The more games the Golden Gophers play, the better they are, even if they show us in odd ways. Coming off a four game road trip, the team could be forgiven for playing tired and a bit bored. Minnesota’s last four games prior to playing the North Florida Ospreys had been circled on the calendar for months. North Florida couldn’t be circled on a map by most players and fans (it is Jacksonville if you care).
The first ten minutes were played by a Gopher team that would rather have been somewhere else, probably in bed, and it was pretty ugly. The Gophers let the Ospreys score easy basket after easy basket on the inside. North Florida made their first five shots and eventually built a 14-6 lead and then a 21-15 lead. Then the Gophers woke up, and then it was over. Really, it was that fast. The Ospreys didn’t score until again until they were trailing 30-21, a 15-0 run for the Gophers. Minnesota led by 10 at the half, and outscored North Florida 50-32 in the second half. The Gophers played uninspired basketball, were 1-13 from behind the three-point line, won by 28 points, and scored a season high 87 points. And this was a bad game without that much effort!
Now, onto something fun to talk about but that is ultimately meaningless: polls! My unified theory of college basketball rankings separates the value of polls into basketball and non-basketball worth. In terms of basketball worth, the rankings are nothing but an arbitrary number. Being ranked doesn’t help a team beat another team. A ranking can actually be detrimental to team’s performance in the sense that ranked teams do not sneak up on anyone, and whatever extra effort underdog teams can muster in an attempt to beat a ranked team could potentially swing the outcome of a game. In terms of non-basketball worth, a national ranking is invaluable. Ranked teams get more press, which leads to more buzz, which leads to more tickets sold, which leads to more money, which leads to better facilities, and that, in step 73 of the process, might eventually better basketball, especially if recruits take notice of the high performing team or the facilities that the increased income can bring. Given the milieu of top tier recruits in Minnesota in the next few years, a ranked team this year will likely translate into a better team a few years from now, even if the rankings don’t help the Gophers win now.
A ranking at this stage of the season does not mean as much as a ranking at the end of the season. Ask UCLA about that, who, despite being putrid, is still ranked in the coaches poll. As a season progresses, the teams that do not deserve to be ranked gradually fall by the wayside, and the cream rises to the top. After a brutal week in the top 25, the Gophers are headed to the top. Please note the following carnage in the AP poll:
- #4 Ohio State lost by five to Duke
- #5 Louisville beat Illinois State by only three
- #8 Kentucky lost to Notre Dame on the road by 14 and to Baylor at home by nine
- #11 Creighton lost at home to Boise State by 13
- #13 Michigan State lost at Miami by 8
- #14 North Carolina was embarrassed at Indiana
- #15 Oklahoma State lost at Virginia Tech by 10
- #18 North Carolina State lost by 7 at Michigan
- #19 Colorado lost at Wyoming by 7
- #20 Georgetown scored 37 points against Tennessee, and somehow won.
The Gophers won’t be jumping Louisville or Ohio State despite their poor performances, but everyone else is fair game. If the Gophers do jump everyone but the Cardinals and Buckeyes, the Gophers would land at #13 in the AP poll. Who knows where they will be ranked in the coaches poll, but the coaches who pawn off their voting responsibilities to random underlings won’t know either.
There are only two challenging games left on the non-conference schedule, and they are both this week. If the Gophers knock off South Dakota State at home on Tuesday and USC on the road on Saturday, I don’t see how they won’t be a top 10 team when conference play starts on New Year’s Eve.