Gabe Kalscheur was asked after Saturday's 81-62 loss at Purdue if he thought the Gophers basketball team needed to win on the road this season to make the NCAA tournament.
"My mind-set is not even on the NCAA tournament right now," the junior guard said. "I don't want to think about the tournament and all that talk. It's just about the next game, getting better."
The Gophers (11-6, 4-6 in the Big Ten), who play next on Thursday at Rutgers, haven't won a road game this season. They have enough quality home wins, namely vs. Michigan, Iowa and Ohio State, to be in NCAA tourney projections with half of the Big Ten schedule left.
But if the Gophers are going to stay off the bubble and end their road skid Thursday at Rutgers that likely means addressing several issues that have plagued them so far.
Here are four observations on the Gophers at the halfway point through Big Ten play.
What's their offensive identity?
Less than a minute left in the first half at Purdue, Marcus Carr stared down a double team and dumped the ball off to Liam Robbins for a two-handed dunk before the defense could recover.
Carr finished with five assists Saturday, but he had only six points on 2-for-13 shooting. The 7-foot Robbins led the Gophers with 15 points, but he was 6-for-16 from the field, including 2-for-7 from three-point range.
Should the Gophers rely so heavily on ball screening with Carr? Should they use a high-low offense more with Robbins and their forwards (seniors Brandon Johnson and Eric Curry had 11 and 10 points vs. Purdue, respectively)? Should they keep shooting so many threes?
Whatever they're doing isn't working so far. They rank last in the Big Ten and 294th nationally in field goal shooting (40.4%) and last in the Big Ten and 303rd nationally in three-point shooting (29.9%). But they are third in the Big Ten and 44th nationally with 25.6 threes attempted per game.
More outside shots meant fewer fouls drawn attacking the basket. The Gophers were the No. 1 team in the nation at getting to the foul line in nonconference play with around 21 free throws made per game. They're still shooting 75.3% in Big Ten play but making 14.6 free throws a game.
Robbins and Carr will keep drawing double teams, but how do the Gophers adjust offensively moving forward when that happens?
"Every time I got it in the post I was getting doubled instantly," Robbins said Saturday. "They were giving me the three. It's a tough read because it's the open shot. But sometimes it's not the right shot."
Opposing defenses in the Big Ten have made Carr's life extremely difficult, especially on the road.
The junior point guard is averaging just 11.8 points on 24.3% shooting in five road losses. But he's a Bob Cousy Award finalist likely for putting up 23.4 points per game on 47.6% shooting at home.
Pitino had hoped that Utah transfer Both Gach and Kalscheur would take pressure off Carr, but that hasn't happened enough in the Big Ten.
Gach is averaging just 5.1 points on 27.6% shooting in Big Ten games this year. Kalscheur is an all-defensive team candidate, but he's averaging 8.7 points on 33.7% shooting, including 25% from three.
There are some nights when both Gach and Kalscheur are complete no-shows scoring (two points combined on 0-for-10 shooting vs. Maryland). But Gach's inconsistency (nine points combined on 3-for-22 shooting in five losses) resulted in Pitino replacing him in the starting lineup Saturday with sophomore Tre' Williams, who had eight points and five rebounds in 23 minutes.
"We just weren't getting a lot of production from there," Pitino said. "We just needed to get some different looks, because offensively we weren't great. [Williams] did some good things."
The Gophers are on pace for their third player to lead the Big Ten in blocks under Pitino, with Robbins joining Reggie Lynch and Daniel Oturu.
Robbins ranks 12th nationally with 2.8 blocks per game. The Drake transfer's six-block performance against Purdue were the most for the U since Matz Stockman's seven blocked shots vs. the Boilermakers in 2019.
Pitino has another game-changing rim protector, but he could use another elite rebounder. Robbins' 6.9 rebounds per game would be the fewest to lead the Gophers since Mo Walker's 6.7 in 2014-15.
Jordan Murphy (twice) and Daniel Oturu (last season) led the Big Ten in rebounds the last three seasons.
The Gophers, who allowed 17 offensive boards vs. Purdue, rank last in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (minus-3.1) and last in defensive rebounding (40.5) this year.
Every Gophers' loss this season has been by double digits and by an average margin of 18.7 points per game. There is a big reason for that besides not being able to hit a shot.
Minnesota's defense in the second half drastically fell off with the exception of the Maryland loss at home. In the U's five road losses, Illinois (61%), Wisconsin (65%), Michigan (62%), Iowa (70%) and Purdue (60%) were basically scoring at will.
The Gophers lost to the Terrapins because they scored just 49 points and shot 24% in the second half. But Pitino's team played well enough defensively in the second half against the Terrapins (held them to 29% shooting) to win.