We’ve put Wisconsin in our rearview mirror and now its time to move onward and upward to better teams out there. That’s right, today we will be checking in on the Minnesota Gophers.
4-6 (0-2 in B1G play) - Torvik rankings as of Tuesday evening (Minnesota is #199)
Wins: 173 Cal Baptist (N), 289 Central Michigan (H), 324 Western Michigan (H), 339 St. Francis NY (H)
Losses: 4 Purdue (A), 18 Virginia Tech (A), 30 Mississippi State (H), 51 UNLV (N), 64 Michigan (H), 128 DePaul (H)
I don’t think it was much of a surprise that Minnesota was in for another rebuilding year this season, but struggling to eke out victories against directional Michigans and getting blown out by the likes of DePaul isn’t good no matter how big of a rebuilding job it is.
The good news is that Minnesota hasn’t lost to a team ranked below 150. The bad news is they also haven’t beaten a team above 150 and after their next three games they won’t play another one below that benchmark. If you like quality losses, the Gophers have two of the best losses: to undefeated Purdue and undefeated Mississippi State.
Things I’ve Liked
The biggest thing to me (and other fans of the non-Minnesota B1G schools), is that Minnesota has not taken an awful loss. There is no loss to Appalachian State (Louisville) or American (Georgetown) or Cal - San Diego (Cal - Berkley) or Grambling State (Vanderbilt). The Gophers aren’t good, but they don’t have a terrible loss dragging the conference down. Please keep that up.
The 2023 recruiting class includes two four-star commits that have already signed their letter of intent. High 4-star Dennis Evans is a 7’1” center (hey, Purdue is supposed to get all the 7-footers!) and Cameron Christie is a top 150 SG. I don’t really like to talk about recruiting, but if the Gophers can also add a transfer or three they could be competitive next year.
Pharrel Payne and Ta’Lon Cooper are intriguing players. Payne is a true freshman and the star of the Minnesota 2022 recruiting class. Although he’s still a little raw, he’s put up decent numbers against good competition including 15 points on 6-6 shooting against Michigan. Cooper is a transfer in from Morehead State and will have next year available as his COVID year if he wants it. He is playing some heavy minutes but racking up assists despite a bad offense around him and has been good for at least one three-pointer a game.
Things I Haven’t Liked
This is year 2 of the Ben Johnson era and the Gophers look like they took a massive step backwards from a team that went 4-16 in B1G play a year ago. I know they brought in a ton of new guys (literally almost everyone is new), but I’m not seeing a cohesive plan or the players getting coached up. Turnovers are up. Defensive rebounding is down. Tempo is moving in the direction of the Badgers. These are all things that are fixable by the coaching staff regardless of personnel.
Almost every offensive stat has gone in the wrong direction compared to last year. Free throw shooting is among the nation’s worst. Shooting percentages are bad. Offensive rebounding has improved as has assists, but at the end of the day it is a struggle to score points.
Almost every defensive stat is not good. The exception being fouls given. At least these Gophers don’t draw out the inevitable.
Isaiah Ihnen and Parker Fox are both out for the year with knee injuries. Hopefully they return to full health for next year. Jamison Battle also missed some time with a foot injury but has looked effective since returning to the lineup.
Schedule and What’s Left
Minnesota has three more buy games left starting tonight with Arkansas Pine Bluff and continuing with Chicago State and Alcorn State. APB hasn’t won a D1 game and Chicago State is ... well, Chicago State. Assuming the Gophers don’t fall off their elevated court they should be able to take care of them. Alcorn State could be slightly trickier as they’ve beaten better teams than Minnesota, but it’s a home game and the Gophers will be favored.
Then we get to the Big Ten schedule. I’ve started this series, telling you who each teams double plays or single plays are. That doesn’t really matter here. Minnesota is favored in zero of their remaining 18 Big Ten games. The odds say they should still win 3 of them (Indiana, Wisconsin, and Wisconsin would be my choice if I got to pick), but this could be a long January and February for the Gophers.
BoilerUp89’s Final Thoughts
For the Gophers to make the NCAA tournament they need to win the Big Ten tournament. 5 wins in 5 days. Because the roster as currently coached isn’t winning enough Big Ten regular season games to make up for their complete lack of a non-conference resume.
So how should the Gophers spend the next two months of basketball season? Well, they could try to ruin someone’s bubble hopes. Like a rival’s. Or they could start developing the younger guys like Pharrel Payne and Joshua Ola-Joseph by giving them more minutes. I’d also recommend Ben Johnson attend a coaching seminar.
Here’s what I’d be hoping to see from the Gophers the rest of the year if I was a neutral observer: 1) no losses in buy games. 2) Establish a culture of putting forth effort every time you step on the floor. No rolling over down 15. 3) Pick up a handful of home wins in conference play. 4) Steal a road win anywhere. If they can accomplish those 4 things, I’ll maintain some amount of hope that Ben Johnson can get things going as the recruits start matriculating. If not, year 3 is going to have to show some serious progress.
If any Gopher fans stuck with me through the article, the next picture is your reward.
Other Expert Opinions
I did ask the other writers to be positive as I knew I was going to struggle to do so. Naturally this meant less of them had things to say.
misdreavus79: I mean, when you have one returning player, this is what things look like. That’s less being negative and more “you literally have a brand new team, again.”We saw it play out with Nebraska the past couple of years, now it seems to be Minnesota’s turn.
MaximumSam: I’m instructed to not be overly negative, but man, that’s tough. What is Minny’s best performance this year? An overtime win over Cal-Baptiste? Only losing by 9 to UNLV? Every team with a pulse handles them, and the Big Ten is filled with teams that have a pulse.
There is hope, if you squint. For one, no team can be this bad at shooting free throws. Ta’Lon Cooper shot almost 80% at the line as a freshman. This year he’s shooting 51% and the team is shooting 58%. That’s a lot of free points. Second, Jamison Battle is shooting 31%. That is bound to improve. Raise those stats a bit a this team could at least be competitive on a consistent basis, even if they seem destined for the basement of the conference.
How many wins will Minnesota get in conference play this season?
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5+ wait, what? Are you serious?
How many years will Ben Johnson be the Gophers head coach?
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I remain optimistic and will tell you why in the comments section.
Are you enjoying the Big Ten basketball check-in articles?
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What’s an article? I’m just here for the poll questions.
No. I disliked that you mocked Wisconsin for playing a boring brand of basketball yesterday.
Yes, but when are you going to get to MY team?