Read my full game story on Minnesota’s 78-63 loss at Ohio State in Wednesday’s Big Ten opener, here.
Three quick observations before I go find something to wet my whistle:
Jordan Murphy is necessary. As is anyone who has watched more than 10 minutes of Gophers basketball this year needed a reminder, the star freshman’s value was on high display again Wednesday, first by helping to key the energy necessary for a big comeback and then by sitting on the bench with four fouls, helpless as the Gophers world fell apart without him. It could be argued that as long as he had two fouls to give, he should have been on the floor, at least when things began disintegrating, but the real point is that the Gophers are so vulnerable without him. When bigs Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou play like that (and so far, they haven’t proven they’re capable of much more), the Gophers don’t really have a serviceable lineup without Murphy. They struggle to score without him, particularly inside where there really is no other post threat. And defensively, they miss his length and athleticism. In his absence, Ohio State reeled off a 20-3 run. Not pretty stuff.
Minnesota still struggles with the basics. The fight apparent in the Gophers’ comeback from 15 down to take a two-point lead in the second half was nice, but until Minnesota can learn to string together 40 minutes of merely fundamentally sound play, it’s hard to expect those moments to result in an actual win. The Gophers have shown sparks of tough defense, but it’s like they’re so exhausted from those moments that they space out for 10 consecutive possessions. Both their man-to-man and zone are deeply flawed. They lose shooters and fail to box out. On offense, they’re not sharing the ball, to a shocking degree. The Gophers have compiled eight assists or fewer four times now. On both ends, the communication is pretty bad. The team isn’t doing any improving until some of those basic things get under control.
Kevin Dorsey is back; Pitino says he’s still hurting. The freshman point guard was back in the rotation on Wednesday after a successful practice on Tuesday and played 18 minutes, recording three points and two assists. Coach Richard Pitino had noted earlier that Dorsey re-aggravated the left heel injury that he sustained in the win over Chicago State in practice on Monday, making a returned look doubtful. Wednesday he said that he felt the 6-foot guard was still a step or two off. “He wasn’t great, but he practiced yesterday,” Pitino said. “I still think he’s in a little bit of pain. He’ll be OK but he hasn’t practiced a lot, I think that’s hurt his game a little bit. So hopefully, get a couple more practices in him and he’ll get back into game shape.”