A depleted Minnesota Golden Gophers team limped into their match-up against Indiana this afternoon. As if the suspension of Reggie Lynch was not enough, news broke that guard Amir Coffey would miss today’s game too. The injury to Coffey, a HAGL lesion, hints at the idea that he may be absent for an extended period of time. This clearly does not bode well for a team that was already a fringe NCAA tournament team in an unimpressive Big Ten.
Despite the injuries, Minnesota drew possibly the best opponent for the predicament they are in. A competitive game with the Hoosiers ensued well into the evening. It was Archie Miller and Indiana that ended up scoring the Big Ten win this evening. The Hoosiers squeaked by with a final score of 75-71.
What We Learned
1. Minnesota will desperately miss Reggie Lynch on the floor
Aside from the off-court situation and the leadership hole left by Lynch, his on-court presence was clearly missed. Most notably, in the defensive and rebounding categories. Lynch was averaging 4.1 blocks per game before he was suspended, that rim protection was vital for Minnesota. While Bakary Konate is a decent rim protector, he is no Lynch. The end result was Indiana getting anything they wanted at the basket for the most part.
The Gophers were also dominated on the boards which is directly related to Lynch’s absence. Indiana hauled in 45 rebounds to Minnesota’s 35, that 10 rebound differential was detrimental to Minnesota. With Lynch missing, the Hoosiers got 17 second chances thanks to rebounds. The interior aura of Lynch will continue to be missed as Minnesota moves through conference play. His suspension may be the ultimate undoing of the team’s postseason chances.
2. Juwan Morgan will have his way in this conference
It was Robert Johnson who controlled the game for Indiana today, scoring 27 points, a game high. However, Johnson shot rather inefficiently only making 10 of his 21 shot attempts. The glue to the Hoosiers is their star forward, Juwan Morgan, who was able to turn another fine performance on a depleted Gopher interior.
Morgan dropped in 20 points and brought in 12 rebounds. Not to mention, he had four blocked shots and shot 50 percent from the field. Starting with their game against Notre Dame on December 16th, Morgan has been on a roll, averaging 18 points and 8.5 rebounds.
In a conference that features some (not all) decent front courts, Morgan should continue to thrive. Regardless of if Indiana wins or loses, Morgan is sure to fill the box score and shoot efficiently while doing it.
3. The rest of January is make or break time for the Gophers and Hoosiers
For the Hoosiers, they are already seemingly out of the picture for an NCAA Tournament appearance. However, for that to deter them from competing is obviously nonsensical. With that being said, Indiana can play the role of conference spoiler as other Big Ten teams look to build their resumes.
In order for that to take place, the Hoosiers will need to be consistent in an upcoming tough stretch of games. Over the course of the next few weeks, their schedule consists of games against Penn State, Northwestern, Michigan State, and Maryland. You cannot consider Indiana the “favorite” in any of those games. Yet, as they continue to be overlooked, this slate of contests may provide them opportunities to gain momentous wins.
The rest of the month for the Golden Gophers is perhaps even tougher. It could not have come at a worse time given the circumstances facing the team. Yet, they will play Northwestern, Penn State, Maryland, Ohio State, and Purdue through the rest of January. In fact, Minnesota does not play a game in which they are the odds on favorite until January 30th when they play Iowa.
As it stands, the Gophers are an “up in the air” NCAA Tournament team. How they respond in their games over the next month or so will ultimately decide their March fate. It does not look promising given the injuries and suspensions the team is going through. However, Richard Pitino has already done a marvelous job with this team and he may just continue to push them over the hump.
Credit Indiana for gaining a hard fought Big Ten victory on the road. Not to mention against a hostile crowd, but maybe not as hostile opponent. Minnesota has lost any momentum gained from their final non-conference games due to injury and suspension. The situation they have found themselves in is a sticky one to say the least. Their NCAA Tournament chances are in jeopardy now, even more than before. This loss to the Hoosiers cannot help at all.
For Indiana, they have to feel good coming out of The Barn with an even 2-2 conference record. The Hoosiers may not be the most dominant team in the conference, but they can certainly foil some team’s chances in the future.