|The Gophers play the Wildcats......again|
The Gophers play the Northwestern Wildcats, again, and since the last time they squared off not all that much has changed - other than reconfiguring our expectations for this Gopher team. Since the last game the Gophers have gone 1-2 with then impressive win at Illinois and losses to Indiana and Michigan - certainly understandable, however the team had stretches of poor play that have taken some of the luster off the early season success. Northwestern has gone 2-2, winning at Penn State and Illinois (thus the "then impressive win" when the Gophers won in Champaign) and losses and home losses to Iowa (by 20!!) and Indiana. Basically, the Gophers are maybe a little worse than what we thought last time, and Northwestern is a little better, if only because Reggie Hearn is healthier. I will admit it - I'm concerned.
I probably shouldn't be. Minnesota still ranks as the 7th best team in the country by kenpom's advanced metrics while Northwestern is 88th. Pomeroy projects the Gophers to win 70-61 with an 82% chance of coming out with a victory, and the Gophers seemingly have solved the Northwestern zone, and with Drew Crawford done for the year they're a little lacking in the offensive weapons department. I get it. But I'm also a lifelong Minnesota fan, and all those years watching not only the Gophers but the Vikings and Twins have me programmed to expect disappointment. How "Minnesota" would it feel to have them lose this game? I don't like feeling this way, but it's just the way I am. I'm a bipolar fan - high ups, and low downs. Anyway, if the Gopher team is who I thought they were they should still take this, as long as they don't turn it over 25 times.
Which, just so you know, is actually in the realm of possibility. Although kenpom ranks them as the 6th most efficient offensive team in the country that's a function of good shooting and great offensive rebounding (where they still rank #1, grabbing an astounding 47.9% of their misses, more than 5% higher than the second best team (Colorado State (Colton Iverson - hi!!))), because they still can't take care of the ball to save their lives. The Gophers turn the ball over on 21.9% of their possessions, 247th in the country. No other top ten offensive team turns it over more than 18.8% of the time or ranks outside the top 100. It's ludicrous.
I'm not going to do duplicate work, so instead I'll direct you to From the Barn's post where he breaks down the nerd stats on turnovers - it's pretty cool. My most favorite part is how Maverick Ahanmisi turns the ball over on 31% of the possessions when he's in the game. Only Denzel Valentine of Michigan State and Benny Parker of Nebraska are worse in the Big 10. The result of FTB's work is it's abundantly clear, even if it wasn't already, that the turnover problem is the one thing keeping the Gophers from reaching the potential we thought they had, but this far into the season it's time to start wondering if they can turn it around. Bottom line: STOP DOING THAT!!
I do, however, have a suggestion and hopefully someone can call or email or skype Tubby and tell him. Did you ever see that movie The Program with Willie Mays Hayes and that alcoholic quarterback and James Caan and the steroid guy Lattimer and a super hot Kristy Swanson? Well remember when Darnell Jefferson had fumbling issues and Caan gave him a football to carry around all the time and the other football players were supposed to try to knock it out of his hands and then if the ball was returned to Caan by anyone other than Jefferson he'd have to do laps or pushups or get in an Iron Maiden or something? Well Tubby needs to do that with every single player on this team, and open the competition to everyone on campus and if anybody loses their ball they have to spend two hours in a locked room with the guy who thinks it's cool to dress up as Goldy and act like a complete moron at games, or take a sauna with Mo Walker. It's our only hope.
The team is still plenty good enough to win the next four (@ NW, @ Wisconsin, vs. Nebraska, vs. Iowa) even if they keep the ball safe at a Lindsay Lohan's hoo-ha level (LiLo jokes played out? Never, I say!), but if they want to be a truly great team - and I believe they can - they have to stop with this sloppiness. I think we can all agree my proposal would solve everything. I should probably step in and coach, too.
Oh, and if you want a rundown on Northwestern's players just read the linked thing above from last game or my preview from the last game since it just happened like a week ago.
Minnesota 66, Northwestern 58.