So, I imagine a weekend in Hades is spent this way: You get to watch your favorite basketball team play in a featured matchup on national television. Though they’ve been having recent problems, they get to face a struggling team who has lost five of its last six in their own arena and possibly turn around their own season that has suddenly taken an unexpected downturn. Their opponent plays a subpar game, as expected, and leaves the door wide open for your team to take advantage. However, your team commits 16 turnovers, shoots 36% from the field, 58% from the free throw line, 4-15 from three-point land and records two points from it’s contingent of four bench players. They end up losing by nine points in their own house to a team they have no business losing to on a night in which they were required to show up and take care of business. This game would be played on repeat for you to suffer through for days on end.
Of course, that wasn’t just a daydream, that was reality. A disgusting, hair-pulling, all-too-familiar reality. The Gophers put forth another stinker, this time against a clueless Illinois Fighting Illini team that was trying its best to hand Minnesota the game on a silver platter. Different team, different venue, same result.
Let’s play some phrase association for tonight:
Trevor Mbakwe: Lone highlight.
Rodney Williams: Bottomed out.
Ralph Sampson III: Head scratching.
Blake Hoffarber: Out of control.
Austin Hollins: Completely scared.
Colton Iverson: Sophomorish.
Mav Ahanmisi: Overmatched.
Chip Armelin: Bad luck.
As you can see, only one of the above has any sort of positive connotation. Mbakwe had the only real performance worth noting. Sure, Sampson had 16 points, but it came on 7-17 shooting. In fact, his points never really came when we needed them. Definitely not in crunch time. And certainly not during the home stretch when the Gophers completely unraveled. Hoffarber was harassed the entire game and could barely get a shot off, but was also ineffective overall trying to run the offense. It’s hard to knock a guy who finds himself in his position and, frankly, it’s just not fair to have him at the point. But the bottom line is that he turned the ball over four times and had only one assist. Austin Hollins, another overmatched player, was clueless with the ball, committed four turnovers, and put on a clinic on how to NOT shoot the ball from the field.
After the last two weeks, there is scarcely a shred of confidence left. The defense is there, but the offense is nowhere to be found. When Nolen went down with his foot injury, no one was quite sure how the team would respond. It’s becoming painfully evident that he may have taken the season with him. The freshmen are completely overmatched and the veterans, with the exception of Hoffarber and Mbakwe have failed to step up. What’s more, Rodney Williams and Colton Iverson have even REGRESSED. In a time when they should have been expected to shoulder some of the new load, those two, who have experience in the Tubby Smith system, have failed to not only carry their weight, but to actually drag the team down. Williams’ poor court IQ is being exposed on a regular basis, and his lack of any offense outside of a vertical leap is borderline pathetic. Iverson has now gone two games without a point and has 11 points combined in his last four games. That’s not what you expect from a third-year player.
The same problems that have plagued Minnesota the last few games are now solidified. It’s readily apparent that this team is not the same team we saw before Al Nolen left us with a foot injury. This is a completely different squad and should really be held to different expectations the rest of the season. You’d like to think that they have the ammo to collect four more wins and find themselves in the Big Dance, but it’s really hard to even think that such a goal is attainable after witnessing the last four games. The schedule gets easier, yes, but is this a team that can go into Happy Valley against Penn State where Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan State have all lost? Is this a team that can head to Evanston and take down Northwestern when they can’t even lock down a visibly disinterested and apathetic Illinois squad at home? Do you really expect this team to hang with Michigan State anymore?
Two weeks ago the Gophers were looking like a six-seed in the NCAA Tournament. After tonight, they sit squarely on the bubble. The alarms are sounding. It may be time to adjust expectations from a deep postseason run to merely making the tournament.
The saga continues…