The Gophers have lost before, and they’ve been in trouble before – plenty of times.
But after the loss to Northwestern last night, things feel different.
Yes, it’s late in the year and everything seems to matter more right now, but it was more than that. Saturday felt like the Gophers lost some of their optimism (which has seemed ever-present on this young, resilient team). Maybe for some of the players – those that have never been through a Big Ten season before – it was the first time they truly were confronted by the realness of the situation. Maybe for coach Tubby Smith, it was the first time he saw his team in a new light. I think he kept thinking it would click. And it hasn't.
The proof of the slipping optimism were in the words.
Smith questioned his coaching, a la Bruce Weber style, saying he guesses he “did a poor job of teaching how to attack” Northwestern's zone. He questioned the players, stating over and over the difference between Northwestern’s players (“good players find a way;” “the great players … they want that challenge, they seek it”) and his own (“obviously we don’t”).
Julian Welch called out the team saying “some guys didn’t show up” for the meaningful game.
Joe Coleman reiterated something we’ve heard all season: that the Gophers’ biggest problem is STILL getting on the same page.
“We’ve just all got to be on the same page,” he said. “We come in and some people are doing different things than others, and we’ve just got to make sure we’re all on the same page.”
The Gophers have four games left, would realistically need to win at least three to have a shot at making the NCAA tourney (barring a huge run in the conference tournament), and are favored in just one. Everyone seemed in shock last night, as if they finally get how serious it is. Unfortunately for the Gophers, it's awfully late to do anything about it.