a way of making up for countless losses and blown opportunities, and can make even the darkest off season tolerable.
This season has been a bust. It isn’t the worst season in recent memory, but it has failed to live up to expectations more than any Gopher season, maybe ever. The NCAA tournament is out of the question. Making the NIT might even take a minor miracle, but they Gopher can still beat the Badgers.
Thanks to some horrid scheduling decisions by the Big Ten that does not protect rivalries from the rotating single game conference match-ups, Thursday will be Minnesota’s only game this season against the Badgers, the first time this has happened since 2005. All that drama and passion that was packed into 85 minutes of basketball last season will need to be crammed into only 40 minutes tomorrow night, though I don’t suppose an over-time game would be a huge surprise.
Things are looking pretty bleak for the Gophers as they face their biggest rival. Their season long inability to win close games keeps coming back at the least opportune times. After leading by 13 points against Northwestern on Sunday, the Gophers let their lead and season slip away, again. What little confidence the Gophers have left is on life support. The team held a players only meeting after the Northwestern loss that reportedly focused on playing confidently and having fun. We’ll see how that goes.
Fun is not the word to describe the Badgers. They aren’t fun to watch, aren’t fun to play against, and judging by Bo Ryan’s volume and veracity, not fun to officiate either. But they win, and win, and win, regardless of which players fill the various cogs in Bo Ryan’s machine. Wisconsin’s statistics eloquently explain the boring way they win. They rank 15th in the country in offense because they don’t turn the ball over and they make free throws. They rank 6th in the country on defense because they prevent second chances and don’t send their opponents to the free throw line. It is simple, effective, and nearly impossible to defend.
Tubby Smith, realizing that this game could salvage the season, or simply throwing line-ups at the wall until one of them sticks, will be returning to the Twin Towers line-up, which I intend to take full credit for if it works. Blake Hoffarber will be playing point guard, and Devoe Joseph or Lawrence Westbrook will be the first player off the bench. The Gophers will at least have a size advantage, and that extra length and width should at least clog things up a little more in the middle. Sure the Gophers will be susceptible to slashers and dribble penetration, but they were before without the benefit of the extra size that Iverson will bring to the starting line-up. Nothing else has worked this season, so maybe this will.
A win tomorrow won’t salvage the season, only six straight wins to close out the season or a miracle run in the Big Ten tournament will, but a win over Wisconsin is something, a big something, and we will get to add “At least…” to the lost season.