Two losses to two top-5 teams isn’t the end of the world – in fact, it’s tough to be too ashamed of that.
Outside of top-5 teams (the Gophers also lost to Duke, as you’ll remember), Minnesota has taken care of business, notching wins against three other teams ranked (at the time) in Memphis, Michigan State and Illinois.
But make no mistake; the Gophers badly need a win tonight.
They need a victory to bounce back from not just two losses, but two games that featured stretches of poor play and lackadaisical defense from the Gophers. They need a victory to quickly get back in line with the basics that have made them successful this season. They need a victory if they are going to prove that while they cannot compete with top-5 teams for now, they can compete with everyone else.
Northwestern is a team that could present a significant challenge to the Gophers if they don’t play with the sharpness we’ve been accustomed to seeing before the last two games. Their Princeton offense has proven to give this Minnesota team fits and their 1-3-1 zone defense can be difficult to penetrate. What’s more, the Wildcats’ ability to slow down the game helped contribute to one of the ugliest halves of Gophers basketball this season when Northwestern was in Minneapolis on Jan. 9.
Therefore, three things the Gophers need to do to pull out a win at Northwestern:
1) Force the pace sooner rather than later. Last time against Northwestern, the Gophers played the Wildcats’ game for a good 20 minutes, and it wasn’t very pretty. It was 17-14 Gophers at the half, but as they weren’t able to get out in transition, their strengths were mostly nullified. Thankfully for them, they were able to play solid enough defense to stay in the game. Then, they relied on some hot shooting from Austin Hollins in the second to create enough separation to force Northwestern to speed up. No reason to take so long this go-around.
2) Shoot well. It’s been the saving grace of the Gophers in their last 60 minutes of basketball – and one of the only things that kept them from being completely embarrassed by Michigan last week. The Wildcats have some shooters, too, so Minnesota will have to stay on its game.
3) Hold onto the ball. Is this seriously still as great of an issue as it is? We’re neck deep in the league season now, and still the Gophers haven’t been able to address their greatest flaw. Against Northwestern – a team that is ranked 21st in the nation in turnovers-per-possession – that issue could be exposed once more.
More notes on tonight’s matchup:
- The Gophers have lost four consecutive games at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
- With Drew Crawford gone for the year, Reggie Hearn has stepped up as leader. He is averaging 14.5 points and 4.6 rebounds a game and has scored 42 points in the last two games.
- Coach Tubby Smith said Monday that the Gophers have been dealing with a couple of injuries, most notably Joe Coleman’s turned ankle, which kept him out of a couple of practices. Rodney Williams hasn’t missed any practice time, but he has been dealing with some hip soreness and a minor knee issue. Both, however, are expected to play tonight.
*Watch tonight's game live on Big Ten Network.
*Listen to tonight's game live on 1500-a.m.
*In today's Star Tribune: Gophers look to refocus on the stretch ahead.
*On the blog: Turnovers still a problem for the Gophers
*On the blog: Rodney Williams on tweet to teammates about being thrown under the bus: "It was just a dumb comment I made."
*Bigfoot click of the day: a rap about an encounter.