In the minutes preceding and following the Gophers men’s basketball team’s 84-59 loss at Nebraska — its second consecutive 25-point defeat — fans exercised their adjectives on social media.
Beyond those observations, many wondered about another, more distinctive qualifier. Was this struggling team they were watching the worst in program history?
After the Gophers’ head-shaking defeat Tuesday night, no one is denying that right now this is a very, very bad team. They have lost six in a row and nine of 10, and they could be on the wrong end of another blowout when high-flying Indiana comes to Williams Arena on Saturday.
But is this the worst Gophers team ever? No — at least not yet.
It turns out the Internet is filled with fans of every stripe and variety wondering when their team is having a very bad season if it is the worst ever. As of now, this season of Gophers men’s basketball might not even be the worst of this young century.
Most fans will remember the cringe-inducing 2006-07 season, at least those who haven’t erased it from their brains in post-traumatic instinct. After a five-game losing streak in November culminated with a tumble against Clemson, coach Dan Monson was fired seven games into his eight season.
Things didn’t get any better under interim coach Jim Molinari. The Gophers lost at Alabama-Birmingham as well as at home to Arkansas-Little Rock. In the Big Ten, they won only three games and finished the season on an eight-game slide.
A stroll down a painful memory lane for Gophers fans of a certain age provides another “worst” contender. The 1986-87 season was right up there as well. Four players were kicked off the team a year earlier — three for an alleged sexual assault in Madison — and coach Jim Dutcher resigned in protest of a president-instructed forfeit. The Gophers finished the Big Ten on a 16-game losing streak, dropping seven of those by 20 or more. “Uff da” surely echoed around the state then.
Historians can find a few other really bad teams. In 1922-23, the Gophers won only their Big Ten season finale. They went one-and-done in 1932-33, too. In the three seasons from 1926-27 to 1928-29, the Gophers managed only a total of four total conference victories. In 1943-44, Carl Nordly’s bunch lost five games by 25 or more, including a 27-point thrashing at home to Great Lakes Naval Training Center.
Of course, this year’s Gophers have a few statistical anomalies of their own.
The 6-11 start marks the program’s worst since 1967-68, when the Gophers went 4-13 in their first 17 games. This season’s team has matched last season’s by going 0-5 to start Big Ten play; it’s the first time in program history that’s happened as well. The team is coming off consecutive 25-point losses for the first time since 1987-88, when the Gophers lost at Iowa and Indiana by a combined 54 points.
The future isn’t projected to get much sunnier. Analyst Ken Pomeroy has the Gophers favored in only two games the rest of the season — the pair against Rutgers.
Crazy things happen in college basketball, so who knows what the next month and a half will bring. For now, the Gophers are merely a very bad team. But if Pomeroy’s predictions, or worse, come to fruition, the conversation about the “worst ever” will return with a fury.
Rayno’s three pointers
Weekend game to watch:
No. 8 Miami (Fla.) at Clemson, 1 p.m. Saturday (Stream: ESPN3)
Clemson (11-6, 4-1 ACC) is rolling and finishing a three-game home stretch with its third consecutive ranked squad. If the Tigers can keep the magic going against Miami (13-2, 2-1), expectations will skyrocket. Unfortunately, you will have to tune into this one online — that’s how unlikely this being a good game was at the start of the year.
Numbers to know
1 Undefeated team remaining (SMU) after South Carolina finally fell at Alabama on Wednesday, one game after picking up its biggest victory of the season against Vanderbilt.
1 Indiana’s in-conference defensive efficiency is ranked at the top of the Big Ten. No one saw that coming.
15 Victories for Northwestern (15-3, 3-2) this season, a total that has already matched the Wildcats’ final sum from last season.
Clemson still has the flaws that the Gophers exploited in an 89-83 victory in late November, but right now the Tigers are the anti-Gophers, getting markedly better as the year goes on. Before the start to the season, Clemson was picked to land somewhere around the bottom four or five in the ACC, a prediction that looked spot-on when the Tigers lost to Massachusetts and Minnesota early on. But since the start of league play, Clemson has changed the story, reeling off four consecutive victories, most recently over No. 16 Louisville and No. 9 Duke. The Tigers have been one big factor in a crazy start to the ACC schedule.
Big Ten power poll
Iowa (13-3, 4-0 Big Ten): Is Iowa the best team in the league? The Hawkeyes certainly looked the part Thursday. Michigan State couldn’t wait for the rematch at home, but the Hawkeyes wound up with their first sweep of the Spartans since 1993.
Indiana (14-3, 4-0): The Hoosiers’ stock is only going up after a 25-point win over Ohio State despite playing without James Blackmon Jr. now out for the season (right knee).
Michigan (13-4, 3-1): Caris LeVert sat for his third consecutive game (lower leg), but the Wolverines upset No. 3 Maryland without him on Tuesday.
Maryland (15-2, 4-1): The Terrapins often go as Melo Trimble goes, and Tuesday both went south with the guard putting up two points and four turnovers.
Michigan State (16-2, 3-2): Denzel Valentine is back, but in his absence, the Spartans have realized they are contending with a deeper top tier in the league than some originally believed.
Purdue (15-3, 3-2): The Boilermakers figure to be an NCAA tournament team but still are looking for their first really impressive conference victory.
Ohio State (12-6, 4-1): Freshman JaQuan Lyle is one of the tangible signs of the Buckeyes’ improvement, with a triple-double in a rout of Rutgers.
Northwestern (15-3, 3-2): The Wildcats beat Wisconsin on Tuesday despite going only 4-for-12 from three-point range.
Nebraska (10-8, 2-3): The Cornhuskers are having the opposite run as the Gophers the past two games, topping the league’s lowliest pair by a combined 59 points.
Wisconsin (9-9, 1-4): Nigel Hayes is so mad about the Badgers’ off-the-rails season that he has started expressing himself in expletives.
Illinois (9-8, 1-3): Weird things can happen in college basketball, and the Illini’s 84-70 upset of Purdue on Sunday was just that.
Penn State (10-8, 1-4): The Nittany Lions are getting killed by the long ball, as opponents have shot 44.9 percent from beyond the arc.
Gophers (6-11, 0-5): Their next projected victory (over Rutgers at home) is more than a month away.
Rutgers (6-12, 0-5): It’s been more than a year since the Scarlett Knights won a Big Ten game; they’re down to six scholarship players after Jonathan Laurent sustained a concussion.