Yesterday, Gophers coach Tubby Smith answered the question of whether there was any panic with the team’s four-game losing streak with the comment:
“There’s always panic, man. There’s a pandemic when you lose, especially when you lose four in a row, yeah … there’s a sense of urgency that you’ve got to get the job done and get better.”
And certainly, while No. 23 Minnesota has plenty of time to recover from this down stretch, there is an impetus for that recovery to start immediately, especially with Nebraska in town to give the Gophers a real opportunity.
Indiana and Michigan are talented teams with national championship aspirations. Wisconsin is always tough to play at home with its style. Northwestern can be viewed as an anomaly, one that was aided by the Wildcats’ unigue pace, offense and zone.
But as CBS Sports’ bracketologist Jerry Palm said to me on Monday:
The conference’s top seven teams “should never lose” to Nebraska or Penn State.
The Gophers should have no problem beating the Huskers, but more than just a winning score, they should be looking for some real improvement in several categories:
Shooting percentage from the field: In the last two games, the Gophers have shot an abysmal 34 percent. Even with good defense, that’s not a recipe for a win.
Turnovers: The one bright spot against Wisconsin was that the Gophers turned over just nine times. They need to keep that going. A few consecutive games with turnovers in the single digits will go a long way.
Free-throw percentage: In the non-conference schedule, the Gophers shot 71.6 percent from the line. In league play, they’ve made 63.5 percent of their attempts. In the last three games, that percentage has gone down to 55.3. With the competition only getting tougher, that is not the way you want that trend to be going.
Energy: That’s been the most concerning trend of the last few contests. The Gophers will need to get out on top early tonight, and keep it up.
Defensive pressure: Defense has been the identity of this team from the start, but then Indiana, Michigan and Northwestern shot a combined 50 percent against the Gophers. They need to get back to the basics.
This is not a chance for the Gophers to relax—no, they’ve gotten themselves in too much of a hole for that. So expect to see 40 minutes of intense, unrelenting basketball on both ends if Minnesota is showing any signs of working out of this slump.
Other notes on tonight’s matchup:
- While Nebraska is clearly the second-worst team in the league (just on top of Penn State), the Huskers are coming off their best stretch of the season, winning two of their last three games (at Penn State and against Northwestern). In that Saturday game, the Huskers held the Wildcats to 32.1 percent shooting while making 54 percent themselves in a big second half.
- Scoring is up across the board for Nebraska, which is averaging 59.8 points a game in the last four, up from 47 in the first four Big Ten games. Still, the Huskers struggle to get enough production.
- Nebraska has succeeded in slowing the game down at times when they want to, an area Smith was asked about on Monday, considering how the Gophers have performed recently against opponents that are able to control the pace. Smith said he believes the Gophers main struggle in that regard because they’ve slowed themselves down with unforced turnovers, rather than something the other team is doing.
- Seniors Brandon Ubel (12.1 points, seven rebounds) and Dylan Talley (13.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists) lead the team, and combined for 34 points and 20 rebounds against Northwestern.
- Nebraska’s ball handling is notable, despite losing its top three point guards from last year, and its backup point guard to a season-ending injury, the Huskers rank 15th in the nation with 11 turnovers a game. The Gophers rank 236th with 14.4.
*Watch tonight’s game on Big Ten Network
*Listen to tonight’s game live on 1500-a.m.
*In today’s Star Tribune: Rodney Williams’ leadership and offensive impact has been missing lately.
*This week’s aMAILia BAG looks at Smith’s buyout, whether the Gophers can make a quick turnaround and what to feed any stray bigfoots living near your house.
*Also on the blog: Team needs to work on psyche, Smith said, plus lots of other notes.