If Seattle's stunning 43-8 Super Bowl win showed us anything (other than that big budgets do not equal good commercials and that it's possible for the Seinfeld cast to get together and not be funny), it was that defense wins championships.
It's a tired line, but one we are reminded of often.
Coincidentally, it's also the major reason the Gophers aren't winning games.
"We are giving up so many easy looks," DeAndre Mathieu said after the Gophers' 55-54 loss against Northwestern at home on Saturday. "Guys are scoring too easy on us."
That's probably an understatement. While Minnesota's offense has been a bright spot early on, the Gophers' defense has been nothing short of atrocious, and it doesn't seem to be getting better.
Currently, Minnesota sits dead last in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency since the start of conference play (all stats according to KenPom.com).
The Gophers have the worst free throw rate (which measures how much a team gets to the line relative to how much they try to score).
They have the worst three-point defense, allowing opponents to convert 36.7 percent of their attempts from behind the arc.
And they are the second worst at forcing turnovers, with opponents ending possessions that way just 15.1 percent of the time.
In the last four games, those numbers have grown even more concerning. Opponents have:
*Hit 33 three-pointers, and 40 percent from behind the arc.
*Made 52 percent of two-point attempts.
*Gone to the line 100 times, compared with the Gophers' 69 (including 93 times in the three games before Northwestern, which was one of the most lightly called contests of the season).
*Turned the ball over on just 14.2 percent of their possessions (which would rank eighth in the country if a team did that for a full season).
In other words, the Gophers' defense is limping, and it's dragging the season down. It doesn't help that Minnesota is now without Andre Hollins (ankle), one of the better defenders on the team, but the Gophers have really just been bad across the board. The press isn't causing the hiccups its designed to; the zone is full of holes. Until the Gophers get those problems solved, any talk of the NCAA tournament should be suspended.
A few other leftover notes from Saturday:
*I wanted to make note of this on Saturday, but I forgot. On a night in which the Gophers reacted more emotionally than any game this season, the locker room was like a morgue. Mo Walker seemed to be more shaken up as anyone, unable to even pull his face out of the jersey tightly pull over his head for the full 15 minutes the media was in the locker room (he showered, but immediately re-took the position when he returned, not even taking the time to change out of his towel). I don't blame the players in any way for their reactions -- it was an extremely tough loss, and as coach Richard Pitino pointed out, they obviously care a lot about how this team does. You cannot criticize passion. Yet all of that said, DeAndre Mathieu should be commended for the way he has handled himself in postgame interviewing sessions all season. We talk to him after just about every game because he is a thoughtful and eloquent quote, and so we've spoken to him after he's played very well, and after he's played very poorly. His attitude remains the same regardless, and he will be the first to shoulder the blame (Elliott Eliason is also this way) and answer questions about his struggles. I just wanted to point that out because it's something that's impressed me, and something that most people don't realize. It takes guts.
*Austin Hollins had a very strong second half on Saturday in a time where the Gophers really needed him (finishing with 13 points, six rebounds, two assists, zero turnovers and three steals). Had they been able to pull out the win, he would have been one of the major reasons. It was very encouraging for a player that has struggled notably throughout the Big Ten schedule. "He played hard," Pitino said. "He's getting some confidence back.
*Walker, much like the Wisconsin game, had a big first half (12 points, three rebounds) and then didn't do much in the second (he finished with 14 points and four rebounds). To some extent, Northwestern, like the Badgers took away the Gophers' inside game, but Walker also committed some odd turnovers (he finished with four), letting passes twice roll through his legs (the first of those wasn't a great pass, but that still shouldn't happen). "He dropped the ball and it was killing his confidence I think more than anything," Pitino said. "What do I do? Tell him to catch the ball? The game is funny like that."
*Pitino on Walker being so down after the game: "I’m sure he’s going to be very disappointed with this game, just because I think he had a pretty good look at the end there that he should have made. I don’t think he should not be confident. He was one of the best big guys on the court." Said Mathieu: "He's down. He's really down. We're going to try to boost him up. We're a family so, if he's down like that, we're going to try to boost him up. He'll be fine."
*Mathieu said in days after a tough loss, Kendal Shell is often the one to pick the team up with his energy in practice. "He's into it all the time," Mathieu said. "If we all had the intensity that Kendal has, we'll be fine, we'll be probably one of the best teams in the country. I've just got to get like that -- I've got to get very, very intense in practice, just get out there every day."