Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports
After losing to Iowa and Ohio State by a combined 47 points, Minnesota returned home and delivered a rousing effort to upend No. 1 Indiana. For now, Minnesota fans can give Tubby a break and focus on their team's tourney seeding.
Yeah, that just happened. For what seems like the 100th time this season, the No. 1 team in the country has lost a college basketball game. Last night’s big loser, Indiana, had actually lost as the No. 1 team just three weeks earlier against Illinois.
Since then, the Hoosiers had re-established their dominance with impressive victories over Ohio State and Michigan State, but Tom Crean’s squad found itself out-muscled and out-hustled on Tuesday night in Minneapolis.
Unable to out-gun Indiana from long range (Minnesota shot just 4-for-20 from beyond the arc), the Golden Gophers did what they do best and bullied the Hoosiers on the boards. Minnesota, led by Trevor Mbakwe and his six offensive rebounds, gained a 17-8 advantage on the offensive glass. That made up for the advantage that Indiana had with its 39 percent three-point shooting.
Mbakwe was the major factor in Minnesota coming out on top. The sixth-year senior finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds and helped hold Cody Zeller to just nine points on 2-for-9 shooting. When Mbakwe was forced to the bench in the second half with foul trouble, sophomore reserve Eliott Eliason stepped in to his big shoes and scored seven points while grabbing five rebounds. That doesn’t sound like much, but it was a big deal considering that the only Gopher besides Mbakwe who scored in double figures was Andre Hollins, who shot just 4-for-13 from the field.
The game didn’t really swing totally in Minnesota’s favor until three minutes were left in the second half. After a Rodney Williams jumper put the Gophers up by five points, Yogi Ferrell missed a corner three-pointer, and Eliason swung an outlet pass to Joe Coleman. That started a two-on-one fastbreak in which Coleman and Austin Hollins played monkey in the middle with Jordan Hulls. Coleman finished the break with a slam that blew the roof off The Barn and put IU in scramble mode.
What this means for Minnesota: Before the game the Gophers were reeling and in danger of losing their bid to the NCAA Tournament. Monday’s victory has got to give the team a huge confidence boost, and it should also buy Tubby Smith some more time with the team’s fans. With Penn State, Nebraska, and Purdue remaining on Minnesota’s schedule, the team should be able to pad its resume with three more conference wins, but the Gophers shouldn’t get too cocky. They haven’t won a road game since January 9 (at Illinois), and Nebraska will be looking to send off the Devaney Center with a bang.
What this means for Indiana: The Hoosiers will likely lose their No. 1 ranking this weeks unless Gonzaga suffers an upset loss, but they should remain in line for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament if they can capture the B1G regular season title. Indiana’s last two games are against Ohio State (home) and Michigan (road), so nothing’s guaranteed. However, if the Hoosiers respond to this loss the way they did their last one, the residents of B-Town have nothing to worry about.