If you had told me on Friday that the Gophers would lose by just a single point to the #7 in the nation Michigan State Spartans the day after Al Nolen was suspended from the team due to academics I probably would have told you that I would be pretty happy with that results. But not today, and not like this. This is no moral victory, this is an epic collapse, and perhaps the death knell of the season.
The Gophers dominated that game, controlled that game, and owned that game. The only problem came when they suddenly realized it. Suddenly a frantic, scrambling pace that was playing in the Gophers' favor was slowed as the team tried to work the clock, always a dangerous move for a team that basically plays like a pick-up team at the YMCA in the half-court. Predictably, the offense degenerated into a series of poor possessions dominated by one-on-one play and terrible decisions while Michigan State continued to chip away at the lead, finally taking it on a Kalin Lucas pull-up three - the mirror of a shot Lawrence Westbrook missed just thirty or so seconds earlier with the game tied. To be honest, MSU deserved to have the lead several possessions prior to that but a couple of very poor shots as the shot clock wound down actually ended up falling for the Gophers. Even with a couple of breaks and a dominating first 35 minutes of the game, they can't get it done.
I'm sure there are positives here. Devoe played very admirably after being forced to become a point guard thanks to Nolen's brain and Cobbs being just a wee bit too amped up today. Ralph played well - he missed more shots than I'd like but was at least taking them (although he needs to develop some moves in the post and should based on how good an athlete he is). And I loved the shortened bench (Carter played 14 minutes, the rest of the bench guys played 4-7-4-4) - just because you allegedly have depth, doesn't mean you necessarily have to play everybody. I'm very encouraged by giving five guys such a huge portion of the minutes.
These things are all well and good, but in a season of wasted opportunities and missed chances this one weighs the biggest. Not only would this give the team another signature win to go along with Ohio State and Butler, but it would have wiped out the Indiana loss and kept the team above .500 in the conference. Instead they are a 12-7 team who is heading towards a date with the NIT in what has to be one of the most disappointing Gopher seasons in recent memory.