Update: Surprise! Andre Hollins will return to the court for tonight's game at Purdue, and will be in the starting lineup. The junior guard has missed the last three games after sustaining a high ankle sprain in the opening seconds of Minnesota's home game against Wisconsin on Jan. 22. The Gophers' staff had originally said that Hollins was extremely doubtful tonight. The announcment was made just before tip-off, after the guard was suited, and had gone through shootaround with the team.
In all liklihood, Andre Hollins will not be back for tonight's game at Purdue.
But that doesn't change the impetus.
The Gophers are in big need of a win to stop the current two-game slide, one that probably feels worse than it is because it includes losses against Nebraska and Northwestern.
It won't be an easy victory -- Minnesota is obviously missing Hollins badly, and it's never easy to pull out a win in a Big Ten opponents' house -- but the Gophers have already shown they can beat Purdue this season, and the Boilermakers haven't looked much changed since then (except A.J. Hammons has been better).
"I think it's two teams kind of trying to figure out their issues amongst themselves more than anything," coach Richard Pitino said. "But it's going to be a tough test for us. It's always tough to beat a team twice."
Pitino gathered the team after Saturday's loss and reminded them that this is a new year, and they should try to enjoy the season for what it is. That enjoyment comes a lot easier when a team is playing well, but sometimes the former can spur the latter. Whether the Gophers are able to harness a new approach tonight could correspond with whether they are able to pull out a win.
Some notes on tonight's game:
*Minnesota planned to fly in last night, but were unable to with a snowstorm rolling through Indiana. The Gophers landed around noon local time today instead. The sun came out for a little while this afternoon, but it is still a pretty big mess in West Lafayette.
*The Gophers have only swept an opponent in the regular season twice in the last three years. Last year, they didn't win two against any team in the conference in the regular season; in 2011-12, they swept Nebraska; in 2010-11, they swept Iowa.
*Since playing the Gophers, Hammons has failed to score in double digits just once and has had fewer than seven rebounds just twice. He has averaged 14 points and 7.1 rebounds in that span. Against the Gophers, Hammons managed just seven points and a single rebound. Elliott Eliason will have to be playing much more effectively than he has in the last few games if he wants to stymy the Boilermakers center again. If Mo Walker takes a big share of the minutes, the interior defense will take a hit.
*We love to talk about what the Gophers will do when teams slow it down, but that really hasn't been a legitimate storyline this season, with Minnesota playing pretty darn slow itself. It seems the Gophers are plenty comfortable with slow. But what about playing fast? They've struggled against teams that push the tempo a little more. Iowa certainly did, and the Gophers were left in the dust. Nebraska has been decently quick in the conference schedule. But Purdue is really the only other team the Gophers have faced that truly get up and down. The Boilermakers aren't Iowa, but they do play at the 54th quickest pace in college basketball, according to kenpom.com. That probably had something to do with the Gophers allowing a 19-point lead to trickle away down the stretch, and it's something to watch again.
*Andre Hollins had 17 points and five assists against Purdue. Without him, the Gophers might have been overcome by the late Boilermakers run.
*Pitino said the player he's been most impressed with since Hollins went down with his ankle injury is Daquein McNeil. "Day-Day has been the one guy that we've kind of thrown in there and he's been very good," Pitino said. "His best basketball is far, far ahead of him, certainly." McNeil has total six points, five rebounds and three assists since the Wisconsin game.
*Pitino reiterated that he wasn't worried about Eliason, who has averaged three points and 3.3 rebounds in the last three games. "The Nebraska game, I think was more at Nebraska, he's from there, I just think frame-of-mind wise he wasn't in the best place," the coach said. "I think Wisconsin, I think Mo [Walker] stepped up, I don't think it was necessarily anything that Elliott did, and then Northwestern was the same. I'm not worried about Elliott, I'm really not. I think Mo is playing very, very well, and I think Elliott can give us a lot, which he's given us all year."
*One of the media's favorite questions this year has been about whether Pitino will ever play Eliason and Walker together in the frontcourt. The coach wouldn't budge on his stance on Tuesday. His response was good-humored and comical:
"Should I put a sign on the door that says 'I'm not going to do that?,' Pitino asked. "Do you coach basketball? I want to know what you would do defensively with Elliott and Mo in the game. How would you guard somebody? Last game, they had a pick-and-pop four-man, how would you guard that? Chase him off a down screen? So like a hard-driving team like Purdue, with like a Basil Smotherman, you like Mo in front of him? No, I don't see it. I'm sorry. I mean I respect your alls opinion, I don't like playing like that, I really don't."
*Pitino said he didn't talk to Walker specifically about his end-of-game miss on Saturday, but made it clear he didn't think that loss was about a single shot. "I didn't even bring up the shot," Pitino said. "He was crying because he missed the shot. As much as it's nice that he cares, he was crying because he missed the shot -- which is normal. But he's not the reason we lost. We highlighted a lot of reason why we lost, and Mo's missed layup had nothing to do with it in my opinion. I think he understands that he's playing really really well."