The Gophers introduced dozens of former men’s basketball players at halftime Saturday at Williams Arena. Famous names and role players from different generations filled the court for a salute.
Richard Pitino should have checked to see if any of them had eligibility remaining. He’s running out of players.
A team depleted by injury and suspension fought hard, but the Gophers were a shell of themselves in a 75-71 loss to a bad Indiana squad.
A panicky possession by Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy with less than 30 seconds left and the deficit at three doomed any hope of a happy finish on a difficult day. In a weird sequence, Mason and Murphy rushed long jumpers as if a school bell rang and they wanted one more shot before leaving the gym.
The loss served as an exclamation point at the end of a thud.
“We’re getting tested right now,” Pitino said.
Amazing how much has changed. The roster, the mood, expectations … everything feels deflated.
Remember when we romanticized about a possible Final Four run with this team? The last 48 hours turned the season upside down.
First, Reggie Lynch was suspended after a university investigation found he violated the school’s sexual misconduct policy. Then news surfaced Saturday morning that Amir Coffey suffered a shoulder injury that could sideline him for several weeks.
That’s best-case scenario, which means the Gophers should brace for something worse considering the way things have gone.
“I don’t think he’s going to be back soon,” Pitino admitted.
Given what’s left in the cupboard, this is going to be a grind, folks. Adjust your expectations appropriately. The NCAA Tournament now looks very iffy. And that’s a kick in the teeth compared to the mood back in August.
At one time, the Gophers looked equipped to contend for the Big Ten title and advance deep in the NCAA Tournament. They were a trendy pick by national media to make a big splash.
The crew that took the floor Saturday in no way resembled that team in terms of talent and firepower. No Lynch, Coffey or Eric Curry, who was lost to a serious knee injury before the season. That’s three of their top six players missing with a razor-thin bench to boot.
“Adversity has hit,” Pitino said. “We have got to get these guys to continue to believe in each other.”
Effort shouldn’t be a problem. The Gophers didn’t seem distracted or dejected by everything that has happened this weekend. The problem is a sudden lack of talent and depth. That’s not easy to cover up. And tougher challenges than Indiana await.
The start of Archie Miller’s tenure at Indiana has not exactly been smooth with home losses to Indiana State and Fort Wayne. The Hoosiers committed two of the silliest turnovers you’ll ever see in a basketball game on Saturday. They had a hiccup inbounding the ball and a 10-second violation despite not being guarded either time.
And they still won. Which says a lot about the current state of the Gophers.
Murphy and Mason will need help moving forward. Somehow, some way.
Murphy has been one of the most productive players in college basketball this season, with 17 consecutive double-doubles. He has found another level in his game. It’s unrealistic and probably unfair to expect him to do more.
Pitino will need to squeeze more from his backups, particularly freshman guard Isaiah Washington and senior forward Davonte Fitzgerald, who has struggled with confidence after missing last season because of a knee injury.
Small-ball might be their best hope, but that will lead to unfavorable defensive matchups. Nothing is going to be perfect though.
At one point in the first half, Pitino went with a unit of Washington, Fitzgerald, Michael Hurt, Bakary Konate and Dupree McBrayer. Not by choice but out of necessity because Murphy was in foul trouble and Mason needed a quick rest.
“We’re going to have to scratch and claw,” Pitino said.
Goodness, this season has careened wildly off course. Doesn’t even feel like the same season. But this is their reality now.