Golden Gophers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes
1:00 pm (CST) at Williams Arena (Minneapolis, MN)
Best tickets left: Single obstructed seats in the lower level corners
I consider myself lucky that my fandom has very little to do with how the Gophers perform. Sure, I get overly excited when they beat good teams, will yell at the TV out of frustration, and lately, maybe three or four times per game, ask myself how and why, out of all the teams in all the world, it had to be the Minnesota Golden Gopher basketball team that has held my allegiance as long as I can remember. I’ll go to The Barn to watch the Gophers regardless of their record or the likely outcome. I’ll go if I know they’ll win by 50 or if I know they don’t have a chance to keep it within 20, and I’ll be as much of fan if they lose the game they should win by 50 or if they win the game they should lose by 20.
I bring this up, because the excitement that one would expect leading up to a chance to beat the number one team in the country for the first time since every current Gopher player was in diapers or not even born just isn’t there. It seems that the likelihood of a loss, which by the way happens almost every time a number one team plays, has sucked not only the hope but even a lot of interest out of the Gopher fan base. This disturbing trend is even on display at The Barn. If the team starts slow you hear a grumble. If the opponent makes a run, you’ll hear audible groans. What you won’t hear, at least not as much as you should, are the loud and confident fans that made The Barn one of most feared arenas in the country until the Monson years killed the atmosphere.
Look, I know things have been rough. The aughts were generally a lost decade. The 2009-2010 season brought more suspensions than post-season wins, despite the first trip in team history to the Big Ten championship game. This year, with a full roster and no drama, looked to finally be THE year, but we know how things have worked out. Things haven’t worked out the way we wanted. The Gophers will find a way to lose a game they should win. The season will end worse than it began. But this is no reason not to be loud. You won’t cheer because they might not win? Is that any way to go through life? Do you not apply for a job because you might not get it? Do you not have kids because they might want to be the next Snooki? Do you not get married because half of marriages end in divorce? This impending sense of doom, the existentialist angst surrounding the team, has to end. You don’t have to return your cheers if the team doesn’t win. You won’t pay a fine for cheering for a team that might lose.
You know how I deal with the frustration of being a Gopher fan? I yell. I scream. I shout. I clap as loud as I can. I stomp my feet. You should try it. It’ll make you feel better, a sort of primal scream therapy. I fully intend to expel all my frustrations from the past week through my voice on Sunday, and so should you, even if we’ll probably lose. Because the thing is, upsets do happen. Bad teams beat good teams. Someone will get hot at the same time an entire team gets cold, and then anything can happen. If you don’t think a team has a chance, why show up in the first place? If you are at The Barn on Sunday, act like your team can win, because they can, and please, be loud like you used to be, in the good old days, when you expected a win.
So whether you think the Gophers have a chance, and whether you act like they have a chance or not, keep the following in mind while you watch.
- Ohio State will lose at some point during the season. Teams simply do no go undefeated anymore in college basketball. The 1975-1976 Indiana Hoosiers were the last team to do it, and it probably won’t ever happen again.
- When The Buckeyes do finally lose, it will be on the road. After taking a quick glance at conference play, I counted 12 total road wins (though admitted I didn’t check too closely). Whether it is the crowd, the refs, the routine, or some combination of the three, winning on the road in the Big Ten is exceedingly difficult. The Buckeyes haven’t lost yet obviously. However, the margin of victory in their last four road games have been 5, 4, 5, and 1 against Iowa, Michigan, Illinois, and Northwestern, hardly the creme of the crop of the conference.
- Ohio State has had as hard a time as anyone winning in The Barn. The Gophers have won four of their last five home games against the Buckeyes. Their lone loss was against Greg Oden, with Jim Molinari as the Gophers interim head coach.
- Style-wise, the Gophers may be playing the Buckeyes at the right time. OSU’s last two games have come against Michigan and Northwestern, two teams without an inside presence who run a 1-3-1 defense. In all likelihood, OSU hasn’t been able to prepare for the Gophers as much as they would have liked, because the Gophers have little in common with their previous opponents. Thad Matta and Jared Sullinger complained about the rough play against Northwestern and Michigan. Neither team has a single interior player that can match the size or strength of anyone along Minnesota’s front line.
- John Diebler, despite what you’ll hear about everyone else on the Buckeye roster, is their most important player. He scores 11 points per game and shoots better than 47% behind the three point line. What you won’t hear,, is that 44.2% of the passes to Jared Sullinger that eventually result in points originate from Diebler. Rodney Williams will need to play the defensive game of his life and keep the ball out of Diebler’s hands.
- Ohio State needs to stay out of foul trouble. They rank 331st in the country in bench minutes, and commit the fewest fouls in the country. This isn’t a coincidence; they have major Gopher-like depth problems. After Aaron Craft and Dallas Lauderdale, whose 45th birthday will be commemorated at half time, they have no one you have ever heard of. The Gophers were able to make their big comeback in Columbus partially because they got David Lighty on the bench with four fouls. He eventually did foul out, and Aaron Craft and William Buford each committed four fouls. The Gophers were able to convert 27 free throw attempts into 24 points. Foul shooting will be a big factor again on Sunday.
- Austin Hollins needs to start, or at least continue to get starter’s minutes. The giant line-up was worth a shot, and it got the Gophers a win over Northwestern, but it has become obvious to everyone that it has major short comings. Rodney Williams looks uncomfortable with the ball in his hands, and is too far from the basket as a shooting guard to crash the glass and get the put back points on which he thrives. Blake Hoffarber is the only player that can make a shot outside of 15 feet, and defenses know this. Colton Iverson can’t seem to stay on the floor for more than 30 seconds at a time. With Hollins in the game, Blake Hoffarber still needs to handle the ball more often than any of us would like, but at least Hollins can help, and as he has shown recently, can knock down a few timely three pointers
No the Gophers likely won’t beat the number one team in the nation tomorrow. But the Buckeyes will lose, and when they lose it will be on the road. The Gophers are once again in one of those backs against the wall situations when they seem to play their best. They’ll want to exorcise a few demons from that disappointing Indiana road trip, so they should be playing with their hair on fire. Somebody is going to beat the Buckeyes, so why not us?