Monday, February 4, 2008

New Look Gophers Go Into Hiding Against Wisky

The Gophers played their worst 40 minutes of the season Sunday afternoon at Williams Arena. There didn't seem to be any fire, desire or intensity. There was no fight in a Gophers team that gave away its last best chance to grab the proverbial "big win" they needed to solidfy an otherwise shaky resume.

Bo Ryan's Wisconsin Badgers did all of the little things right--and when I say little, I mean like making entry passes to the right hand, etc--and embarrassed Tubby Smith's Gophers in front of a crowd that would have went nuts had the local lads just given them an opportunity. But no such opportunity emerged for the Barnyard to erupt. The Badgers jumped out to a quick 10 point cushion and really never looked back.

It was almost as if the Gophers didn't have any fight left. OTS said as much after the game. From Jim Souhan:

The latest failure prompted Smith to wonder how college seniors winding down their careers can fail to reach an emotional peak on such a day.

"I don't know how that can be," he said. "I don't know how your mind can not be there. You're playing Wisconsin, your archrival."

At home. "This one was probably worse than the last one," Smith said. "The last one [against Michigan State], we at least gave ourselves a chance. This one we didn't have a chance."
I appreciate the honesty from Smith. All season, he hasn't shied away from saying what is obvious to those of us who follow this team. You can't mince it: Senior 'leaders' Spencer Tollackson, Dan Coleman and Lawrence McKenzie have all been highly disappointing. We all want them to be so much more. We want them to fight to win something during their senior year, but whether it's a lack of skill (Tollackson), consistency (McKenzie) or passion (Coleman), this group doesn't have it.

What's more unfortunate is that it appears this team is regressing. Tubby Smith is known as a bench coach and a teacher. Even those who wanted him out at UK give our coach that much. But other than Damian Johnson, not one Minnesota player seems to have improved either from last season or from the first tip of the year against Army. And during Big Ten season, as the team should perhaps be completely in sync, they are anything but. After fighting to the last whistle with Michigan State and Indiana, the Gophers have folded early in their last two big games: at Ohio State and Sunday against Wisconsin.

Those are troubling observations.

Some of this can be attributed to Tubby's decision to change directions. As the season began, Tubby went 10 or 11 players deep every night. Many of us cringed as Kevin Payton struggled, Jamal Abu-Shamala tried to play defense or Travis Busch tried to guard Raymar Morgan. So, Tubby shortened his bench, started effectively playing 6 or 7 guys. New roles. New expectations. Worse results.

Because of this we can, for the first time here at PJS, criticize Tubby Smith's leadership.

If Tubby didn't know that Payton, JAS and Busch were incapable of performing at the Big Ten level, then Tubby didn't do a very good job evaluating the talent on his team. Every Internet pontificator knew as much. Tubby either didn't see it or didn't care and instead worked to develop the aforementioned players.

But when things got tough, Tubby panicked. After an excusable, albeit disappointing, three game skid--against Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan State--the Gophers came out against Michigan on Thursday a different team. Instead of playing full-court pressure defense and forcing turnovers, the Gophers played half-court pressure defense. With a much shorter rotation, Tubby couldn't apply full-court pressure. So, in a reactionary move to stabilize the talent level on the floor, Tubby effectively changed the DNA of this team.

In hindsight, it probably would have been best for the coaching staff to notice the lack of bench talent early on and get Coleman, McKenzie, Tollackson, Al Nolen, Damian Johnson and Lawrence Westbrook used to playing 30-40 minutes.

Either way, the Gophers probably don't have the talent to be much more than an NIT team this year. But if Tubby had handled this team a little differently over the last few months, perhaps the home crowd would have had at least one chance to rise to their feet in support of our lovely rodents.


Friend Of Tubby said...

Gophers win next 3 in a row.

I think.

Goofer said...

Your point about how Tubby has been handling the team is interesting. I think, though, that that is a small part of the problem. I don't think that any other coach could get more out of the team than Tubby has. Yes, he's flipped flopped on his lineups and style but for me the biggest issue is the lack of talent. The effort was there for the most part until the Wisconsin game. That was bad. Tubby , is right. How can they not come to play? Coleman is the worst. So much wasted talent. I don't even know where to begin with him.

PJS said...

My first reaction is to agree with you, Goofer, on your point that Tubby has gotten more out of this team than any other coach. Certainly he has done more with this group than Danny Monson.

Whogoofed said...

Hi, I just recently came across your site. You picked a great name for the site. Didn't realize that per your links there are several other sites that cover gopher basketball. Great. That gives me more to read. Also, regarding your Wisky game post, I think that Tubby has gotten as much out of the team as he can. I'm not sure if any changes he could have made or not made earlier would have allowed them to eke out a win over a ranked opponent.

PJS said...

Thanks, whogoofed! And welcome. You're right. There is an ever-expanding group of Minnesota blogs.

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