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The Minnesota Gophers and their curious pattern

Slow starts and incredibly strong finishes have defined the 2017-’18 Gophers so far. Can they continue with such a pattern?

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Providence Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

The complete 40 minutes eludes so many teams in college basketball. One half or stretch of minutes may differ greatly to the following half or next stretch of play. This bipolarity is a common symptom in most squads, like a sore throat or stuffy nose. It is not going to kill you, but it’s annoying as hell.

However, this becomes an issue if not rectified. As a sore throat, nagging cough, or clogged sinuses goes untreated, it gets progressively worse. I am no doctor, but that is when a simple head cold progresses into an ailment that keeps you in your bed for a week and a half in a cold sweat. In most cases, you do not even see it coming.

The Minnesota Gophers are one of the many teams with a irritating common cold. They are ho-hum through most of the first half of games, but it is the exact opposite come half number two. So far this season, they have obliterated opponents in the final 20 minutes, making scores look far more lopsided on paper than what the film shows.

Yes, the Gophers are 4-0, and there is no issue with that. At some point, one has to take a look at the greater picture though. Not putting together two good halves of basketball in a conference like the Big Ten will become troublesome. It is hard to deny the fact that Minnesota has looked relatively so-so in the first half of games.

Take for example their game against Western Carolina on Sunday. Coming into that game, the Gophers were favored by 23.5 points, and the Catamounts were ranked in the mid-200s in KenPom. Regardless of their previous non-conference games, Western Carolina was a bonafide cupcake. However, the Gophers only led by nine at half, and looked genuinely uninterested in the first 20 minutes.

That game on Sunday should have been in the bag at halftime, but the Catamounts were still in the game. It took a sharp second half, which saw Minnesota outscore Western Carolina 50-31 to finally push the game out of reach.

Take a look at the scoring differential from first half to second so far this season for the Gophers:

First Half: Minnesota 216, Opponents 168 (+48 Gopher advantage)

Second Half: Minnesota 261, Opponents 185 (+76 Gopher advantage)

That number is glittering. Forget about who Minnesota is playing, they are beating them by nearly 80 points, in one half! As for the first half, they seemingly go through the motions and still have a near 30 point advantage. Whether that reflects on how good Minnesota is or how below average their opponents have been (besides Providence) I do not know.

You can call me ludicrous for finding something wrong with the Gophers so far this season, and you would not be the first person to do so. However, what worries me is this “coasting” style of first half play carrying over into the conference season.

Not only that, the Gophers still have three non-conference games against top-40 KenPom rated teams. If they plan to come out as lax as they have been against teams like Miami, Alabama, and Arkansas, they will be in for a rude awakening.

Granted, this attitude may just be due to the quality of opponents Minnesota is seeing currently. They are expected to thrash teams like Western Carolina or Alabama A&M, and they come in with the mindset that they will be handed those sorts of games. That is how teams get upset, and that is how seasons come to an end in March. The season is too short to take any games for granted, and I believe the Gophers have taken at least three of their five games for granted.

As the games get tougher, Minnesota may stop going through the regular motions in the first half of games. The team has plenty of talent to put together complete 40 minute games in one facet or another. However, the last thing Richard Pitino wants is for this tiny little ailment to become a disease that plagues this team moving forward.