Granted Michigan State is a tough team. And Breslin Center is a tough place to play.
But after letting last night’s loss sink in, the most enveloping thought I’m left with is a question: What is this Gophers team?
They came into this game off a stretch that was about as good as anyone could have hoped for, winning two on the road, upsetting Indiana and notching their first at home.
Then there was last night.
Sure, like I said, tough team. But the Gophers were dominated. Until that point they had been moving their way up the League Respect Ladder, being noted across the Big Ten for their awakening and being called [by Big Ten Network] the hottest team in the conference. They needed to prove that success and improvement was legitimate by hanging close with the Spartans.
They didn’t -- at least in the closing minutes -- so where are they now? Do they belong hovering above the bottom rung, where they are? Are they somewhere in the middle of the pack? Or is this game a learning tool so that the Gophers can find some different strategies when facing that toughness inside?
“Michigan State, they’re known for their physicality -- they’re not buckling down because we’ve been playing well the last three games,” Joe Coleman said. “They have the reputation of being a tough team and they came out and showed that.”
To the Gophers’ advantage, the Spartans are probably the most physical team they’ll play all year. But Ohio State, with Jared Sullinger, is no pushover, and the Buckeyes’ game is not far away. And of course, the Gophers have to play Michigan State again, in late February, when the season is winding down and tourney bids are being decided.
Where will the Gophers be then? What kind of team will the Gophers be then? I think they’re still trying to figure that out.