In this week's national insider, I take a look at the resurgence of Texas ball. Plus, notes from around college hoops, and this week's Big Ten power poll, in which the Gophers drop substantially. Once again, there is movement at the top,
Tonight's game against Indiana tips at 7:30 CT and will be broadcast on BTN and 1500-a.m.
Three straight losses to three less-than-dominant teams in the conference warrants some tweaking -- Richard Pitino gets that.
But will the coach's power forward flip flop be enough to spin the Gophers in a positive direction?
Sometimes a change -- any notable change -- can make a difference simply from a psychological perspective. Conventional wisdom says the status quo can't change unless some element changes in a way that affects the whole. Perhaps if a team feels fundamentally different, it will play different.
But beyond affecting the Gophers' psyche, how much will Joey King starting in Oto Osenieks' place affect Minnesota?
King's minutes figure to tick up somewhat -- in the five games before the Purdue game (in which King played 47 minutes and Osenieks, just eight), King has just 16.4 minutes per game to Osenieks' 23. Whether King can be justifiably more productive in greater minutes remains to be seen as the undersized four-man has been up and down all season.
In any case, it was worth the move, just because it seems like a good time to tinker a little bit. It doesn't mean that the move is permanent -- only the Pitino is willing to shuffle things when the team is struggling and find what works. If Minnesota was to lose to Indiana tonight, I would expect more changes when the Gophers head to Madison.
Indiana will not be an easy target as the Gophers try to gain steam with a big win. The Hoosiers are coming off a momentous win over previously unbeaten Michigan at home, and the young rosters is starting to click in a dangerous way after some early struggles.
"They've got very, very good young talent. And you never want to play good young talent late -- and that's what we're doing -- because they get better, they figure it out," Pitino said. "Indiana could go on a run here soon. Hopefully they do it after our game."
A few other notes:
*The Hoosiers defense has been very strong so far this season, landing at No. 20 in the nation. Said Pitino: "[Coach Tom Crean] does a lot of different things defensively -- they'll play man, they'll play zone, they'll do a couple of different things, they'll go zone to man, they'll go man to zone, they'll go 1-2-2, back to a zone. He's a huge preparation coach. He's as good as anyone out there at preparing, and they've had a week to prepare, so we've got to kind of expect the unexpected."
*One game after going against talented Purdue big man A.J. Hammons, Gophers centers Elliott Eliason and Mo Walker will face Indiana's Noah Vonleh, the favorite to wind up as Big Ten freshman of the year -- although Pitino noted that he always tries to get his big men plenty of help in matchups like this one. Walker said he feeds off of assignments such as this. "We've got a lot of good players in the league," he said. "Going up against all of these guys every night -- I know a lot of these guys have a lot of hype and not a lot of people know about us, about me and Elliott. So, it's a challenge, it's fun and I love taking on the challenge."
*Pitino and Walker both reiterated that the team's biggest problem against Purdue was failing to match the Boilermakers physicality. The officiating crew wasn't calling many fouls in that one, and the Gophers couldn't adjust to the intensity level that became the base. "They kind of pushed us around and loose balls, they got them with two hands," Pitino said. "Hammons is a very good rebounder -- You've got to give him some credit as well. But I just thought we got out-toughed a little bit in that game." Nevertheless, Pitino said he thought the team played "together" unlike the previous outing, against Northwestern at home.
*Pitino addressed a shot-clock violation that occurred near the end of the third overtime. A.J. Hammons followed the Gophers' miscue with a layup that proved to be the difference. "They went under a ball screen on Andre and he passed it to Joey," Pitino said. "I told Joey 'Did you see the clock?' He said no. I said 'Do you look at the clock during the game or what are you doing?' And he just said 'Ah, I zoned out.' So, it's frustrating, but he was playing his butt off."
*Call him confident or call him stubborn, but Pitino is standing by his zone defense. Asked about the struggles the Gophers endured while in that formation on Wednesday, the coach replied: "I don't agree with that. I actually think we had success with both [the zone and man-to-man]. I think our zone actually was hurting them and then they started getting it in the middle, cutting a little bit, screwing us up a little bit. I thought our man and zone was both good. Our zone beat them, Purdue, at our place. Our zone has been very good. Got to adjust." Kendall Stephens had some success from three-point range against the zone, hitting four treys, but Pitino said that he was precisely one of the reasons he didn't want to play man-to-man. "I was like frightened to play man when Stevens was at the 4. We did it, gave up a three. I don't think one right now is better than the other -- man or zone."
*Walker said that the team was pretty fatigued after the triple overtime loss at Purdue, and Pitino kept practice succinct on Thursday. "I want to say everybody was feeling pretty drained, sore. I know I myself was. But we came to practice, we brought it hard. Coach kept it short. He just said keep up your intensity, and we'll be out of here in no time. And that was the case."
*The last time Minnesota faced Indiana was Feb. 26 of last year, when the Gophers downed the No. 1 -ranked Hoosiers at the Barn. This year it is a little bit different, with Indiana coming in unranked, but needless to say, the players have very fond memories of the event. "I just remember rushing the court, really, that was great," Walker said. "Just the unbelievable energy in the crowd and throughout the whole game. When the seconds were ticking down, you could see all the energy building up and all the fans getting ready to rush the court. It was a great feeling winning last year, and hopefully we can do it again this year."