Aside from the season-saving victory against Wisconsin, though, there is one tiny shred of silver lining in the recent struggles – the emergence of Elliott Eliason.
Is this ride over yet? Exactly one month ago Minnesota was sitting pretty with a shiny 15-3 record; they’d accrued two tough conference wins over Michigan State and Illinois, it’s only blemishes to three of the nation’s top teams in Indiana, Duke and Michigan. The losses weren’t fun, but, hey, they were losses to good teams, right? But a single, fateful performance against the Northwestern Wildcats and their curiously effective 1-3-1 zone began a Gopher nosedive that was all too familiar. And it continues today.
Once again the Gophers have taken us on a horrifying roller coaster ride, bringing us to the summit of college basketball’s version of the Wild Thing before plunging us into the murky depths of turnovers, disinterest and zone defenses. And as another disappointing season continues to wear on the question remains – is anyone actually operating this ride? If so, when can we get off?
The answer is unclear. And as Chief Wiggum could attest when he got his tie stuck in the hot dog machine at the Kwik-E-Mart: “This is going to get worse before it gets better.”
With a home contest against Indiana on the horizon the Gophers face yet another stiff challenge as they attempt to stem the fall and get back on track. Of course, with all of their recent offensive struggles it’s hard to be confident that Minnesota will come to play, especially with their last two embarrassing performances in mind.
Yet, even with a loss at home against the Hoosiers, the final three games come against the bottom half of the conference, giving the Gophers a legitimate chance to get to nine wins in the conference. But with road wins hard to come by, even for teams playing good basketball, how well will the Gophers perform? Do they have the composure and veteran leadership to win the games they are supposed to? History and even this season indicate that, no, they aren’t cut out to take care of business. But given their earlier success this season it’s unfair to write their eulogy quite yet. Unfortunately, we’ve been on this ride before, and it hasn’t ended well.
Elliott Eliason developing – It’s been a rough, rough couple of weeks for Minnesota and, frankly, there hasn’t been a whole lot of “good” to document – especially when the team goes 1-4 in that stretch. Aside from the season-saving victory against Wisconsin, though, there is one tiny shred of silver lining in the recent struggles – the emergence of Elliott Eliason.
Now, it hasn’t been any sort of blow-the-doors-off, notify-the-local-papers explosion from Eliason, but in his extended minutes recently we’ve seen glimpses of a player who is definitely developing. And after beginning the season as a starter, it’s nice to see him finally start to get it. He’s playing terrific defense, not picking up as many ticky-tack fouls, and brings a unique intensity to the game that many of his teammates would be wise to mimic.
And – going out on a limb here – Eliason is perhaps the team’s best passer, a department where the Gophers are severely lacking and a main reason why their offense is so stagnant. Eliason has a keen ability with his height to see passing lanes develop from the top of the key and has quick decision-making skills that give him an advantage. This leads to excellent back door cuts and easy baskets. He’s still definitely a work in progress, but given the fact that he’ll play a huge role on the team next year it’s good to see him going in the right direction. He’ll need to continue to develop a consistent offensive game, but the opportunities are definitely there. He just needs to convert.
Offense MIA – Is it even possible to sum up the struggles of the Gophers the past few weeks? The successes have been few and the losses are starting to become more egregious and embarrassing. This is not a team that should be losing by more than 20 points in back to back games. There are several specific components that can illustrate the struggles of the team, but they all lead back to one thing – the lack of a cohesive offense. And it’s become apparent that when the Gophers can’t score then they have a terribly difficult time winning.
In fact, their struggles have been so awful that they’ve scored less than 63 points in all but only one of their last nine games. ONE. Before that they had scored less than 63 points exactly ZERO times all season. What happened?
Unfortunately there is no clear answer. They’re obviously unprepared to face zone defenses, which led to an ugly loss at the hands of Iowa. But Ohio State destroyed them without having to resort to any such tactic. Have they lost the confidence to score? That might be part of it. Are opposing coaches better able to game plan for the Gophers and get them out of their comfort zone? Probably. But I think the overarching problem lately is that there is no architecture in place to allow Minnesota to score consistently. And that’s a coaching problem.
They’ve been forced into a half-court set where they’ve historically (at least in the last few years) struggled and their shooters have been cold – largely unable to convert when they have open opportunities. Further, they’ve had a terrible time getting Trevor Mbakwe going. The same offensive panic and lack of composure when running the offense is back, and it’s all too familiar to Gopher fans, who have seen this same song and dance before.
The biggest question is can they overcome these roadblocks? Obviously they were able to score earlier in the season, but have they been figured out? Is beating them as simple as slowing down the tempo and taking away the inside game? You’d like to think that Minnesota can react and respond, but so far they’ve gone in the exact opposite direction; instead going into a shell and losing all confidence. With three winnable games on the horizon to finish the season Minnesota has a great opportunity to lock up a decent conference season (9-9), but if their recent struggles continue they’ll be hard-pressed to achieve any sort of success on the road.
The Gophers are the best … at turning the ball over – If it feels like Minnesota turns the ball over than most teams on a regular basis it isn’t just a hunch; it’s true. Minnesota ranks dead last in the conference in two important categories: total turnovers and turnover margin. Not only have they committed an astounding 195 turnovers in 14 games (14 more than Indiana), they’ve turned the other team over only 150 times, good for 7th in the conference. Turnovers themselves aren’t necessarily a problem, but they become a huge issue when a team is unable to sufficiently mask their own ineptitude by taking away the ball on the other end.
Minnesota currently sports a -3.21 turnover margin (during conference play), which is far and away the lowest in the conference. In fact, they are the only team with a turnover margin in the threes. And for a team that can’t score as of late, that has been a death knell. For context, only four teams have a negative turnover margin and only Minnesota, Purdue and Penn State have margins greater than two. Not the type of company you like to be associated with.
Tag(s): Gopher Basketball