If you pool together the Gophers’ games vs. Michigan State, Northwestern and Indiana, Minnesota is being outshot by opponents by 3.3 percentage points in the first half.
Look at the second half, however, and that better explains how the Gophers’ have managed a 3-1 record in the league so far. Because after halftime, Minnesota is out-shooting their opponents by 11.6 percentage points – an average of 49.5 percent compared with opponents’ 37.9.
Put another way, the Gophers have finished particularly well … and started much, much slower.
Against Indiana, Minnesota’s slow start ultimately cost them a game they miraculously pulled back into enough to get another shot at the end. But make no mistake, the Gophers would not have been in that situation had they started stronger in the first half.
So what gives? Why is it that the Gophers have been so much better after the break?
“Most games, unless you’re just so much more superior than someone, it’s usually the adjustments you make at halftime – or your opponents’ adjustments – are going to have something to do with what occurs,” coach Tubby Smith said.
Certainly that’s true to a good extent – the Gophers have been excellent at adjusting from one half to another. And that’s significant because those adjustments have won them two of the three games I mentioned (I didn’t include the Illinois game in the above stats simply because the slow start wasn’t an issue against the Illini – the Gophers out-did Illinois the entire game, meaning the Illini were clearly NOT able to adjust).
But when the Gophers start out sluggishly on both ends, it can compound the issue, as it did on Saturday, when the Hoosiers shot 65.6 percent in the first. The problem, indeed, has not been necessarily that the Gophers have started out slowly on offense – there is only a minor difference in their average shooting between halves, from 48.6 percent in the first to 49.5 percent in the second – but that their ability to limit opponents on defense compared to their own production.
One of the issues might be that the Gophers often go through a really poor stretch in the first, such as they did Saturday when Minnesota turned the ball over five times (five different players) in a five-minute span as the Hoosiers went on an 18-2 run.
“We were playing pretty good for a good 8-10 minutes, then we had some breakdowns defensively and really took some poor shots, turned the ball over,” Smith said. “That can always cause a problems for you when you have 12 turnovers [in one half]. And I think that’s been one of our issues in the first half, we’ve turned the ball over a lot early on in games.”
To put it in a word – and one Smith used to describe the team’s woes – in a handful of games, the Gophers have simply lacked the aggressiveness they’ve exhibited in the second half.
The good news is that it’s there – and it’s effective. But the difference between being a good team and a great team is the how long a squad can maintain that edge. If the Gophers can only learn to harness that aggressive intensity earlier, they could truly compete with any team.