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The Minnesota Gophers' Nightmarish Tour of South Dakota

While not so much a tour (both games were in Minneapolis), the Gophers just finished a stretch playing South Dakota and South Dakota State. It did not go well, so let's take a look a closer look at both games.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

So it wasn't really a tour of South Dakota since both games were played at Williams Arena, but it was a nightmarish two game stretch for a Gopher team looking to build on some early season success. Against Clemson, Minnesota appeared to finally start figuring stuff out. Playing small and competing on the glass, they had a certain energy even though the team struggled defensively. It was an identity and something on which to build, or so it appeared.

South Dakota and South Dakota State are setbacks and maybe more importantly, just an indication of how this season could play out long term.

South Dakota 85, Minnesota 81 (2OT)

Losing to South Dakota wasn't great, especially since the game was at home. Based on numbers, the defense wasn't entirely the issue. Minnesota was outscored in the paint 46-32, though the game was still tied at 59 after regulation. Rebounding was also not the underlying issue at hand either, with the Gophers holding the rebounding edge 50-41.

Instead, the Gophers couldn't score. Minnesota trailed by six at halftime and shot 35 percent for the game, highlighted by a poor 6-for-24 performance from three (25 percent). The Gophers must shoot the ball well to win, unless they're attacking the basket. The small lineup thrives on spacing and threes and for it to be effective drives-and-kicks are the game. It's not all bad, though. After the first half Minnesota tied the game and sent it to overtime, and, while in overtime, it held a six point lead (its largest of the game) with 1:35 left in overtime. The Gophers couldn't close and ultimately, South Dakota shot 66 percent in the two overtime periods.

Jordan Murphy starred again with 19 points and 17 rebounds in 30 minutes. But Joey King, Nate Mason and Carlos Morris shot a combined 3-for-14 from three. Usually, Murphy's been the key, but it didn't matter when the shots aren't falling.

South Dakota State 84, Minnesota 70

The first half against South Dakota State was a complete disaster for Minnesota. After a tough loss two days ago, it was the worst case scenario. The Gophers came out flat overall in what amounted a must win early this season. Defensively they didn't appear to play with effort and on several occasions didn't even close out on South Dakota State shooters. The Jackrabbits shot 51 percent from the field in the first twenty minutes and used a 12-0 run to push their lead to 19-5 with 13:00 minutes left in the first half. South Dakota State would never look back after that early run and that was essentially all she wrote.

Meanwhile, Minnesota shot 23 percent in the first half and were down by 23 at the break before they knew what hit them. They settled for too many outside jumpers and couldn't find a way to knock them down. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps Minnesota should've attacked the basket a bit more early, something the team will need to turn to when their jump shots aren't falling. .

Either way, the Gophers should get credit for not packing it in, which would've been easy to do as a young team. The young guys showed some resolve, particularly Kevin Dorsey (16 points) and Dupree McBrayer (13 points). Nate Mason also hung tough and scored 18 points , with most of his points coming in the second half.

Overall

I've said this earlier, but the Gophers aren't going to be a top defensive team. Even if the defense isn't lights out, though, they still have to play better on that side of the ball if they want to improve at all this season. Particularly in the South DakotaState game, they either didn't close out or closed out too aggressively and gave up direct line drives. Whether effort or technique errors, Minnesota just needs to play better defensively.

The defensive lapses become even more glaring when Minnesota isn't shooting well. It magnifies the defensive errors because they fall behind so early. Joey King has struggled the last two games, which means the younger players are forced into larger scoring roles. Unfortunately for Minnesota their youngsters haven't found a way to pick up the slack yet and the end result was back-to-back bad losses by a team that simply cannot afford these kind of defeats.

Beating Clemson offered hope and perhaps demonstrated how Minnesota could win more games than people think. But the recent tour of South Dakota grounded those hopes quite a bit. Minnesota sits at 5-4 and for the first time since the 70's, lost two non-conference home games. From here it'll be tough sledding, but based on how the young Gophers responded in the second half against South Dakota State, they will continue to play hard through the adversity. The only question is if they can find a way to improve on their flaws heading forward.