Minnesota's early foray into the Big Ten hasn't been pretty, obviously. Richard Pitino's team has lost its first four games in conference play by an average of 14 points. Minnesota most recently lost to Northwestern by 25, its worst loss of the season. In the game, Getting beat badly on the glass (33-17) and allowing Northwestern to shoot 56 percent from the floor contributed to the huge defeat.
The expectations are low for this season, but perhaps a win conference win total of 3-4 isn't attainable, especially if Minnesota doesn't rebound or defend. (The offense isn't coming around after all.) Let's take a deeper look the loss to Northwestern, and highlight the concerns with this team going forward.
Northwestern crushed Minnesota on the glass (33-17). Looking at the Gophers leading into the season, competing on the glass was a huge concern. Thus far, their rebounding deficiency hasn't hurt them too much. Not everyone in the Big Ten will exploit Minnesota's lack of size and depth, but certain match ups are going to be challenging.
What's odd about getting beat on the glass by Northwestern is that the Wildcats aren't overly big, and its center Alex Olah is out with an injury. Nobody rebounded for Minnesota on Saturday though. Dupree McBrayer, a wing player, led the team with four rebounds. Bakary Konate, who needed to take a leap for Minnesota to take a leap, played 32 minutes, but had only three rebounds. (He scored efficiently, but the Gophers really need him to play better on the glass.
Gaston Diedhiou was the other slightly unknown, but hopeful contributor, didn't play against Northwestern. It doesn't look good for him to contribute nominally this year, much less make a leap. Diedhiou is a project, and was a long shot coming into the season, but this development is still disappointing.
Strangely, the defense has been more of an issue than the rebounding. Against Northwestern, they struggled to defend. The Wildcats shot 65 percent in the second half and 54 percent from three and 90 percent at the freethrow line (the coveted but rarely seen 60-50-90 half). Throughout the non-conference schedule, Minnesota's defense was an issue. At times, they played with more effort, and the results showed. But, more often than not, teams could score effectively; Northwestern certainly did.
Effort is part of it, but technique, communication and sound rotations also impact a team's defense. At times, their rotations can be poor, despite good effort. More specifically, against Northwestern, Minnesota's transition defense wasn't great. (The Wildcats scored 10 fast break points.)
A Tale of Two Halves
Minnesota struggled in the second half, particularly. That's when Northwestern outscored them 45-26. A few times this season, Minnesota's been competitive for a half, but can't sustain it for 40 minutes. (In the Big Ten opener against Ohio State, the Gophers had a similar discrepancy between the first and second halves.)
On average, through Minnesota's first four Big Ten games, their opponent has outscored them in the second half by nearly 11 points. (In fact, they haven't won a second half yet in conference.) The Wildcats blew open the game by outscoring Minnesota by 19 points in the final 20 minutes, an extreme example of how the Gophers have finished (or not finished) games.
Minnesota plays Nebraska tonight, on the road. Not looking good for them to pick up the first conference win. Over the next four games, Illinois could be the most vulnerable, considering its at home. But, the Illini just upset Purdue, and Nebraska, Indiana and Michigan isn't a murderers row, but they're superior to Minnesota.
What's pretty evident is that the Gophers won't win many (or any) conference games if they rebound and defend as they did against Northwestern. The offense cannot carry a poor defensive team, and one that's getting crushed on the glass.