Let me start out by saying that I have grown up a fan of the Minnesota Gophers and I have rarely missed a game since Tubby Smith took over as the head coach. While I am a fan of the Gophers and I understand the great talent and potential this roster possesses—which they have shown in wins over Indiana and Michigan State—I am continually questioning which team will show up on any given night.
With all that being said, I have a very hard time endorsing this Minnesota team as a trendy pick to pull an upset over the UCLA Bruins or whoever they would play in their second game.
While watching all of the experts’ project how the brackets will shake out, I have noticed that a lot of experts believe in the Gophers and their ability to possibly make it into the Sweet 16. While I do not disagree that this team has the talent to make a run in this tournament, I have a difficult time endorsing that this team will realize and play to their potential.
Predicting the Gophers on a nightly basis this year has been a nightmare. You have a better chance at predicting the zodiac sign of Manti Teo’s hypothetical girlfriend, than you do successfully predicting how the Gophers will perform.
What this team lacks is not talent, but a true point guard and an offensive system that utilizes the talents of the players and consistently gets open looks. Since Smith took over as coach, the Gophers have been solid defensively and have been able to create the majority of their shots off their defense and in transition. While focusing on preaching defensive toughness can be a successful strategy in college basketball, it usually isn’t enough to win consistently in March.
At times, the Gophers show they can run successful sets and get the ball inside to Trevor Mbakwe. When they do this, they are a very good team. However, the frequency for which this actually happens is very rare. When their few successful sets are stopped by the opposition, the team struggles to find any alternative way to score and they end up falling out of rhythm. This can partially be blamed on Smith, but it also has a lot to do with not having a true point guard on the roster.
A true point guard can stabilize an offense and set an offense into its sets at any point in the game. The lack of a true point guard is especially evident when the team is experiencing adversity or a run by the opposing team and things are beginning to slip out of hand. The Gophers have employed Andre Hollins as their point guard this year and although he is a very talented ballplayer, he is more of a combo guard and not a true point guard. Hollins is not able to do the things that are necessary for a true point guard and that may be a reason for why the team struggles to get consistent flow in their offense. Again, this is no fault of Hollins and is instead a problem based off of the limited options at point guard.
The lack of true point guard also leads to the next big issue with this team which is turnovers. This team is very careless with the ball and it has cost them the chance to win in many of their close losses this season. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the team doesn’t have a true point guard or many players who can handle the ball. This shortcoming gets exposed when they play quality opponents and that is what they’ll be facing with every match-up in the tournament.
Is it possible that the Gophers could make a run in the tournament and rectify all of the things that have troubled them all season? Yes it is, but it is equally as likely that the team under-performs in the first round and costs Smith his job with Minnesota. I believe the Gophers will be a team to watch during the first round of the tournament and they definitely are a team that could pull an upset over UCLA. I just want to air on the side of caution by saying this team is unpredictable, but extremely talented. For Gophers’ fans, it’s time to cross your fingers and let the madness begin.