The Minnesota Gophers took a beating last week on the road, losing to both Michigan and Iowa in blowout fashion. Luckily, the Big Ten was thoughtful enough to schedule a full work week off for them, while they attempt to lick their wounds back to full health.
Minnesota’s next match-up won’t come until Saturday and it’ll be a rematch vs the #10 Michigan Wolverines, this time at Williams Arena, where the Gophers are 10-0 on the season and 3-0 in the Big Ten.
While they recover, I thought I’d point out a few things that have stuck out to me so far.
Their first 7 Big Ten games:— Minnesota Sports Fan (@realmnsportsfan) January 11, 2021
12/15: @ #13 ILL (L)
12/25: #4 IOWA (W)
12/28: #17 MSU (W)
12/31: @ #6 WIS (L)
1/3: #25 OSU (W)
1/6: @ #10 MICH (L)
1/10: @ #5 IOWA (L)
#1.) Glad that’s (almost) over
There’s no way to get around it. The Golden Gophers have had the most difficult schedule to start conference play of any team in college basketball.
They’ve had SEVEN Big Ten games so far. FOUR of them were on the road and ALL SEVEN have been vs top-25 teams (TWO vs top-5 and FOUR vs top-10). Most conferences don’t even have 7 ranked teams total.
The Big Ten is the nation’s premier men’s basketball conference in the country this year and the Gophers have seen the very best of it to start the season. That’s changes about to change. Following their game next weekend vs #10 Michigan, Minnesota will play just ONE ranked opponent in their next EIGHT games.
Wins still won’t be easy… but they should come a bit easier than they have so far.
#2.) Teams are containing Marcus Carr
After a scorching hot start that put him in conversation for all sorts of Big Ten and national awards, Marcus Carr has struggled of late, posting less than twenty points in FIVE straight games. The Minnesota Gophers have lost THREE of those contests.
Only in the win vs Ohio State has Carr made it to the free throw line more than one time. Prior to the last five games, Carr was averaging over 8 per game. With defenses’ exaggerated focus on him, Marcus hasn’t risen to the occasion with any sort of aggressiveness with the basketball. He’s settled for more outside, contested jumpers, which is exactly what these defenses want.
Both Marcus and Richard have to find ways to get him on the scoreboard and to the free throw line earlier in games. There’s no reason why contests should be approaching halftime without Marcus Carr in double-figures, let alone getting off of zero.
#3.) Bench minutes getting clearer
As the season goes on, bench minutes are getting easier to divide out for Richard Pitino. Jamal Mashburn Jr continues to get minutes but needs to start showing more maturity with that time on the floor.
He needs to slow down and remember that he plays point guard. The kid wants to score every time he gets the basketball… like he might never see it again.
When Jamal Jr gets the ball, he plays like he’s never going to see it again if he doesn’t score.— Minnesota Sports Fan (@realmnsportsfan) January 10, 2021
Meanwhile, the clear-cut 6th man is turning into Tre Williams. The Sophomore guard has taken a major step forward this season and he flashes high-end talent every game. His defense continues to improve as well. He looks comfortable and confident.
Isaiah Ihnen will never reach his potential until he realizes how tall he is. Eric Curry is what he is, at this point in his career. He’s limited physically but doesn’t seem to hurt the Minnesota Gophers while he’s out there, either.
#4.) Richard Pitino is nothing special
I don’t know how much of the Gophers’ problems are Richard Pitino’s fault and I’ve been a sympathizer of his since I started this website. But one thing continues to become more and more clear the longer he coaches: He’s nothing special.
Richard has been in town for a long time now and I can’t remember ever thinking, “wow, what a genius move/play by Pitino”. For a young coach who spent his entire life in basketball, you’d think we’d have a few more of those moments.
This season during road games, his team continues to come out flat after halftime. Either other coaches are making better adjustments OR he’s letting his team’s focus die during intermission. Neither is a good look for him.
#5.) We need fans back.
Between immunizations, recovery immunity and good old fashioned social distancing, it’s time to get fans in the stands of Big Ten events. Governor Walz is allowing fans into high school games and guests back into restaurants/bars. There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t start safely filling stadiums and arenas at the major college and pro levels again too.
As more and more people get immunized, we can add more and more fans into the stands. Let’s start with 25% (same capacity as high school) and start figuring out intuitive ways to get the building to full-capacity from there.
Many healthcare workers are going through their second round of shots right now. Can we get 15,000 immunized healthcare workers or other immunized parties into Williams Arena for a game? I don’t see why that won’t be possible soon, especially with a major hospital/clinic right on campus.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan