Minnesota has had the talent and they have beaten good teams, but things just have not been going well for them lately–that is, until Tuesday night when they knocked off no. 1 Indiana in a thrilling game, 77-73.
The Gophers had lost eight of eleven coming in to Tuesday and were in free fall. After a 15-1 start, they had dropped down to 18-9 and just 6-8 in the Big Ten. A great start to the season disintegrated into a mess led by coach Tubby Smith, who was on the hot seat.
But boy, does one win do a lot. Illinois was in a state of peril a few weeks ago, then they beat Indiana at home. Now, they are back on track and have won five of six games since.
Now, Minnesota has seen their season rescued by a big win over the Hoosiers.
The man who really won this game for Minnesota was sixth year senior Trevor Mbakwe. Mbakwe had a double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds in a dominant effort. He controlled the paint like he has not been able to do recently and helped shut down Cody Zeller of Indiana. Zeller was held to just nine points on 2-9 shooting. To both be dominant offensively and beat arguably the best big man in the country is quite an accomplishment for Mbakwe.
The entire team had an energy to them all night, there was just something in the air in “The Barn.” The crowd and the team could sense that the possibility of a major upset was truly a possibility very early on in the night. Minnesota played with an edge, behind the raucous crowd, and took the game to Indiana.
The Hoosiers could not handle it, getting destroyed on the boards. Rebounding margin is a great statistic to to get a grasp of who brought energy to the game. Minnesota won the rebounding battle 38-25, a complete beat-down.
After this win, Minnesota fans do not need to worry about their spot in the NCAA Tournament. Their bid was signed, sealed and delivered Tuesday, although it was already nearly a sure thing before the game. This win takes pressure off of the team in a more general way. Winning just three games in six weeks will kill any team’s confidence. So, to beat the top team in the country is a great way to energize the team and the fan-base. In early January, Minnesota was thought of as a team that could beat anyone, but that mindset has evaporated. The confidence has been beaten down with loss after loss. But, just like it did for Illinois, one big win can fix everything.
This was a monster win for Minnesota, a team that needed one badly. If the Gophers get their early season swagger back, they will be very dangerous heading into March.