The wide-eyed believers who went along with the "the Big Ten is so tough'' as the theory to explain the Gophers' fall from grace this winter had no problem deciphering what was witnessed on Friday night in Austin. Tex. They watched Tubby and the Underachievers destroy UCLA 83-63 and said:
"I knew this team was good enough to make a tournament run. All our players needed was to get back their confidence.''
Surprise though it might be to occasional readers, I don't aways embrace the rosiest view of local sports teams. Thus, for now, I'm sticking with the theory that this has been one of the most-disappointing, even most-disgusting, efforts witnessed from a team with high expectations in the annals of Minnesota sports.
Which leaves me to break down the responsibility for Friday's result in this manner:
Forty percent for the very good play of the Underachievers after the first TV timeout; 30 percent for the putrid play of the Uclans for the entire evening; 20 percent for the tight officiating that made success remote for the too-thin Bruins; and 10 percent for the decision of Tubby Smith and his coaches to put the Gophers in a zone.
What was clear to me once again -- as it was after the upset victory over Indiana in Williams Arena last month -- was many of us were way off base in early January when he pined for this to be Tubby's lineup for 30 or more minutes per night:
Trevor Mbakwe at center and Rodney Williams at power forward, with Austin Hollins, Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman on the outside.
Those have been the starters since Big Ten play opened, with only a couple of variations. Included was Williams missing the home loss to Illinois with a shoulder injury.
The wide-eyed believers said after that game, "The Gophers would've have won if Rodney had played.''
The fact is, Rodney had a horrible final season of Big Ten play. He wasn't Ralph Sampson III of 2012, so bad that Tubby stopped playing him, but he was dang near Lawrence Westbrook of 2009 ... downhill in realibility as a senior rather than uphill.
Here's my conclusion: Ruggedness is an asset for the Gophers. And the Gophers are much more rugged when Elliott Eliason gets plenty of minutes. And that makes the Gophers better when Eliason is on the floor with Mbakwe to beat the Hades out of people in the post, than when Williams is on the floor with Mbakwe.
The Gophers are going to start Rodney again Sunday vs. Florida, and why not? Why make him feel any worse about his disappointing last season? But the most minutes should go to Mbakwe and Eliason on the inside, the Hollins lads at the guards, and Williams getting his time in shifts with Coleman.
OK, you see a ball bounce off Eliason's hands on occasion. Go ahead, scream "Elliott'' at the TV. This is still a big man with as much to offer as did Colton Iverson, who left the Gophers unfulfilled and became a star at Colorado State.
Conclusion: I like the Gophers with Eliason on the floor. More importantly, I think opponents like playing the Gophers more when he's not on the floor.
Rodney can make an opponent feel bad with a dunk. Eliason can make an opponent feel bad with sore ribs.