My initial plan for my Purdue game preview post was to yet again dissect the Golden Gophers defensive shortcomings, and don’t worry, I still will. It would be basketball blogger malpractice to ignore the single issue that will decide the ultimate outcome of this season. But before I do that, it seems like a good idea to address Richard Pitino’s comments today, what they mean to his team, and what they should mean to us, the casual and not so casual Golden Gophers fans who get through the winter by watching a bunch of kids trying to put a ball through a net.

February is hard for everyone. The holidays are over, and winter feels like it will never end. Februaries have been especially hard for Gopher fans and players alike. I won’t detail the many seasons that have been derailed in this cruel month. You lived through them, so did the players. After so much disappointment, it is easy to forget that basketball is supposed to be fun. This game, and basketball is only a game after all, is supposed to be joyous.

A kid never picks up a basketball for the first time because they one day really, really want to avoid a loss to Northwestern. No one falls in love with a team because they hope they don’t lose a winnable game in February. The disappointment of the last few seasons has taken a toll. Gopher basketball has become more focused on  avoiding the awful, instead of embracing the good in the moment, and that still could be. I won’t pretend to be a sports psychologist, and I’m not going to act like I know what was going through the players’ minds in the closing seconds minutes of the Northwestern game, but I can’t help but think that memories of the last few seasons negatively impacted the teams ability to execute when needed to most. It isn’t implausible at all that a player distracted by the fear of losing could miss a shot he normally would make, or miss a defensive assignment.

Richard Pitino seems to understand that the Gophers won’t be as good as they can be if they are more focused on losing than actually performing. They need to remember why they love the game, and why they play the game. They need to find flow. There are still some basketball issues they need to get right, but that is unlikely to happen until they get their minds right. Let’s hope the meeting on Sunday is the first step in that process.

And now on to basketball…

Rebounding from the heartbreaking loss against Northwestern will ultimately come down to the Gophers’ ability to rebound the basketball against Purdue. The Boilermakers are the best offensive rebounding team in the conference, and are third in the conference in defensive rebounding. In the first match-up between Purdue and the Gophers this season, the Boilermakers dominated the glass, especially on the offensive end. They rebounded 50% of their own misses, and were able to score 79 points despite only shooting 38% from the field. Purdue scored  1.25 points per possession, the second most given up by the Gophers this season. Only Minnesota’s best offensive performance of the season prevented that game from being a loss.

Bad shooting nights don’t turn into offensive outburst unless there a lots of scoring chances, and Purdue simply had way too many opportunities to score against the Gophers that day. While the game had only 63 possessions, thanks to fouls and offensive rebounds, Purdue had 85 chances to score, and the became more efficient with each chance.

Possessions Points PPP
First chance 63 50 0.79
Second chance 18 23 1.28
Third chance 4 6 1.5

The Gophers defense was actually excellent on the Boilermakers first scoring chance each possession. If the Gophers didn’t allow the Boilermakers any second chances, it would have been their second best defensive performance of the season. Of course, there were second chances and third chances, and Purdue’s offense got better the longer they had the ball. We all know Minnesota’s defense is bad, but even a really good defense would struggle to keep a team from scoring for nearly two minutes at a time, a situation the Gophers found themselves in four times against Purdue. One of the keys to the Gophers solving their offensive woes is to limit their opponents scoring opportunities, and avoiding bad fouls and getting defensive rebounds is key to that.

We all remember how dysfunctional the Gophers offense looked last season. However, they finished the season with the 16th most efficient offense in the country because they were able to get to the free-throw line and had lots of second chances to score. This season, it is the Gopher defense that is allowing other team’s offenses to score a lot of points, even if those offenses don’t look particularly good while they are doing it.