There is an old adage in basketball that when two teams play the same way, the more talented team always wins. North Dakota tried to run with the Gophers on Monday night, and they couldn’t keep up. The Gophers forced turnovers on 34% of the unnamed team’s possessions, shot 64% on two pointers, 50% of three pointers, had only 12 turnovers themselves, and won 92-56. It was as close to a complete performance as we’ve seen so far this season, which is encouraging since the team didn’t seem distracted by the news of Josh Martin’s departure.
The Golden Gophers gauntlet of guarantee games continues on Monday night, when a nameless team from Grand Forks comes to town.The “guarantee” of the guarantee games does not refer to the outcome of the game, but to the amount of money earned by the team that is supposed to lose. Every once in awhile, the team that is supposed to lose doesn’t get it right, and wins. Saturday was a rough day for the Big Ten, as Michigan State and Purdue lost to the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Northern Florida respectively. Many have complained that the Gophers non-conference schedule is boring. If it is boring, that means things are going well.
The competitive portion of the non-conference Golden Gopher basketball season is over. The Gophers have four weeks and six games to prepare themselves for the Big Ten season. Thanks to wins over Georgia and Wake Forest, the Gophers should still have a reasonable chance to make the NCAA tournament with a 9-9 or 10-8 conference record, if they can improve enough to do so.
The next six games aren’t about the Gophers opponents at all. If any of the opponents are competitive, and if a game is ever in doubt, something has been horrible. Western Carolina, Friday’s opponent, is the best of a group of bad teams, and they already have losses to Charleston Southern and East Tennessee State, this season. The next six games are all about the Gophers solidifying their strengths, fixing or at least hiding their weaknesses, and solidifying line-ups.
Anyone who followed the end of the Tubby Smith era and the mercifully short coaching search, no matter which candidate they were backing or their feelings about Tubby, could agree on one thing. At least we aren’t Wake Forest.
New York City ended up being a neutral experience for the Gophers. They didn’t when any marquee games, but they didn’t lose both games either. After a second half meltdown against St. John’s, and another against Georgia, the results could have been much worse. Minnesota is a bubble team seemingly every year, and so far, this season looks no different. This year though, the script is flipped. It is the Gopher defense keeping them in games, while the offense sputters, and the gap between the declining offense improving defense appears to be widening. To see where things stand as the competitive part of the non-conference season winds down, we looked at Minnesota’s offensive and defensive efficiency, and the four factors that ultimately decide which team wins a basketball game.
We may never know what caused Wednesday’s second half meltdown, and it would be best if we never did. It could have been the first road game, choking under pressure, growing pains for a team still integrating four new players, or maybe the distraction from Daquain McNeil’s arrest and suspension caught up. Maybe it was all of those at once. Hopefully it was at least one of those, because if it was something other than an aberration, the once promising season could become long and arduous very quickly. Luckily, the Gophers won’t have to wait long to try to get back on track.
Sports, for better or worse, can be a distraction from the perils of the world. The N.I.T. tournament in New York City was supposed to be that for Gopher basketball fans, and perhaps it can still be. However, the arrest of Daquein McNeil on suspicion of domestic abuse has distracted from that distraction. Zips wrote about the basketball impact earlier today. The non-basketball impact is going to be much more significant, both for McNeil, and the alleged victim. A few things seem to be true. McNeil has had a very difficult life, domestic violence is a learned behavior, and luckily there are wonderful organizations doing great work in Minneapolis to help both victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse. Regardless of McNeil’s future with the team, hopefully he gets the help he needs.
There is more than one way to win a basketball game, and the more ways a team can, the more they will win. So far in this still very young college basketball season, the Gophers have shown the potential to win in diverse ways.
There won’t be much exciting basketball at Williams arena during the non-conference season if everything goes as planned. The Gophers won’t score 109 points every night, like they did on Thursday against Franklin Pierce, but they will likely win every game, and by a lot points.
Bad opponents don’t always lead to blowouts. There have been plenty of horrible teams to who have played on the raised floor in recent seasons, but easy wins have been few and far between.
The early season college basketball tournaments tip-off this week, which means we find out who play in many of those tournaments next season. The Gophers will play in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, and so will Texas Tech.