The month of February has proven to be a troublesome one for Minnesota over the last three years, as they’ve struggled to the tune of a 4-17 record with one more game (vs. No. 1 Indiana on Tuesday) before the calendar flips to March.
With that dubious record, and more importantly their recent struggles, in mind there are two questions to be asked: what’s wrong with Tubby Smith’s team, and do the Golden Gophers have the tools needed to turn things around?
Offensive execution hasn’t been a strong suit for Minnesota and that was the case when they were playing well earlier this season. Minnesota was able to capitalize on their offensive rebounding prowess, ranking as one of the nation’s best in regards to rebounding their own missed shots.
In Minnesota’s 71-45 loss at No. 18 Ohio State on Wednesday the Gophers grabbed 13 offensive rebounds and scored 14 second chance points. But even with those opportunities Minnesota failed to reach the 60-point mark for the fifth consecutive game (and seventh time in their last nine).
Minnesota shot 29.2% from the field, and while the shooting remains a concern there was a bigger issue against Ohio State: turnovers.
The Gophers turned the ball over 24 times, and with Ohio State entering the game with its own issues on the offensive end the Buckeyes were more than willing to take advantage of the extra scoring chances. Ohio State scored 26 points off of those turnovers, and over the last two games Minnesota has racked up 41 turnovers.
With Rodney Williams still dealing with a shoulder injury and Andre Hollins struggling from the field, Minnesota’s margin for error is much smaller than it was earlier in the season. As the Gophers’ recent track record suggests poor February performances have become commonplace, and fans are growing louder in voicing their displeasure.
They are tired of promising nonconference seasons turning to ash. They are tired of counting quality wins and hoping for an NCAA tournament spot. They are tired of watching teams that seem to regress as the season goes on, or at least that hit seemingly irreversible tailspins. And they seem to be tired of the head coach who has presided over all of these similar seasons.
Given Minnesota’s overall resume the Gophers look to be on solid ground when it comes to making the NCAA tournament, especially when considering some of the other bubble teams up for discussion.
But this current run of play has opened the door for fans to ask serious questions in regards to Smith’s program, and it’s certainly debatable as to whether or not Minnesota has the “right” answers.
Getting to the NCAA tournament is an achievement for many programs, but to go from looking like a Big Ten contender in early January to limping into the field wouldn’t be viewed as an “achievement” for Minnesota.
It would be a disappointment, regardless of how strong the Big Ten is.