The Huskers hit the road once again. This time, they head to the Twin Cities and face the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers started the season off 14-1 but have lot four straight games. In preparation for the viewing of this game, the fine bloggers over at The Daily Gopher and I exchanged a few questions. (read my answers to TDG's questions here)
1. What's with that terrible 'stache coach Smith is sporting? I have to avert my eyes everytime his mug fills my screen!
Y U NO LIKE THE 'STACHE? It was glorious! (Editors note: Um, no, it was hideous) You notice I said was. You'll be pleased to know that my #BlameTheStache campaign was successfull and that Tubby shaved it off before the Wisconsin game. I was a fan of the 'stache, but a scapegoat was required following the game that must not be named down in Evanston.
2. After getting off to a great start and looking like a contender in the conference, it's been a couple of tough weeks for the Gophers. What has been the cause for the struggles?
I'd say turnovers, poor shooting, and focus/confidence. The Gophers having been killing themselves with turnovers all season but the Indiana game was when it first started to really hurt. As for shooting...the Gophers were ice cold against Northwestern. Had they shot the ball decently or semi-decently they would have won that game. Better execution against the 1-3-1 would have helped (seriously, I've seen middle school teams beat the 1-3-1 more successfully) but even with their terrible execution better shooting would have won it. And that poor shooting carried over to the Wisconsin game as well. All of this combines to lower confidence and possibly focus. There is a "here we go again" feeling in the fanbase and it's hard not to wonder if it's reached the team as well. Some of the leaders like Rodney Williams have seemed out of sorts for several games now.
3. When I heard Trevor Mbakwe was coming back this year, I figured he'd be the focal point of this team. That hasn't necessarily been the case, only getting 22 minutes a game, and just under 10 points. Andre Hollins seems to be a star. Tell us about how the rest of the bunch. What makes this team go? What goes wrong when it doesn't work right?
I'd still say Trevor Mbakwe is a focus of the team, but the Gophers have never been a squad that has done a great job of running the offense through the post. The MO under Tubby has been that when things break down his teams will start shooting from the outside. We're not Illinois, but there are definitely times when we'll look like it. And that limits how much emphasis gets put on a post player like Mbakwe. What Trevor brings in my mind that the team is intensity and emotion. Obviously he's a great player and the stats he provides are critical. But he has never been the guy that you'd expect to win the game on his own.
That guy is Andre Hollins. As he's shown time and again, he's the one the team can count on to carry the load. Prior to the losing streak Gopher fans could also point to two other guys (Austin Hollins and, to a lesser extent, Joe Coleman) who could do the same thing for the Gophers. Both have been struggling recently. But if they are on they can each beat you in different ways. Austin has the ability to get very hot from the outside and to propel the transition offense with his defense. Joe is more of a slasher and is the kind of guy who can finish in transition.
Normally I'd also talk about Rodney Williams, the team's best athlete. But Rodney has been in a huge funk for 3.5 games now and no on is totally sure what is wrong or how to fix it. When he's on he can give the team (and the home fans) a huge boost of energy with his athletic dunks and blocks.
The bench has gotten better in recent games but on the whole they've been a weak point for the team. Things seem to have improved slightly as Tubby has gone away from the "line change" substitution pattern for a more normal approach that results in a mix of starters/bench players on the floor at the same time.
4. Williams Arena has been a place I've wanted to catch a game for a long time. That won't be this year, but someday. What do you expect to see in this game? Does Minnesota get back on track? Nebraska's been right in games on the road so far this season, is there any concern Minnesota takes the Huskers lightly?
If the Gophers take the Huskers lightly...yea, I'll be pissed. They just lost 4 in a row including an embarrassing loss to Northwestern where they looked scared of and ill-prepared for a zone that the whole world knew was coming. In the end though I would be SHOCKED if they took Nebraska lightly.
On paper there is no reason this Minnesota should lose to Nebraska (there is a reason KenPom gives the Gophers about a 95% shot of winning). I do not mean that they can't lose, but if Minnesota plays at the level they are capable of (or even slightly below it) then they will win. The concern is that they haven't played at that level for a few weeks now.
So what I'm looking for from the Gophers is an attempt to focus in on what they do well. I don't want them to fix all their problems (those are too numerous now to expect that). But I want them to get out in transition, get some dunks, and have some fun. Get the crowd in it and get a win. In the end the W is the most important.
5. Break it down. What do you think happens tonight?
I think the Gophers win but I think it's closer than many Gopher fans would like. Call it an 8 point win, 70-62.
Thanks to the fine folks over at TDG! Now, join us for tonights game and see if the Huskers can get over the top on the road this time.
Ray Gallegos - G
Dylan Talley - G
Shavon Shields - F
David Rivers - F
Brandon Ubel - F
Andre Hollins - G
Joe Coleman - G
Austin Hollins - G
Rodney Williams - F
Trevor Mbakwe - F
Tip off: 8:00 pm
Venue: Williams Arena