Remember all that talk about Minnesota being a surprise team in the Big Ten?
Remember how everyone was saying the Gophers could end up being a top three or four team in the Big Ten? How everyone was shocked they were ranked as low as 17th?
Well, maybe now we can come to our senses.
Because the team that had the conference’s most impressive resume coming into the night now also boasts the most embarrassing loss by a contender.
On Monday night, Virginia visited The Barn to kick off the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and left with an impressive 87-79 victory. The Gophers looked like they were going to put this one away early, as Blake Hoffarber and Trevor Mbakwe — who finished with 18 points, 11 boards, 5 blocks, and a number of emphatic dunks — sparked an early 14-5 run.
But Virginia hung around thanks to their perimeter shooting. The ‘Hoos went 6-6 from three in the first half and finished 10-13 on the game. And that was only the start of Minnesota’s defensive troubles.
They were jumping at pump fakes, they allowed way too much penetration, and in the second half they gave up 58 points to a team expected to finish in the bottom of the ACC. Joe Harris had 24 points, Mustapha Farrakan added 23, and Mike Scott chipped in with a 17 points, 12 rebound performance against as good of a front line as he will face all season.
Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith said after the game, “That was probably as pathetic an effort defensively as we’ve had in a long time.”
But not all of the blame can fall on the shoulders of the defense. Offensively, the Gophers did not move the ball nearly as well as they has before. A large part of that — and their defensive struggles — was due to the absence of Al Nolen, who is battling a potential stress fracture in his foot. Nolen is their facilitator and their best perimeter defender. Devoe Joseph returned from suspension to score 16 points, but the offense often stopped when he touched the ball.
The Gophers don’t have enough creators offensively to be dangerous when they aren’t running their sets. Ball movement and a team-based attack is what will allow them to be successful, especially if they are going to give up 58 points in a half.
What can we take from all this?
It certainly doesn’t erase what Minnesota has already accomplished this season, but it does emphasize the point that we shouldn’t rewrite our expectations of a team based on one week’s worth of great basketball. (I’m looking at you, UConn fans.)
Minnesota is still a tournament team in the eyes of, well, everyone.
But maybe now we can all agree that this probably isn’t a top ten team.