The Gophers men’s basketball team took its first lopsided defeat of the season Wednesday night in a 65-47 loss at Michigan State. But things will not necessarily get easier as the Gophers prepare to play Saturday at Penn State, which beat Michigan State 72-63 at the Palestra in Philadelphia last Saturday.
The Nittany Lions held the Spartans to only 41.1 percent shooting and had four players in double figures, led by freshman Lamar Stevens’ game-high 18 points. They also were able to hold Michigan State to only 11 assists while forcing 17 turnovers.
That was Penn State’s first victory over Michigan State since the 2010-11 season, and maybe the biggest win of sixth-year coach Patrick Chambers’ career.
Gophers coach Richard Pitino said after Wednesday’s game that while his young squad — which features only one senior getting regular minutes in guard Akeem Springs — played well on the road in beating Purdue, it definitely struggled playing a physical team in East Lansing, Mich.
“I’ve seen great environments [at Breslin Center],” Pitino said. “I think coach Tom Izzo was a little frustrated and is always a little bit tough. Purdue is a terrific environment. They are both really good and when this place is good, it is phenomenal. I felt young [Wednesday], I definitely felt young. I’m not sure that was the crowd as opposed to their toughness and they just beat us up — not in the fouling way, but the toughness. But I definitely thought we looked young today. I haven’t felt that way yet.”
If there’s one positive to the Gophers’ three losses this season, they have all come against quality opponents — although the 75-74 overtime loss at home to Michigan State on Dec. 27 is a tough blemish on their résumé.
Their only other loss was 75-67 at Florida State, which is 16-1, ranked No. 9 and looks like one of the best teams in the country.
After the game, Izzo said that playing with young squads, as both he and Pitino are doing, can lead to drastic fluctuations in play from week to week, even when you’re playing the same opponent three weeks apart.
“As I just told Richard, there are ups and downs of trying to figure it out with freshmen,” Izzo said. “His freshman, [Amir] Coffey, has been playing really well and was recruited at a high level. He just didn’t play as well [Wednesday].”
Coffey finished with four points on 1-for-5 shooting with six rebounds, two steals, two assists and three turnovers.
Meanwhile, Miles Bridges, the Spartans’ freshman standout who was the eighth-rated prospect in the nation in the ESPN 100 coming into this season, was a difference-maker Wednesday with 16 points (all before halftime), six rebounds, four blocks and one assist. Bridges missed the game at Williams Arena because of an ankle injury.
“[Bridges] was terrific in the first half just making skill plays,” Pitino said. “They have very, very good talent, and if coach Tom Izzo was a normal coach and scheduled [weaker nonconference opponents], they probably would have two or three losses. But you know that’s how he is and he knows what he is doing and I’m not questioning him. But they are going to get better and better and better.”
While the Gophers (15-3, 3-2 Big Ten) have had a great start, Pitino stressed to his players that this is going to be a long and difficult conference season.
“To me it’s just, you’re ranked, and everyone loves you,” he said. “It is too early for any of it. We have had five league games. We have a bunch of time left. There are no easy games in this league. Winning on the road is very difficult. Just because we did it twice early doesn’t mean we are going to run through teams on the road. It’s very challenging to do.
“It’s a marathon. I told our team a marathon is 26 miles, and we have run 14. It’s not over, we have not arrived and our team understands that. I think that every game is hard in this league.”
Yes, and the Gophers better be ready for a difficult game in Happy Valley on Saturday if they want to stay above .500 in Big Ten play. But if the Gophers can win there, they will be in a great position and have a full week off before a big matchup with Wisconsin on Jan. 21 at Williams Arena.
No one knows how hard a schedule truly is until the games are played, but at this point it’s fair to be optimistic about the Vikings’ 2017 schedule.
A combination of the team’s third-place finish in the NFC North and the NFL’s scheduling formula has the Vikings set to face opponents next season who went a combined 115-139-2 in 2016. The .453 opponents’ winning percentage is tied for fifth-lowest in the league.
The Vikings will play fellow third-place NFC finishers Los Angeles (4-12 in ’16) and Washington (8-7-1) along with the rest of the NFC North and the entire NFC South and AFC North.
This season, the Lions, Giants and Raiders all made the playoffs and combined to go 32-16, and all three played a third-place schedule.
• The Chargers announced Thursday that they will relocate to Los Angeles after 56 seasons in San Diego. While there, the Chargers won only one league title — the 1963 AFL championship. That team was coached by Minneapolis native Sid Gillman. Gillman, who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, coached the Chargers from 1960 to ’71.
• The Chargers’ move means the Vikings will play at least two games in Los Angeles in the next three years. They are currently slated to play regular-season road games against the Rams in 2018 and the Chargers in 2019. The NFL could schedule preseason road games for the Vikings against either franchise as soon as next season and the Vikings also will play on the road against the Rams the next time they both finish in the same place within their divisions. The Vikings last played in Los Angeles in 1992, when they defeated the Rams 31-17.
• Things are really trending upward for Wolves guard Ricky Rubio, who is currently seventh in the NBA with 7.6 assists per game and his 3.71 assist-to-turnover ratio is third in the NBA behind Warriors forward Andre Igoudala and Clippers guard Chris Paul. In his past 15 games, Rubio is averaging 8.2 points on 38.5 percent shooting, 9.2 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 2.3 steals and is shooting 97.7 percent from the line. In that stretch, he has had six games with 10 or more assists, and the Wolves are 5-1 in those contests, including Wednesday’s 119-105 victory over Houston in which Rubio tied his career high and the franchise record with 17 assists.
Sid Hartman email@example.com