From the outset of Minnesota’s first conference contest of the 2015-16 season, it looked like they were supremely outmatched by the Buckeyes, who jumped out to a 24-9 lead before any of us could even take a breath. Poor shooting, terrible defense and an overall lack of fundamentals allowed Ohio State to grab a gigantic lead and, considering how the season had already gone, left room for plenty of snark and “oh I can’t watch.”
Somehow, the Gophers turned the game completely around, mostly thanks to Jordan Murphy’s prowess and Carlos Morris having a decent night from the field. They clawed back into the game and even took a brief lead in the second half before Murphy got nailed with his fourth foul and everything fell apart, literally. The Buckeyes went on a 20-3 run to ice the game and win 78-63.
So, it was 10 minutes of good basketball sandwiched between 30 minutes of crap, which was probably about what we expected given the non-conference performance and the level of opponent. If nothing else, it was nice to see the Gophers at least show the CAPABILITY of being able to play their way back into a game against a team like Ohio State on the road, but the complete evaporation in the final stretch of the game left plenty to be desired and set a baseline that will be all too familiar this year.
Jordan Murphy is the key to this team – Murphy led the charge for the Gophers to get back in the game and take the lead briefly. And when he picked up his fourth foul and had to head to the bench midway through the second half, everything fell apart. The Buckeyes went on a huge run and the Gophers were powerless to stop it. Gaston Diedhiou and Bakary Konate can’t do a thing down low to stop teams, so Murphy ends up being the lone guy holding down the post. And when he disappeared, so did any sort of balanced Gopher attack. His presence so far can’t be overstated if the team is going to win games.
Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou are not ready – It’s hard not to separate the two, because they’re both projects from overseas, but it’s disheartening to see just how far these guys have to go to become serviceable for this team. And with literally no one else available to pitch in down low, we’re stuck using them because they’re warm bodies. Konate has no earthly idea how to box out and frequently misses assignments. And he’s still learning how to catch and score once receiving the ball in the post. Diedhiou is in a similar spot. He just looks lost all the time. And it’s not that they don’t contribute, it’s that they actively take away from the team when they’re on the court. And there’s no help in sight this year either. The Gophers are a far better team when they go small and avoid using those two altogether.
Carlos Morris is capable of being a key player – I give Squirrel a lot of crap because his shot selection and decision-making is usually so terrible that it’s laughable. But the past two games have shown that he is indeed capable of taking smart shots and serving as a key piece of the offense. Usually you can find him hoisting up 20 shots a game and scoring 15 points due to the sheer volume of his shots. But against OSU he actually leveraged his strengths by driving hard and attacking the basket, rather than just shooting crap shots. He still took threes, but they were good, thoughtful looks and, surprise, they all went in! Morris can still be a key player, he just needs to continue making good decisions with the ball and his shots.