There’s not a better word to describe the Gophers’ 55-48 loss to Northwestern on Wednesday night in Evanston. The Wildcats have minimal talent and are playing out the season minus their best player, Drew Crawford. The Gophers have the personnel to dominate the dwarfs of the Big Ten like Northwestern, and to defeat any team in the league.
Northwestern coach Bill Carmody saw his team behind 27-24 at halftime, but he saved a half-court zone trap for the game’s last 20 minutes. The Gophers have faced the same defense for years and often have been ineffective versus the scheme. In Evanston, the Minnesota coaches and players looked baffled again.
Attempting to start the offense, the guards spent precious seconds trying to pass out of double teams. When the Gophers were able to advance toward the basket by dribbling or passing, they found multiple defenders again and couldn’t create scoring opportunities.
More decisive passing and better positioning of players on the floor could have attacked the trap more effectively. Instead Minnesota not only scored just 21 second half points, but also created baskets for Northwestern with turnovers.
The Gophers had 15 turnovers in the game, just about their average of 14.7, highest in the Big Ten. In Madison tomorrow the Gophers will play a Badgers team with the lowest average, 9.1. And while Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan has a team that annually plays virtually mistake free basketball, the Gophers have been talking about eliminating turnovers since last fall.
The Gophers have lost three consecutive games, the first two to top 10 ranked Indiana and Michigan. The dream of chasing a Big Ten championship looks dead seven weeks before the season ends. Minnesota is 3-3 in conference games with likely losses ahead in road games at Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State. The way the Gophers performed against Northwestern—making 33.3 percent of their field goal attempts and 41.2 percent of their free throws—they could lose to a bunch more teams, on the road and at home.
“Unimaginable” was a word Gophers coach Tubby Smith used to describe the three game slide to obscurity. Smith made that comment on his post-game 1500 ESPN radio show on Wednesday night and also expressed frustration that his team wasn’t “mentally tough.”
Last Sunday on WCCO Radio’s “Sports Huddle” he said the team (following the Indiana and Michigan losses) “should really be sitting here at 15-1.” Instead the Gophers are now 15-4 overall and will be plummeting in the A.P. national rankings from their No. 12 spot unless they defeat the Badgers.
Minnesota’s inability to beat the league’s best teams—and even the mediocre ones—is consistent with the Smith era. In five-plus seasons his record in regular season conference games is 41-55.
Last October Smith told Sports Headliners he has three potential NBA first round draft choices in guard Andre Hollins, center Trevor Mbakwe and forward Rodney Williams. But the Gophers are stumbling and a disgruntled fan made this prediction about how only one thing may change from Wednesday night to tomorrow:
“Look for a superstitious team to switch from gold uniforms to maroon.”
TwinsFest at the Metrodome starts today and ends Sunday afternoon with announced attendance likely to be near 30,000.
With high fan interest and a unique venue to host the event, the annual attendance is the largest in MLB for fan festivals. Profits go to the Twins Community Fund, and this year’s contribution is likely to be $275,000 or more. Since the inception of TwinsFest in 1989 the Community Fund has received more than $4.2 million.
While players from other MLB teams are compensated for their time at similar fan festivals, Twins players are not. Expenses such as airfare are paid by the Twins.
More than 60 current and former Twins, including Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, are expected to participate during the three day event. TwinsFest opens today at 4 p.m.
The delay to the start of the Wild’s season was frustrating but the team is likely to make fans happy in the coming months, according to a Sports Headliners hockey source who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They have much more depth than they have ever had,” he said. “This is (also) the most talented team in club history. …I don’t see any major weaknesses.”
The Wild, 2-1, play at Detroit tonight and then in St. Louis on Sunday. The source said if the Wild can start 10-2 or 10-3, the club could then play .500 hockey the remainder of the regular schedule and still qualify for the playoffs “where anything can happen.”
He credited general manager Chuck Fletcher with exceptional work in rebuilding the feeder system and already adding outstanding players like Mikael Granlund. “They’ve done a marvelous job,” he said.
Fans are responding enthusiastically to the team, particularly because of adding star performers Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Last Saturday’s season opener set a TV ratings record for a Wild game on FOX Sports North.
The Wild could sell a lot of season tickets for 2013-2014, although reaching the club’s record high of over 16,000 established several years ago will be a challenge.
St. Thomas men’s basketball coach Johnny Tauer teaches psychology classes so it’s not surprising he can see both aspects of the Tommies’ reputation. The Tommies entered this week ranked No. 1 in the country by D3hoops.com and are 84-9 in their last 93 MIAC games.
Those numbers can command the attention of opponents, even giving the Tommies an edge before the game starts. “Teams can think these guys (the Tommies) are really good,” Tauer said. “The flip side is we get everybody’s best shot.”
Tauer’s recollection is the other team “rushed the court” in celebrations after each of those nine St. Thomas losses. And that includes Monday night’s loss at Concordia, 54-52.
St. Thomas won on Wednesday night, though, defeating St. Mary’s 87-46 while building this season’s record to 17-1 overall and 12-1 in the MIAC. Tomorrow Hamline plays at St. Thomas.
Two years ago the Tommies won the Division III national title when Tauer was an assistant coach. The club featured a senior group, just like the 2013 Tommies. “That team played its best basketball at the end of the year, winning six straight and the national tournament,” Tauer said.
He likes the depth on this year’s team. Asked about a closer to finish out games, the coach said, “We really have eight or nine guys I would be comfortable with taking the shot.”
Gophers’ freshman Adam Wilcox (16-2-4 record) leads the WCHA in wins at 16, winning percentage at .818 and goals against average, 1.72 per game. He’s unbeaten in the last 10 games. The No. 1 ranked Gophers play Minnesota State at home tonight and in Mankato tomorrow night. The two teams split an earlier series this season.
Wild draft choice Erik Haula leads the Gophers in points with 29. Another Wild prospect, Louis Nanne, has 13 goals and 14 assists in 32 games playing for Penticton in Canada.
Golden Valley-based Buffalo Wild Wings has a partnership with the NCAA to be the “Official Hangout of March Madness,” according to a Wednesday email from Cynopsis: Sports.
Happy birthday to KSTP TV’s Darren Doogie Wolfson who was 33 on Sunday.Comments Welcome