Now that the season is all but lost, Tubby Smith has begun sifting through the rubble of a season that began with so much optimism.
Minnesota has lost key players, key recruits and seven of its last 10 games off a team that returned nine players from an NCAA Tournament qualifier. Smith knows why: His team isn't doing the little things anymore that undertalented and overachieving teams must do to compete.
"You have to get on the floor for loose balls, you have to take the charge, you have to have some guts and do that," Smith said. "If you don't, this is what you're going to be -- you're going to be mediocre."
Right now, the Gophers are on the wrong side of mediocre. They lost their point guard, Al Nolen. They've lost top recruits Royce White and Trevor Mbakwe. Now they're losing games at an alarming rate, most recently to an average Northwestern team in overtime.
Smith got every ounce of talent out of an average team last season. That hasn't been the case this year. As a result, the Gophers begin the week 5-7 in the league and seemingly destined for a losing league record in a season that began with conference-title aspirations.
"If you don't have the talent, the overwhelming talent, then you better be doing the extra things," Smith said. "And we're not doing it."
--The Gophers' bench outscored Northwestern 17-3 but lost for the eighth time this season. Minnesota is 12-8 when outscoring the opponent's bench.
--Minnesota has blocked at least four shots in 19 of 24 games this season.
ON THE SPOT: The Gophers turned the ball over 15 times against Northwestern, giving them 30 for their last two games. Turnovers continue to be a recurring problem ever since Minnesota lost starting point guard Al Nolen to grades a couple of weeks ago. Devoe Joseph is a better scorer than Nolen, but Nolen is better running the offense and on defense.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You have to get on the floor for loose balls, you have to take the charge, you have to have some guts and do that. If you don't, this is what you're going to be -- you're going to be mediocre." -- Coach Tubby Smith
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: It's become a long, miserable season in Minneapolis. Personnel losses have turned into disappointing losses on the court as the Gophers have lost seven of their last 10 conference games. Tubby Smith will have to take a long look at this roster during the offseason to try to get the magic back from an NCAA Tournament team last season.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- G Devoe Joseph, G Lawrence Westbrook, G Blake Hoffarber, F Damian Johnson, C Ralph Sampson III. Key Subs -- F Paul Carter, G Devron Bostick, F Colton Iverson, F Rodney Williams.
Minnesota 66 Penn State, 64
Michigan 71, Minnesota 63
Northwestern 77, Minnesota 74
vs. Wisconsin, Feb. 18
vs. Indiana, Feb. 20
vs. Purdue, Feb. 24
at Illinois, Feb. 27
at Michigan, March 2
IN FOCUS: The Gophers have lost consecutive games to Michigan and Northwestern, two teams with losing records in conference games. Now they get to tangle with Wisconsin, which still has aspirations of a regular-season conference title. The Badgers are coming off a 28-point mauling of Indiana and play the type of smothering defense that can break Minnesota's will early.
--Lawrence Westbrook and coach Tubby Smith are stuck in a love/hate relationship. Smith loves his scoring potential but hates his nonchalant attitude toward defense. As a result, Westbrook has been in and out of Smith's doghouse despite hitting a game-winning shot recently against Penn State. Westbrook, the team's leading scorer, has been on the bench late in games because of his poor defense. "He's gotta defend better," Smith said. "It's as simple as that. If he defended better, he'd be on the court."
--Blake Hoffarber is shooting 50 percent on 3-pointers this season, tops in the nation. Hoffarber has connected on 66 of 132 3's on the year.
--Devoe Joseph is averaging 8.3 points, 4.5 assists and 3.2 turnovers in six games since replacing Al Nolen as the starting point guard.
Next Up: Minnesota
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