Wisconsin stayed a game out of first place in the Big Ten standings on Saturday afternoon with a 45-44 win over No. 12 Minnesota that featured one of the wackier endings that we’ve seen this season.
Traevon Jackson hit jumper on back-to-back possessions in the final minute to put the Badgers up 45-43, the second of which hit the back of the rim and bounced high off of the back board before falling through. Minnesota got the ball up to half court where Tubby Smith called a timeout with 1.7 seconds left.
On the ensuing inbounds, Mike Breusewitz was called for a touch foul on Trevor Mbakwe, who somehow managed to sprain his right wrist on the play. He was taken out of the game, meaning that Bo Ryan got to pick out who he wanted to shoot the free throws. After ruffling through some stat sheets, Ryan sent Rodney Williams to the line. Williams rattled home the first shot but missed the second.
It goes without saying that this was a big win for Wisconsin.
But the bigger issue here is Minnesota.
When the Gophers smacked around Illinois in Champaign 17 days ago, the general consensus was that the Gophers were ready to give Indiana and Michigan a fight for the Big Ten title. But Minnesota has not won a game since then, losing four straight, which includes the loss they took at Northwestern on Wednesday night.
So what can we make of this team?
On the one hand, they don’t have any depth. Minnesota might play ten players, but no one averages more than 3.9 points off the bench. The ten points they got from Maverick Ahanmisi and Elliot Eliason on Saturday says more about the 2-22 that Williams, Austin Hollins and Joe Coleman shot than anything.
That leads me to my second point: Minnesota isn’t a very good offensive team. They’re efficient, because they’re by far the best offensive rebounding team in the country, but that doesn’t mean they’re running good offense or executing their sets to perfection. The teams keep them from getting those second-chance opportunities — like Wisconsin — are going to have a very good chance of winning.
Those offensive issues also make it possible to throw the Gophers out of wack by playing uncommon zones, like what Northwestern did.
I don’t think it’s time to be too concerned about Minnesota just yet. They lost three of those four games on the road. Two of them came against top ten teams. In the Big Ten, everyone is going to take some lumps.
But Minnesota better be sure to turn this around now.
No one is going to be digging themselves out of a hole in the Big Ten this season.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.