Well this really sucks.
After a week of waiting and hoping and dreaming and getting all tingly thinking about a possible and historic Gophers victory, the team goes out and lays a giant egg. Not like they got embarrassed or run out of their own gym, but it was a particularly close loss either. And now that Minnesota has lost two conference games in a row it’s easy to sit back and think that things are going the wrong direction.
My advice? Breathe.
Yes, the Gophers have gotten down huge to two teams in a row. Yes, they played below their capabilities in two straight games. Yes, it would have been nice to win at least one of the games. But you know what? They lost two games by single digits to two of the best teams in the entire country. IN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY. Are the Gophers a top 10 team in the country? I don’t know. Probably not. Are they capable of beating Indiana or Michigan on any given night? Definitely. But just because they happened to lose two consecutive games to two really, really, really good teams shouldn’t mean that they are a subpar team all of a sudden or on some awful downturn.
Look. We came in to this season thinking that Gophers, in the very best of scenarios, could finish 4th in the conference. But I think we’ve let this top 10 ranking and media hype go a bit to our heads. They’re still capable of being a top four team in the B1G and losing to Indiana and Michigan doesn’t change that.
Let’s even take a step further back. Here is a team that is 15-3, with its only losses to three of the top five teams in the nation. Only three teams TOTAL have beaten Duke, Indiana and Michigan this year. And don’t forget that the Gophers beat Michigan State (4-1 in the B1G) at home and went on the road and slapped around Illinois. We knew the Gophers were going into a gauntlet these last three games and, frankly, it could have been worse. Both games they dropped were stretch games they weren’t even supposed to win in the first place.
Now, that’s not to say that they didn’t play particularly awful against Michigan, because they did. Dre Hollins did his team no favors by getting into early foul trouble and the team came out flat in the 2nd half at exactly the point in time when it didn’t need to and very nearly gave up right then and there. But it’s important to give Michigan credit. It’s easy to trash your own team for playing bad when you know what they’re capable of, but Michigan played some amazing basketball tonight. They got the Gophers out of their comfort zone on offense, were supremely unfazed by the Williams Arena crowd, and made Minnesota pay for its mistakes. All three of those are marks of a great team.
So beat your head against a wall if you wish, but keep in mind that while the Gophers didn’t pull any rabbits out of hats this week, they didn’t do themselves any disservices either. And until they lose a game they aren’t supposed to, I’d recommend being perfectly content with where they currently are, because they are still in really good shape. Just ask yourself where you thought they’d be in the conference before the season started. Was it as a B1G title contender? Ahead of Michigan and Indiana? The answer is probably no, and I’d argue that they are still above where most everyone thought they’d be at this point.
- Admittedly, I grossly underestimated how good Michigan really is. They have so many weapons and can hurt teams in so many ways (and so quickly) that it’s hard to even know what hit you. Tim Hardaway Jr. has become an offensive machine, Trey Burke is as advertised and their freshmen don’t make freshman mistakes. Couple that with a really poised defense and there’s a recipe for a high level of success.
- Andre Hollins really, really needs to stop getting into foul trouble early. His exit tonight led to a 16-3 Michigan run that put the Gophers on their heels for most of the rest of the game. Having your best player sit down for the entire half just six minutes into the game is a tough hill to climb, even moreso against a team like Michigan.
- I know free throw success comes and goes, but good lord Joe Coleman. You HAVE to make those free throws down the stretch to get back in the game. You just have to. Michigan puts you on the line basically six times in row and you can convert only two of those attempts? That’s a huge fail for a guy in the backcourt and a big reason why the Gophers’ attempted rally eventually got derailed.
- Austin Hollins is just a man. Plain and simple. He’s come into his own this year from a shooting standpoint and it has been really fun to watch. He quietly become one of Minnesota’s most dangerous weapons away from the basket.