It might not feel like it, but we’re at a critical crossroads in the Gopher basketball season. The team currently sits at an ugly 0-3 in the conference, having let a major lead slip away to Purdue and failing to defend their home court against a beatable Ohio State team. After an impressive run over the latter half of its non-conference opponents, the Minnesota offense and veteran leadership has basically gone AWOL. Where does that leave us? What happens next?
As much as I love to be dramatic, the season isn’t over. For all of the hand-wringing and #HireTubby tweets we’ve seen the past couple weeks, the truth is the Gophers head into an incredibly soft stretch of their 2015 schedule. Consider that in their next ELEVEN games they don’t play a team who is currently ranked in the top 25. To dig even deeper, they don’t play any of the heavy hitters in the conference (who I deem to be Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and Maryland) until February 4. That’s a long stretch of time to get things done.
The team is 0-3, and hasn’t looked particularly good doing it. They let a double-digit lead slip away against Purdue, got dismantled by Maryland and just couldn’t take care of business against Ohio State at home on national television in front of a raucous crowd. That’s not good. Especially for a team with supposedly the most veteran backcourt in the conference and one that was on the up and up before the season. 0-3 at this point is unacceptable. Yet, here we are.
So, what happens now? The Gophers head to Michigan, a squad that has admittedly underachieved so far this year, but has stumbled into two conference wins early in the season. Any road game in the B1G is going to be tough, and this is no exception. But if the Gophers are going to turn the season around, this has to be the time. Of course, that means having to go on the road in a tough environment and bring home the bacon. But wasn’t that supposed to be the next step for this program; winning on the road? Now it seems like we’re asking them to pull a rabbit out of a hat to turn the season around.
I think what stresses me out the most is that the Gophers looked exactly like the underdog against Ohio State. It wasn’t like the Buckeyes came in and stole the game from them. No, Minnesota did everything it could to claw back into the game; had the balls roll their way and still couldn’t pull the thing off. Nate Mason was at the line FOR THE WIN, and couldn’t convert. Mathieu was doing twirlybirds and getting circus shots to fall, all in the name of forcing overtime. This was not a tournament team letting one slip by at home; this was an 11-seed giving a 6-seed a pretty good run. And that’s not where this team was expected to be at this point, this year. Now that it’s becoming do-or-die mode, can they be expected to do something great on the road?
Look, the Gophers weren’t given any favors in the early part of their schedule — Purdue was a trap game, few teams are going to win on the road at Maryland this year, and a game against a top 25 opponent, even at home, isn’t a guarantee. But if this team wants to be taken seriously, one of those three has to go in their favor. That’s what good teams do; they get it done when the going is tough. The season isn’t over, especially with such a soft part of the schedule coming up, but my point is that the Gophers need to make it rain over the next month and a half, and from what we’ve seen so far, they don’t inspire a whole lot of confidence that they can get it done. On the road at Michigan is the first step, and the margin for error is becoming slimmer.
15 games remain. Indications are that the Gophers should probably go 10-8 in the conference to lock up a bid to the NCAA Tournament. That means they need to go 10-5 the rest of the season to lock things up. 8 home games remain. If you suppose they win each of their home games (quite a leap, if you ask me), that means they need to take two additional games on the road. The home schedule is pretty soft — the toughest opponents are Wisconsin and Iowa, while the road slate isn’t particularly daunting. I can certainly pick out at least two games they can win.
But, you gotta ask yourself, is this a team that can pull it off? The math is there. The results haven’t been.