In an almost repeat performance of their Tuesday night game, the Minnesota Golden Gophers were dismantled yet again Saturday night. Rather than Nebraska doling out the abuse, it was the Arkansas Razorbacks who took it to the Gophers this evening. They ended up winning by a final score of 95-79.
While Arkansas jumped on top early and created a sizable advantage throughout the first half, Minnesota was able to claw their way back slightly. By halftime, they were only down by eight points, a margin they had to be happy with given the quality of play they exhibited.
The final 20 minutes is where we saw the Gophers fall flat, and truthfully, get completely dominated. It certainly is not a good look for the Big Ten to be clobbered by an SEC team. That is not to say the Razorbacks are a slouch, they did come into this game ranked 37th in KenPom,Minnesota’s being 29th. By tomorrow morning, we could see those rankings flip-flop with Arkansas ranked higher than the Gophers at the very least.
Minnesota has now dropped three of their last four games and it is certainly worrisome to see a team with such high expectations losing games in such convincing fashion. What can be taken away from tonight’s shellacking?
What We Learned
1. The Gophers had to cool off at some point
Although they played some very feeble non-conference foes, Minnesota, as a team, was shooting the ball in a fabulously efficient manner. This came from both two and three point range. However, the team has cooled off in their last two games, shooting 32 percent from the field in their Tuesday loss to Nebraska.
The Gophers came into this evening’s game shooting a cumulative 47 percent from the field and 37 percent from three. By this game’s end, the team was shooting 41 percent from the field and a pitiful 26 percent from three. We had to assume they would cool off sooner of later, but this has been a drastic decline the past two games.
2. Richard Pitino needs a bench
I will continue to make this point as long as Minnesota keep losing games. The Gopher bench is so dreadful it becomes nearly impossible to watch them most of the time. Think of it this way, Minnesota was without Bakary Konate this evening, one of their primary bench players. Konate, while somewhat talented, is an incredibly unrefined player, one who would not see minutes at a major college program. The Gophers really missed him tonight. Just think on that for a minute...
While the reserves got up more shots than in their previous games, they still were unable to capitalize on their opportunities in an efficient manner. They attempted 18 shots, but only made five of them. That comes out to a paltry 27 percent from the field, a completely unacceptable clip for a bench unit.
Quite frankly, if the Gophers want any chance of competing in the Big Ten this season, they need their reserves to be more efficient and aggressive, it’s that simple.
3. Minnesota is teetering on the side of mediocrity
Losing to Arkansas, a good team in their own right, by 16 may be passable. It could have been just an off night for Minnesota, and that would be the end of the conversation. However, I have to go back to their double-digit loss to Nebraska when making this point. The Huskers played a fine game, but they are a mediocre team, especially in the Big Ten. Yet, they thoroughly outplayed Minnesota.
The same was true tonight, and Arkansas is a far better opponent than Nebraska. Match-ups against lowly non-conference teams await the Gophers, and that may help a bit, but they are truly playing with fire early in the season. Given the expectations put on them in the preseason, these struggles do come as a shock to many.
However, when we look deeper, the question will be this: Do the Minnesota Gophers have the horses to win the Big Ten race? And the answer, plainly, is no. They can only go as far as their starting five can take them, and over the past two games, that has not been very far.
With four non-conference games remaining, Minnesota needs to win them all. If they do not, I am afraid this may turn into a lost season in Dinkytown. That is not to say they cannot turn it around for the Big Ten season. However, the product they have manufactured over the last week will not cut it in the Big Ten.
There are too many mediocre teams in the Big Ten as it is, and I am afraid the Gophers may blend into that mix as this season moves forward.