Golden Gophers vs. Iowa Hawkeyes
5:00 pm (CST) at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (Iowa City, IA)
TV: Big Ten Network
I sincerely hope that you were inside a sturdy building on Thursday night, or at the very least had an umbrella if you ventured outside, because apparently the sky fell. If you read anything by a grossly overpaid columnist working for a newspaper barely out of bankruptcy, or perused the internets (yes, all of them) you’d think that a full strength Gopher basketball team had been blown out by a team made up of the mangers of the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Prairie View A&M. Apparently, we have now reached the lowest moment in the history of Golden Gopher basketball.
It is not a good time to be a Gopher basketball fan. The team is down to eight scholarship players, three of whom are freshmen that weren’t expected to play many if any meaningful minutes. The Gophers lost their two best (and really only two) ball handlers. No team could recover from that. Duke is a completely different team without Kyrie Irving, and they have multiple McDonald’s All-American guards on their roster. Korie Luscious left Michigan State, and it is uncertain if they even have a vehicle from which the wheels can fall off.
If the Gophers were going to somehow limp into the NCAA tournament, which they technically still have a chance to do, the upperclassmen were going to carry them there, but that hasn’t happened. Trevor Mbakwe took two weeks off before finally finding his inner beast. Colton Iverson is trying to play through the worst few weeks of his career, and can’t seem pick up more points than fouls. Rodney Williams is playing scared, and is completely unrecognizable from who he was earlier in the season, when he was finally starting to harness is barely believable athletic ability with his underdeveloped basketball skills. Even Blake Hoffarber, whose flawless jump shot is eclipsed only by his basketball knowledge, has struggled with the intellectual aspects of his transition to point guard.
The current Gopher roster, with everyone playing to the best of their ability, could still make the NCAA tournament. The fact of the matter is that since Al Nolen went down, too many players have had too many bad games. Frustration is mounting, just as you would expect from a team that was once assured no worse than a five seed and is now spiraling towards the NIT. Tubby Smith isn’t stupid, except maybe in understanding that throughout the history of Minnesota sports, certain players are above reproach, and can’t be criticized even if they have only two more made field goals than turnovers over the last three games. The reaction of newspaper commenters and radio show callers would have suggested that Tubby Smith used a racial slur, murdered Blake Hoffarber’s ailing war-hero grandmother, and threw his cancer ridden puppy under a bus. All he did was suggest that Blake Hoffarber use a shot fake once in a while, which he should, and take smarter shots, which his 5-13 performance against Illinois would suggest is necessary.
The Gophers have six games left, and if they win four they are all but assured to make the NCAA tournament. If they can somehow get it together, all the hand wringing and furrowed brows will have been even more unnecessary than they already are. Each of the remaining six games is winnable or losable, including at Iowa on Sunday evening. With how the team is playing though, I have a hard time believing that the Gophers can win consecutive games.
No, things are not as rosy as they could be in Stadium Village, and Tubby Smith isn’t perfect. There is no doubt that Devoe Joseph is a quitter and should never be trusted by his teammates in Oregon or whatever central Asian league team allows him to warm their bench. However, Tubby Smith clearly misjudged Joseph’s character, in not only expecting him to stick around for four years but also in expecting the younger and much better Cory Joseph to follow his brother’s foot steps into The Barn. One poor judgement of character cost the Gophers two ball handlers (and possibly three since Justin Cobbs may have thought his playing time would have been slashed if the younger Joseph joined the team) that would still have the Gophers on the way to the NCAA tournament. Even with those departures though, if Al Nolen was still healthy, we’d be furiously hoping the Gophers could avoid playing a three point shooting 12 seed.
I understand wanting to blame somebody for how this season has turned out. It gives us the illusion of control, is more comforting than an unfair preponderance of bad luck. If you need to blame someone, go ahead and blame Devoe Joseph. He is the one that left the team. Personally, I just feel bad, not really because the team is losing, I’m more than used to losing Gopher teams. I feel bad because Al Nolen lost the second half of his senior season when he was playing the best basketball of his life. And I feel bad for Blake Hoffarber, whose legacy will be unfairly tarnished because he just isn’t cut out to be a point guard.
Bad things happen to good players and good teams. It isn’t fair, and it certainly isn’t fun to watch.