Golden Gophers 12-5 (0-4) vs. Indiana Hoosiers 15-1 (3-1)
7:00 PM CST at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, IN
TV: Big Ten Network Radio: 1500 AM
In the bonkers Big Ten, nothing is certain except the chaos. Wisconsin has as many homes losses as Ohio State has total losses. Illinois barely beat the Gophers but then beat the Buckeyes. Seemingly every game, except of course Minnesota’s loss to Purdue or Purdue’s loss to Penn State, has gone down to the wire. Everyone can beat anyone at any time anywhere. No one likes to see the Gophers season slip sliding away, but college basketball junkies can find some solace in at least one team trying to make sense of a mind boggling loss almost every night of the conference season.
Indiana has been on both sides of baffling games this season. Their program redefining win was a result of a meltdown so strange it could only be achieved by a Coach Calipari team. They benefited stupid shot selection and an apparently greased basketball against Ohio State. And just to prove that nothing at all makes sense in the Big Ten, lost to Michigan State despite going on an 25-2 run in the middle of the game. No I don’t get it either.
The Gophers should not have any hope of beating the Hoosiers, especially in Bloomington where everything has gone the right way for the crimson and cream this season. They lead the country in three-point percentage, shooting an unheard of 47.6%. To put that in perspective, the best shooting team in the country since 2003 was Illinois state in 2003, and they made only 44% of their three point attempts. Most teams see their offensive statistics decline once conference play begins, but the Hoosiers are shooting 52.3% from behind the three-point line. That shooting is not sustainable, and they are bound to experience a Gopheresque or Badgeresque shooting night at some point, though it is unlikely to happen against the Gophers, who are ninth in the Big Ten at defending three-pointers. Besides making all those three-pointers and also being a very good free-throw shooting team, Indiana’s offense is good but not great. They’ve in fact struggled to take care of the basketball in conference play and don’t grab a ton of offensive rebounds, so there will be an opportunity for the Gophers to get a few extra possessions. Indiana’s defense is the worst in conference play so far this season. Their interior defense is porous despite the alleged shot blocking prowess of freshmen phenom Cody Zellar. They don’t force many turnovers, are an average defensive rebounding team, and are incredibly foul-happy. Indiana overall record and wins over highly ranked teams justify their #8 national ranking. However, their statistics tell a different story.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this game is winnable, if the Gophers defense bothers to show up. Indiana’s weaknesses play well into potential Gophers strengths. The Gophers crash the offensive glass while Indiana gives up too many offensive rebounds. Minnesota’s offense is predictated on scoring inside, which Indiana allows. The Hoosiers commit too many turnovers, especially their ball handlers. The Gophers had modest success getting back in the game at Purdue by pressing, and no Hoosier fan can be comfortable Hoosier’s assist to turnover ratio. If the Gophers can get to the line, get a few put back baskets, and have another adequate shooting game, and things could get interesting, most likely heart breaking loss interesting if you even still watch the games, but interesting nonetheless. When you are staring an 0-? start in the face, interesting is all you can really hope for.
The good news, if there is any in a lost season, is that some serious thought is finally being given to the basketball program as a whole. Many are asking why Indiana could bounce back from near death, how Michigan could be in the top 15 after being in as bad of shape as the Gophers when Tubby Smith took over, and what on earth is wrong with the world when Iowa’s basketball program is in better shape than Minnesota’s. There isn’t one answer and there aren’t any easy answers. The program as a whole needs a serious re-evaluation, from the Athletic Director to the assistant coaches without skipping anyone in between. The facilities are lacking and there is no apparent vision for a program without a practice facility and an arena approaching 100 years old. There is no such thing as benign neglect, and the this lack of vision for the program as a whole appears to have put it in danger or irrelevance. The worse things get, the more focus there will be on what is wrong, and what can be done to fix it. As well all know, the Athletic Department won’t act until they absolutely have to act. If this keeps up, they won’t have a choice.