It seemed like Elliott Eliason had put some thought into the question. And he was quick with a response.
Does he think the Gophers allow a few mistakes to snowball?
“You could say that,” he said, his head down and shaking slowly. “I kind of like to use a quicksand analogy, personally.”
Could you say that about the season?
After starting the non-conference schedule 12-1 and the Big Ten, 3-0, the Gophers have now lost six of their last eight, have fallen below .500 after the loss to Illinois and find their spot in the AP top 25 – the new one will be released tomorrow – threatened.
Yes, not all of these losses are bad. They Gophers have fallen to ranked Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State, Wisconsin is always tough and Illinois clearly is full of capable shooters.
But this is the league the Gophers play in – and if they can’t learn to take some of these matchups very soon, they’re going to quickly work their way into a very different conversation than the one they were hoping to be joining this time of year – a conversation laced with talk of the bubble, lingering disappointments and staff turnover.
Because the biggest concern with this Minnesota team is that they cannot seem to fix their woes, which are incredibly consistent and harmful from game to game. This loss to Illinois was no different – brought on by poor shooting (36.7 percent), rashes of turnovers (13 overall), a disjointed offense (no one able to find open spots except Austin Hollins) and the failure to defend the perimeter (Illinois had 11 3-pointers).
Other notes from tonight’s game:
- Rodney Williams didn’t play at all after tweaking his left shoulder in yesterday’s practice. Williams said he thought he could play, at least some, but that the coaching staff made the decision to keep him out to ensure he didn’t make the injury worse. Williams said he will “definitely” be playing on Thursday, when Wisconsin will be at Williams Arena.
- Elliott Eliason started at center, with Trevor Mbakwe shifting to power forward. I thought Eliason did a great job and was very active defensively and on the boards, and in feeding the high-low to Mbakwe.
- That worked well in the first half, but Illinois adjusted in the second half, double-teaming Mbakwe, who had four turnovers. Austin Hollins pointed out that no one did a good enough job of taking advantage of those opportunities with two defenders occupied. “We’ve got to scramble to the perimeter,” he said. “We practice it all the time. Throw it into the post, then screen for your teammate on the wing, so we’ve just got to do a better job of transferring it to games.”
- The subbing patterns were, shall we say, odd once more tonight. After the starters got off to a rock solid beginning, he snatched them out in favor of a full second team. “The group we had in was playing very well, and I thought ‘It’s going to be one of those games,’” Smith said. “It’s hot. Guys were exerting a lot of energy, we were trying to get out and guard the 3s, we were trying to monitor.” From there, Smith kept the rotations constantly changing, which seemed to have a tangible effect of the fluidity of the offense.
- Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman combined to go 3-for-18 from the field.
- The Gophers posted their best free throw percentage in seven games, but went to the line just 13 times.
- D.J. Richardson (13 points) and Tyler Griffey (16 points) were responsible for 50.8 percent of Illinois’ offense.
- The Illini beat the spread by 13 points tonight.
- I nearly lost my face (mostly my nose) due to an errant pass by a Player Who Shall Remain Nameless in pregame. More than anything, I was surprised this hadn't happened to me before. Sympathy flowers may be sent to the Star Tribune newsroom (I know, I know, heads up.)