The Gophers have played three games since then — the Penn State game, which was a bad home loss; a victory over Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament’s first round on Wednesday; and a loss to Ohio State in the second round Thursday.
The season still might not be over, as there is a chance that Minnesota will get the opportunity to defend its NIT championship (which no team really wants to do).
Point being: during that session, we asked Pitino who the Gophers’ MVP is this season because, frankly, we were having a hard time thinking of who it would be.
And even though there have been three games since the question and there could be more coming, we don’t think the answer is any different right now. Here’s what he had to say last week — after a pause to think for more than 5 seconds:
“Well, it’s been funny. They’ve all kind of gone through phases. I’m not sure if I know. It was Mo (Walker) at one point. It was Andre (Hollins) at some point. It’s been Nate (Mason) at some point. Even DeAndre (Mathieu) has been solid, and Joey (King). I don’t think we really have an MVP. And that doesn’t mean we’re not a good team. But I don’t think — and I’ve always said it, and it’s not a knock on Andre — that we have one guy who is the clear-cut guy on the team. That doesn’t mean we can’t have a good team, but I don’t think we have that.”
Pitino is right in that having a clear-cut team MVP is not essential for success. A number of players from undefeated and very balanced Kentucky, for instance, play massive roles but it’s hard to pick one who always stands out. It’s nice to have different players who can step up.
That said, Pitino’s answer does speak to the problem of inconsistency that plagued the Gophers for so much of the season. Not to pick on Hollins, who overall had a similar season to what he had as a sophomore and junior, but if there is one player outsiders expected to shoulder the scoring load (even if Pitino says he doesn’t think of him as “the guy”), it’s him.
During the middle of the Big Ten schedule, when the Gophers went 5-3, Hollins scored at least 17 points in seven different games and was deadly from three-point range. In the other 12 games – an 0-5 start to the Big Ten season, plus the final five regular-season Big Ten games and two in the conference tournament (2-5 record combined) — Hollins was held to 7 points or fewer six different times and shot a combined 19 for 73 (26 percent) from three-point range.
The lack of a go-to player/MVP could also be a factor in so many close losses in crunch time. When you don’t have one dominant player in end of game situations, it can be challenging to score — or at least to have an offensive identity.
Maybe the answer for future Gophers success under Pitino isn’t having one clear-cut MVP, but rather more good players in general. This year, though, the lack of an MVP seems to be part of the downfall.
We couldn’t name one, and neither could the coach.