The Gophers men’s basketball team, coming off a trip to the second round of the NCAA tournament, is off to a discouraging 4-5 start.
Heading into Sunday’s Big Ten home opener against No. 3 Ohio State, the question is this: Is there much hope that Richard Pitino’s team can turn things around?
First take: Michael Rand
That question is probably a relative one. Making the NCAA tournament after such a slow start will be hard; teamrankings.com gives the Gophers just a 9.6% chance of making the Big Dance. While they don’t have a terrible loss yet — all five of their defeats were to RPI top 100 teams — they don’t really have a signature win.
But I am encouraged by some stylistic changes that seem to match their personnel. This season, 44.9% of their field-goal attempts have been from three-point range — the highest number in the Big Ten. Last year just 29.6% of their attempts came from long distance, the lowest mark of any NCAA tourney team and lowest of any Big Ten team.
They have the makings of a modern offense that can win games.
Marcus Fuller: The Gophers have talked a good game when it comes to being a better three-point-shooting team than they were last season, which doesn’t take much.
They’ve got to walk the walk, as well. Hitting 14 and 13 three-pointers vs. Cleveland State and Central Michigan is one thing. But can they duplicate that success against a good high-major opponent? Iowa is not a juggernaut defensively, but Minnesota shot 6-for-25 in a 20-point loss Monday.
Rand: Indeed, the Iowa game was probably the most disheartening of the Gophers’ losses this season — but it probably is a bit of an outlier. Gabe Kalscheur and Marcus Carr went a combined 1-for-20 from the field, including 0-for-12 from three-point range. They won’t do that again.
But it underscores a fundamental problem with the modern approach to shooting threes: If you take a lot of them but don’t make enough of them, you shoot yourself out of games — which the Gophers and Wolves have found out this season. The Gophers are making threes at a 34.2% clip this season, 138th in Division I.
Kalscheur in particular is a key to all this. He’s making just 32.8% of his threes after making 41% as a freshman. Then again, there is a question of whether he is just in a shooting slump or if he’s getting more attention this season from defenses that no longer have to worry about Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy.
Fuller: You make good points about Kalscheur being the key and that he’s getting more attention. He went through a slump last season but broke out in a big way, especially with 24 points and five threes in the NCAA tourney win vs. Louisville. The former DeLaSalle star will have a big game soon.
But Coffey is gone, and opposing wings with size and length will make it really tough for him. Catch-and-shoot three-pointers are critical for Kalscheur and this team to shoot well more consistently from the outside. They need more kickouts from Carr’s penetration and after talented big man Daniel Oturu draws attention in the post. Shooting contested threes and off the dribble is not going to cut it.
Rand: Not much is cutting it right now. We’ll see if that changes.
Fuller: I wouldn’t be surprised if the Gophers heat up soon and even set a school record for three-pointers in a game this season, but they just can’t keep going to the well when it’s dry.
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