The college basketball season is 30 games and 1200 minutes long. No matter how good a team is, there are bound to be stretches when a team doesn’t play up to its potential, and other stretches when a team can’t seem to play at all. The Gophers hit their first stretch of the season in the second half as they lost at home to Virginia.
If you scour the Internet, even briefly, you’ll see plenty of panic, sky is falling, “I am chicken little and damn proud of it” nonsense. Here at From The Barn, we proudly keep our wits about us. While losing a winnable game to a bad team is never fun, we realize that context matters.
One of the great things about college basketball is that the season is 30 games long. This isn’t college football. One loss does not define a season, and in reality rarely matters in the long run. The Gophers have not been bumped to the basketball equivalent of the Humanitarian Bowl. Bubble teams can point to a “signature win” and a “bad loss” as the cause of their inclusion in or exclusion from the NCAA tournament, but they oddly forget the win over the solid mid major or the close loss to the top flight team. At this stage of the season the Gophers have five wins over probable NCAA tournament teams, and one loss to a not exactly great ACC team. And when the selection committee meets in March, the loss to Virgina will have multiple asterisks firmly affixed to it.
If I was forced to gauge the importance of the loss to Virginia, I’d call it a throwaway game. There just isn’t much to take away from it. The Gophers played without their starting point guard and best defender, with Al Nolen out with a foot injury. The also played without Rodney Williams, who is their most versatile defender. Throw Devoe Joseph into the mix, who hadn’t played a single minute, and it was not going to be easy to win, regardless of the opponent.
Virginia didn’t help matters. They made 10-13 three pointers and 25-30 free throws. Minnesota’s defensive intensity was lacking, and the Cavaliers had way too many open shots on the outside, but nine-times out of ten, on a practice court, with all the time in the world to line up their shots, they won’t make 10-13 three pointers, and at the free-throw line, where they do have all the time in the world, only made 69% of their free-throws before tonight. It just wasn’t the Gophers’ night.
There are a few take-aways from tonight, of course. The first being that Al Nolen is very important to the team’s success, and that one player can completely alter a game on the defensive end. Hopefully his foot heals up and is back on the court with plenty of time to spare before the Big Ten season starts. The second main take-away is that the Gophers do indeed need to actually try to win basketball games. They did not display the effort and focus necessary to be an average team, let alone an elite team. The team knows this now, and if they have any inclination to have a successful season, we should see a team chastened by tonight’s loss.
One game is no reason to panic. If the Gophers can’t get it together over the next few weeks, go ahead and panic. If Nolen stays out longer than a few weeks and Devoe Joseph doesn’t remember how to play defense, it could be a long season. But it is a long season anyway, and a little over a fifth of the way through, the Gophers have one of the better NCAA tournament resumes in the country, and even with one bad loss aren’t even close to the dreaded bubble. NCAA tournament locks don’t worry about one bad loss. They know these things happen. They also don’t let them happen more than once.