Am I really supposed to write about this game? I've now had an entire day, including a very unsatisfying Super Bowl, to get over the disappointment and I still don't want to write about. However I am pretty sure if I pass on writing on this game I will just quit altogether and as much as I'd like to do that I don't want to do that. So here is a very quick 10 Things I Liked and Didn't Like. Unless I do that thing I sometimes do where I just vomit words all over the screen, then it won't be short.
1. Meet the old boss, same as the new boss? There are a whole lot of things I like about Richard Pitino when compared directly to Tubby Smith. Energy. Players improving. Uptempo game. More imaginative offense. Gameplanning for specific opponents. I am a fan. A big fan. But what is this shit where February is just a shit bath every year? I don't care that Northwestern has some good wins lately and is looking frisky, you don't lose to them at home. There recent success has seen their RPI creep up into the top 100 (#83) so technically this won't go down as a bad loss, but this was a bad loss. I will get into NCAA bid chances later, but even if this one didn't hurt as much as you'd think because of that non-horrible RPI, it really hurts because this is a game you just don't lose if you're an NCAA team.
2. The Gophers got shredded by a terrible offense. Northwestern has shown some success lately due to their tough defense, not a good offense. The Wildcats scored 1.02 points per possession and shot 48% from two and 38% from three. Their season numbers are 0.96, 46.5%, and 30%. Their in-conference numbers are 0.87, 45%, and 27%. They have been awful all year and even worse in Big Ten play, and they lit the Gophers up (at least comparatively). I will grant that Northwestern seemed to hit an awful lot of tough shots, but that shouldn't make a difference. Horrendous defense, and it's been a problem all year. This, however, was the worst.
3. Whining about the refs is really not the way to go. Did the refs miss a foul call on Mathieu and/or Walker at the conclusion of the game? Seems like a strong possibility. I haven't gone back and watched it because I have better things to do like impale each of my fingers with a bamboo skewer, but I've read enough, even from none raging homers, that it sounds like a case can be made that both were fouled. Doesn't matter. First of all, they both had lay-ups and even with a minor foul those shots need to be made. Secondly, the Gophers played so shitty that leaving the final result to the refs is their own fault for letting it get to that point. There are one billion things to worry about from this game before you get to the refs. Not an exaggeration.
4. This team is still way too careless with the ball. I know it seems weird to complain about turnovers after a game where the Gophers only turned it over 8 times and on a percentage basis were below their season average and even below Northwestern's defensive season average, but they're just so careless sometimes. There are turnovers where a team's pressure forces you into bad situations, and then there are turnovers where you just give the ball away for no real reason at all and the Gophers' turnovers yesterday were almost exclusively the latter. I mean you just can't turn the ball over on a simple post entry when the defender isn't even attempting to deny the pass, and that happened at least 3 times with two passes going through Mo Walker's legs like he was some shitty hockey goalie guy. Northwestern doesn't care if they turn you over, so there's no reason to help them out.
5. On the positive side, Austin Hollis appears to be registering a pulse again. 13 points on 5-10 shooting, five rebounds, two assists, and three steals with zero turnovers. Most importantly he looked confident again. Starting with the open scrimmage thing and carrying into the early season Hollins was carrying himself with some serious senior swagger and in general that bodes well for a breakout type final year. I have no idea what happened or when, but he lost all that. The crazy thing about watching college kids is you never quite know what's happening. His girlfriend could have broken up with him or he's struggling in chemistry or he discovered weed (Sammy J -> hi), it could be anything but he just didn't look the same on the court. He still can't shoot for shit, but he's finally doing that thing where he flies all over the floor and grabs boards and gets steals. That's a bunch of games in a row now where he's looked like the old Austin, and with Dre still out hopefully he keeps that up and forgets about that devil woman or derivatives or precipitates or whatever.
6. Daquein McNeil looked pretty good. I was impressed. He played a career high of 24 minutes on Saturday (previous high was 13) and although the box score doesn't jump out at your stupid face if you watched him he looked good for an unheralded freshman. He's clearly passed Maverick on the point guard depth chart, which is a good thing considering outside of a wide open shot Mav is basically a complete disaster with the ball in his hands, and after some early season jitters he seems to have settled in and belies a calm beyond his years. I mentioned to Snacks that McNeil was started to look like he might end up a pretty decent Big Ten player, and we wondered how good he would have ended up being in the Sun Belt or wherever the hell FIU plays. There was a lot of understandable skepticism about a Sun Belt recruit suddenly being taken to the Big Ten and I wasn't sure about it myself, but I'm now glad he ended up a Gopher. I'm sure Dawger still prefers Maverick, but he also thinks Cal Ripken was overrated so what are you gonna do?
7. The Gophers have developed a couple of pet plays and I like them both a lot. The first is pretty basic, but you have to have the right personnel and the Gophers do with Mo Walker. A guard simply enters the ball to Walker at the free throw line and he turns and looks for a baseline cutter. Walker has the basketball savvy and passing skill to make this work (skills that were evident his freshman year as well, unlike his sudden ability to dominate the paint and score like it's his job). This worked a few times against Northwestern which was surprising considering how fundamentally sound they usually are. If the Gophers had won I would probably go back and rewatch these to see how it happened, but as it stands I'd rather rewatch World War Z than this game so forget it. The other play they will break out 2-3 times a game and it's the one they used to get Malik Smith that huge three pointer against Michigan. Dre Mathieu will drive from the right side and take the ball baseline, while two shooters spot up on the opposite side - one in the corner and the other on the wing. With the defense collapsing to stop the drive one of them almost always seems to be open. It seemed to be the corner guy earlier in the season, but as teams have gotten more tape on the play usually it's the wing guy these days, and luckily Mathieu seems to make the right decision. It would be a better play if anybody could shoot on this team, but I like it anyway.
8. Tre Demps is a stone cold assassin. Demps is becoming the kind of guy who you can look at the stats and laugh and stuff but god damn would I love him on my team. Much like Malik Smith is a chucker but he's our chucker, Demps is the same for Northwestern except he's been hitting huge shot after huge shot. Three pointer against the Gophers in a tie game with 54 seconds remaining. Five points and three assists in a four minute span against Wisconsin to give Northwestern control of the game. Game tying 3-pointer with a minute left in overtime against Purdue and then 4-4 on free throws in double OT to close it out. Thirteen straight points at the end of the game against Indiana. Three 3-pointers in a row down the stretch against Illinois. In every single Northwestern Big Ten win this year, and there are a shocking number of them, you can find a stretch where Demps controlled the game for the Wildcats, whether it was a single huge shot or a stretch where he carried their offense. Guy is just owning the Big Ten right now.
9. This team desperately needs Andre Hollins back. It sounds like it's possible he'll be back for Purdue, but more likely Indiana and it can't happen soon enough. I love DeAndre Mathieu a lot, but he's better when he's not forced into being the only creator, and with Hollins down he's the only one who can get into the paint off the dribble. Not to mention he's your best shooter, one of your top defenders, and the clear team leader. I was hoping the team could tread water while they waited for him to get healthy, but this has been more like treading bricks.
10. NCAA hopes aren't dead or anything so calm down nancy. This loss was definitely a hit, but as it currently stands (per ESPN) the RPI is 37 and Strength of Schedule still a robust #6. The Gophers are 2-3 vs. the RPI Top 25, 4-4 vs. the Top 50, and 5-8 vs. the Top 100 - these are all good numbers. Thanks to Northwestern's RPI jump, the Gophers still don't have a bad loss (outside the Top 100), and that's probably just as relevant as anything else on their resume. The issue now is that the home game vs. Northwestern was one everyone was counting on as a win, and with them dropping the game at Nebraska as well suddenly the margin for error is razor thin. The Gophers probably need five more wins, and now only the home games against Penn State and Illinois look like "sure" wins. The next two games are huge, @Purdue and home vs. Indiana. The Gophers don't necessarily need to win both, but it would be awfully nice and then they'd only need to "steal" one of the remaining five games, which is doable. On the one hand, it's nice to even worry about this because I wasn't sure the Gophers would even be a bubble team at the start of the year. On the other hand, this sucks because one week ago the Gophers weren't a bubble team but were solidly in the tournament. Looks like this year is going to be like every other, down to the bubble wire. I really need a year where this isn't the case.