Read my full story on Minnesota’s 77-52 loss to Northwestern, here.
Three quick observations after the Gophers dropped to 0-4 in Big Ten play:
This team is not close. On Friday, Minnesota coach Richard Pitino told us he thought we were seeing an “upward trajectory” in the Gophers performances in Big Ten play. He’s repeatedly told media he thinks the team is close and will break through at some point. They might yet, but it’s certainly not around the corner. This team is not close. Gophers fans can’t expect to see the bare minimum -- a consistent effort or an acceptable level of energy on a game-by-game basis. Minnesota is not full of offensive jauggernauts, but the fact that the Gophers fail to share the ball or work together goes beyond that. And at this point, Minnesota can’t execute a respectable simple zone defense. The players don’t communicate. Right now, this is not a squad on the verge, it’s a team still desperately struggling to figure itself out.
Murphy at 3 is a tough sell. Since entering the starting lineup, freshman Jordan Murphy has been forced to play the small forward. It’s not going so well. In the bigger lineup, Murphy is pulled away from the post and has a harder time getting involved in the offense in a meaningful way. Friday, Pitino pointed out that he runs plays aimed at getting Murphy in the post when his talented big man is manning that spot, but what’s more noticeable is Murphy being relegated to the wing, taking three-pointers and or having to make the long commute with the ball to the hoop. A least a couple of the four turnovers he had today came that way. Obviously not all of his struggles in Big Ten play have come because of his position – he’s been in foul trouble in all four games – but he admitted tonight that trying to add the 3 to his pile of responsibilities has been difficult. Meanwhile, the Gophers are losing valuable help on the boards and their only true post scorer.
Again, no Buggs. Again, redshirt junior Charles Buggs didn’t leave the bench, the third time he’s sat this season. Again, Pitino told the media he was just “playing the guys I thought could help us win.” Since coach doesn’t want to fill us in on the nature of the ongoing spat between him and one of his three upperclassmen – and that’s his choice, entirely – it’s hard to speculate. But it’s also hard to understand why, if Buggs isn’t suspended, Pitino wouldn’t give him a chance to contribute, particularly when Minnesota is in a bit of an all-hands-on-deck situation. One of Buggs’ best qualities is his ability to provide energy and a scoring spark quickly off the bench. Minnesota could also use his athleticism on the boards. Buggs certainly makes his fair share of mistakes, but this year isn’t two years ago, when he was a liability on the court. The forward has looked much improved this year, but is suddenly sitting on the bench more than ever.