Read my full game story on Minnesota’s 74-69 loss at Michigan here.
Three quick observations before I catch a midnight nap:
Seriously, better. Never before this season has a loss felt so much like a win. OK really, the Gophers are 0-7 in the Big Ten, they’ve lost 11 of their last 12. Things are not good. But Minnesota is so desperate for a silver lining of some sort that the improvement shown in the last two games feels almost positive. First and foremost is the effort we’ve seen in the last two – in which Minnesota has lost by a total of 12 points after dropping the previous two by a combined 50. Ladies and gents, there is a pulse within Gophers basketball. The players look like they care when things are falling apart and better yet, they’re doing something about it. They’re getting aggressive, driving into the hoop, getting scrappier on defense and – wonder of all wonders – attacking the glass. All of that stuff showed up in the stats tonight. Minnesota out-rebounded Michigan 21-18 in the second half, held the Wolverines to 31 percent from the field while connecting on 46.9 percent and out-shot them in the paint 26-10. It just didn’t show up in the final score. But if you’re a Gophers fan, you’ve got to believe that if Minnesota plays that way every night, this year might not be quite as dire as some were thinking it could be.
Senior leadership 1.0. One of the glaring deficits on this Minnesota squad is leadership. The youngsters are still learning how to be that and the veterans don’t have the personalities to be that, at least in a loud, vocal way. Know when you can get away with not talking much? When you’re doing stuff like Carlos Morris was tonight. After almost single-handedly putting the Gophers back in the game just before halftime with a pair of back-to-back three-pointers, Morris turned up the intensity again in the second. Suddenly he was fighting for rebounds, working on defense, driving into the paint, providing – along with sophomore Nate Mason’s 25 points – a spark. Coach Richard Pitino pointed out that the team doesn’t see that nearly enough. Just imagine what Minnesota could be if both Morris and fellow senior Joey King (who had just three points and four rebounds) put it together on the same night. Against Indiana, King finished with 18 points while Morris finished with six points and two rebounds. Tonight, it was the other way around.
Caught two good teams on two bad nights. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Minnesota has looked better – better from a really, really bad product – in the last two games, but there’s a pretty big asterisk there too. Both Indiana and Michigan, two of the league’s most dynamic and talented offenses, looked off against Minnesota for reasons that cannot only be explained by the Gophers spurts of acceptable defense. Part of the story here is that Minnesota just caught two good teams on two bad nights. The thing is, sometimes when a team is hurting from a confidence perspective as much as Minnesota was, that’s just what it takes for a bounce-back, regardless of all the reasons for the proximity of score. The Gophers can either build on this two-game silver lining or get lazy/ over-confident. If it’s the former, we might – MIGHT – see a win sooner rather than later.