The Gophers are feeling the pressure, and coach Tubby Smith, at least, doesn't appear to be sitting still – in fact he could be shaking things up a lot tonight.
A team source said that Rodney Williams and Julian Welch are the only locks for tonight’s game against Michigan State. Apparently, the other three positions are still being considered as the 7:30 tipoff looms.
The potential rolling of the dice isn’t unwarranted. The Gophers are 5-9 in the conference and have lost three straight. As if things couldn’t get any more real, the Gophers were officially kicked out of the brackets of both Joe Lunardi (ESPN) and now Jerry Palm (CBS sports). Minnesota probably needs a few huge wins to sneak back in. That said, the Gophers have three huge opportunities still left on the schedule, starting tonight and continuing against Indiana and at Wisconsin.
The opportunity is there, but taking advantage of it will be really tough. The Spartans might be the best team in the league right now, and they’re a particularly tough matchup for the undersized, not-so-aggressive Gophers. In the first game against Michigan State this year, in East Lansing, the Gophers were beat up inside and overwhelmed offensively.
“Watching them on tape can be kind of scary – they’re big, they’re physical and they annihilated us on the boards there, so we’ll have the same challenge here,” Smith said.
Three things that will be critical to a win tonight:
1. Aggressiveness. Smith is likely trying to figure out the most aggressive combination of players he has to start – because banging around in the paint and on the boards will be critical tonight.
2. Turnovers. This has been a big problem lately, heightened by last weekend’s 21 slipups at Northwestern. The Gophers can’t give away points against the Spartans.
3. 40 minutes of intensity. Joe Coleman said yesterday that he thinks mental concentration might be the biggest thing for the Gophers. That’s why shaking things up in the lineup could be really good – put in five guys that want it, and that have something to prove.