A wake-up call can come in any place at any time in the world of college basketball. The beginning of the season is full of close wins by elite teams over inferior competition, and bizarre losses by not so elite teams against even worse competition. The great thing about college basketball is that losing unexpectedly does not end the season before it begins. In fact, it can save a season by forcing a team to recognize their vulnerabilities, and address them. A wake-up call is indisputably good, as long as it is heard.
Minnesota’s closer than it needed to be win against Coastal Carolina will either be a wake-up call, or it will be a prelude to defensive problems that could plague the Gophers for the rest of the season. It is simply too easy for Gopher opponents to score inside the three-point line. Minnesota’s defensive two-point field goal percentage is the worst it has been in a decade, and it really isn’t close. Richard Pitino knows this. After the game on Tuesday the players said they knew it. Now the Gophers have to prove they can fix it.
The Wofford Terriers come into Thursday’s game (televised, really, on the Big Ten Network!) as one of the better interior shooting teams that the Gophers have faced this season. They are 0-2 on the season, with losses to Georgia and Iona, but they can get it done inside, where they make 49.2% of their shots. Minnesota won’t get better facing teams that can’t challenge them, and the Terriers will be a challenge on the inside.
One might expect that a team that scores well on the inside and not so well on the outside (the Terriers rank 327th in the country in three-point shooting) would have a bunch of bigs inside, but Wofford does not. Their front-line is generally 6’6″, and their three players taller than 6’6″ are not key contributors. Instead, they find ways for their guards to get to the basket, or to get open shots. Minnesota has struggled keeping opponents away from the basket. Elliot Eliason is the team’s only rim protector, but he can’t do it all by himself. He’ll have even more of a burden now that Joey King is out for a week or so with a broken jaw.
Minnesota’s rebounding was a huge concern going into the season, and it may still be once the Gophers face bigger and better teams. For now though, the Gophers have been out-rebounding teams because they realized that every player on the court must commit themselves to tracking down missed shots. Now, the Gophers must do the same with defense. Some of the problems are related to new players learning a new system. Focus and effort play a role too.
For this season to be successful, someone will need to step up on the defensive end. Big Ten teams cannot have a porous interior defense and expect to win many conference games. If Tuesday night really was a wake-up call, someone will step up on Thursday against Wofford.