It has been an utterly treacherous two weeks for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. There really is no other way to put it. After defeating a short-handed Alabama team on November 25th, they have proceeded to drop three of their last five games. Two of those losses came to quality opponents in sixth ranked Miami and Arkansas, currently ranked 30th in KenPom.
None the less, that third loss came to Nebraska, a team widely considered to be one of the Big Ten bottom feeders. Regardless of how poorly they played and how well the Huskers played last Tuesday, that is still a tough loss for the Gophers to stomach. In fact, since their loss to Miami on November 29th, Minnesota has been extremely unimpressive on the floor as a whole.
They seemed quite sluggish early in their December 3rd victory over Rutgers. Ultimately, they pulled away as the game wore on, but that is to be expected given the opponent. However, their most recent triumph over Drake is what has people talking. More specifically, it has fans worried for the rest of the season.
The Golden Gophers survived, winning by only one point. They were able to gut out a win despite being thoroughly outplayed by the Bulldogs for most of the game. At half, Drake was up four and had pushed their lead to nine at one point in the game. All of this occurred while the Gophers commanded the stat sheet. Yet, the Bulldogs were able to outwork Minnesota at every turn.
These sluggish stretches of play have been the norm for the Gophers all season. In the early going, the team struggled in the first half of games, even against very inferior adversaries. Sure, they ended up winning those games, but the unbalanced level of play looked as though it may become an issue.
On Tuesday night, against a team in the near 200s in KenPom, they played poorly in the first and much of the second half. This even led to fans booing the team at Williams Arena. Obviously, that upset Richard Pitino, and he vocalized that in his post game interview:
Richard Pitino wasn't happy with fans booing at halftime: "I know we stunk, but that doesn’t help college athletes. ..I appreciate and respect anyone who comes to a game and spends their hard-earned money in the cold. I really do appreciate it. But we need their help." #Gophers pic.twitter.com/EjQj4PhhLd— Marcus R. Fuller (@Marcus_R_Fuller) December 12, 2017
But should that not serve as a wake-up call for Pitino and his team? That they have played so poorly over the past two weeks that there fans feel the need to boo them. Whether the booing is warranted, I do not know, but it clearly shows the dissension and unrest on campus about this team.
With a record now sitting at 9-3, the rest of non-conference play is crucial for Minnesota. Their two losses last week pushed them outside the top-25 as well as outside the top-30 in KenPom (currently ranked 40th). The next three games are all winnable, but given their past performances, no games are assured at this point.
They are off until next Thursday when they play Oral Roberts, currently ranked 255th in KenPom. Then it is on to games against Florida Atlantic and Harvard, both teams are ranked within the KenPom top-250. Those should be three wins, but given the animosity surrounding them, that can no longer be a definitive statement. Couple that with the fact that they have nearly a week and a half off. The possibility of rust may be an issue, and the last thing Minnesota needs is to come out lethargic against substandard teams.
In what is now three must wins, the Minnesota Golden Gophers should now be taking a long look in the mirror at themselves. On the one hand, their prolonged stretches of poor play could be reversed, and they could return to form as the team we perceived them to be. However, a far darker scenario would see them continue this brand of basketball. If that becomes the case, we will see this Minnesota team fade into oblivion quite quickly.