There is a formula that will make this Gophers team successful.
But Minnesota must execute it almost perfectly, night in and night out if they want to be competitive in the Big Ten.
Last night, they didn't come close.
The formula looks like this:
(1) Big games from Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins + (2) aggressive play from either Malik Smith or DeAndre Matheiu + (3) gang rebounding + (4) lots of three-pointers + (5) precise ball handling + (6) decent defense + (7) good free-throw shooting.
If the Gophers can do those at least five of those things, they have a chance to beat anyone. If they miss a few (or a bunch), they can lose to anyone -- even a team (ahem, Michigan) missing its two best players (Mitch McGary for all of it, and Glenn Robinson III for most of the second half).
Last night, Minnesota managed just two of the seven. They rebounded well, out-battling the Wolverines, 38-24 on the boards. Six players had three or more rebounds. And Smith was who the Gophers need him to be, hitting a pair of very clutch three-pointers, and finishing with 12 points, three rebounds, two assists, zero turnovers and a steal.
Everything else fell apart. With Andre Hollins and especially Austin Hollins having "off" offensive nights (with Andre going 3-for-10 from the field and Austin going 1-for-9), the Gophers badly lacked the leadership and spark they needed to overcome a team like Michigan, which despite being unranked and losing their two best players still had plenty of talent (and fight) with which to respond.
After the game, coach Richard Pitino pointed out that it's hard to blame the duo because they've carried the team all season -- which is true, no doubt.
But with great talent and production and experience come greater responsibility: those two players simply cannot disappear on Minnesota if they expect the team to compete.
Beyond their stars not showing up in a big way, the Gophers -- who have typically been good ball handlers this season -- had a barrage of unforced turnovers, including five bad ones from DeAndre Mathieu, who otherwise did some good things. They went 5-for-19 from three-point range (not to mention that they shot 39.6 percent from the field overall). And their defense, overall, was poor. They allowed Michigan to slip through their half-court attack for easy buckets, and failed to stop Zak Irvin (five three-pointers) on the perimeter after he started getting hot. They made just 13 of 19 shots from the line.
That Minnesota was in a position to win the game at the end says more about Michigan's personnel losses than it did about the Gophers. The game was theirs to win. But without those seven fundamentals, Minnesota doesn't have the talent or the depth to overcome good teams. I'm not sure what team in the Big Ten they'll have an easier time with than they did against Michigan (sans McGary and Robinson) last night -- certainly not the upcoming Purdue, who will bring a second challenge right away.