Two games ago I said it was now or never for the Gophers to save their season. And two opportunities to turn things around came and went in classic, gut-wrenching fashion. Now, at a ridiculous 0-5 in the conference, the Gophers host Rutgers, perhaps one of the three worst teams in the conference, as they search for their first real, adult conference win.
Making the NCAA Tournament is such a ludicrous prospect right now it shouldn’t even be on the table for discussion. We’re looking at a team that has benched one of the players that was supposed to lead it to bigger and better things, while the other key veteran who was expected to hold it down (and one of the more prolific scorers in school history) is shooting somewhere in the 20% range during conference play. Not a good place to be in mid-January.
Yet, here we are at an entirely different crossroads. Before heading to Michigan, it was a question of whether or not the Gophers could shake a couple early missed opportunities and rebound to at least save a little face and put them back on track. Teams with a little of that vim and vigor, or at least teams that see themselves as contenders in the conference, tend to make up for missed opportunities SOME of the time. “Missed out on Purdue on the road? Fine, take care of Ohio State at home.” This year’s Gophers have not been that team.
Instead, this new crossroads is determining if Minnesota is actually one of the worst teams in the conference this year. It’s truly gotten that bad. Consider that if they lose to Rutgers, at home, to fall to 0-6, that constitutes maybe the worst loss the team could suffer throughout the entire conference season. Losing to Penn State at home is arguably worse, but you get the idea. If they can’t beat the Scarlet Knights at home, then who can they beat … anywhere?
Sure, KenPom says this is one of the unluckiest teams in the country, but anyone who has seen each of the five losses they’ve suffered so far can attest that “luck”, at least in its classical definition, hasn’t really been a prevailing factor in these losses. They’ve been in control of each of the losses, with the exception of Maryland. They clawed back against Iowa but mismanaged the clock at the end. Luck? No. They gave up massive leads down the stretch to Purdue and Michigan ON THE ROAD in eye-gouging fashion. Luck? Come on. They missed a free throw against Ohio State that would have sealed the victory in totality. That’s not bad luck, that’s just not getting it done.
Is there a silver lining? Barely. The Gophers lost to Iowa in a game they probably should have won. And while it wasn’t pretty, it at least marks the end of the hardest part of the conference schedule, which becomes markedly easier for the next 9 games. If Minnesota really has been unlucky and the 0-5 record isn’t indicative of who they really are as a team, then the next 9 games should result in a fair amount of wins. In essence, the time is now to show that this team doesn’t actually suck.
If the law of averages holds true, the Gophers could (should?) be on the cusp of rattling off a bunch of wins. I’d just have much more faith if the team wasn’t trotting out a completely new starting lineup in mid-January.