Rodney Williams missed Sunday night’s game against Illinois, and it may have cost the Gophers a win.
Illinois big man Tyler Griffey snapped out of a shooting slump on Thursday against Indiana, and continued his hot shooting by knocking down four threes and scoring 16 points as the Illini overcame a 10 minute stretch to begin the game without hitting a field goal.
Griffey’s success was largely a result of the inability of Minnesota’s big men — Trevor Mbakwe, Elliot Eliason, Andre Ingram — to chase him around on the perimeter, and it’s difficult not to imagine Rodney Williams being able to stay with Griffey better.
Williams missed the game after tweaking his shoulder in practice on Saturday. Here are the deets, from Amelia Rayno:
Rodney Williams didn’t play at all after tweaking his left shoulder in yesterday’s practice. Williams said he thought he could play, at least some, but that the coaching staff made the decision to keep him out to ensure he didn’t make the injury worse. Williams said he will “definitely” be playing on Thursday, when Wisconsin will be at Williams Arena.
The good news is that Williams appears to be right that he’ll be playing on Thursday:
Smith says Rodney Williams (shoulder) should play vs. #Badgers
— Jeff Potrykus (@jaypo1961) February 11, 2013
The bad news is that it has already cost Minnesota a game. The Gophers have now lost six of their last eight and are sitting below .500 in the Big Ten. They’re a long way from being anywhere close to the bubble, but Minnesota fans are starting to get fed up. There’s already one columnist calling for Tubby Smith’s job.
Personally, I think that’s silly.
Minnesota has lost at Indiana by seven, to Michigan by eight, at Wisconsin by one, at Michigan State by 11 and to Illinois by four during this stretch. Those are all tournament teams, and three of them are going to be in contention for top two seeds in the NCAA tournament. The only surprising loss came at Northwestern.
If the Gophers can avoid anymore surprising losses in Big Ten play, they’ll end the season at 9-9 in league play. That will likely slot them sixth, with wins over Michigan State and at Illinois. And they still have a chance to pull off upsets against Indiana and Wisconsin at home and at home Ohio State.
Let’s go back to November. Pretend I told you then that the Gophers would finish sixth in the Big Ten, earn a six seed in the NCAA tournament and notch a win over Michigan State, every Gopher fan would have been happy with that, right?
The bottom-line is this: Minnesota was over-hyped because they rolled through a non-conference schedule that looks less impressive now than it did at the time and because they picked up a pair of quality league wins early in conference play. I’ll take some blame for that, as I was fooled as well.
But at the end of the day, this is a team that doesn’t have a true point guard, relies on the offensive glass for much of their scoring and whose bench play resides somewhere between inconsistent and non-existent.
They aren’t at the same level as the teams at the top of the Big Ten. Tubby shouldn’t be fired because he had them playing that way for a couple of months. And he certainly shouldn’t be fired with the expectation of getting Shaka Smart to replace him.
Take a breath, step away from the ledge, and recognize the fact that, as the sixth-best team in the Big Ten, you’re currently in sixth-place in the league.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.