A Bad Week for Gopher Basketball

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Devoe Joseph

A season that had only one blemish the first 361 days of 2010 has quickly turned into a nightmare of a new year for Minnesota Gophers Basketball.

The first loss was a rather small one in the immediate, but one that could hurt the Gophers in the long term with the announcement that backup freshman post Maurice Walker would be missing the rest of the 2010 season with a torn meniscus and PCL suffered against South Dakota State. 

Walker was only averaging three points and three rebounds per game, but he was touted as the Gophers best recruit and this injury hurts his ability to progress and eventually succeed Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson.

Going to the Kohl Center to face #24 Wisconsin December 28th would be the next task the Gophers had to deal with.

Known as one of the toughest places to play in the nation, the Gophers had to be confident heading to Wisconsin, with a full repertoire in their backcourt for only the second time this season, and a revamped front line featuring non-conference standout Trevor Mbakwe.

But Gopher fans were treated with a familiar sight, a solid 30 minutes of basketball.

Only one problem: games are 40 minutes long, and the middle ten of the game the Badgers went on a 23-14 run to put some distance between themselves and Minnesota.

The Gophers mounted a late charge but came up short, losing 68-60.

One loss is not an issue, especially in the Kohl Center, where Wisconsin is now 70-6 in Big Ten play under Bo Ryan.

bo ryan

The Gophers needed improvements, however, going into the Breslin Center to take on a #19 Michigan State side that had struggled against it’s outrageously difficult non-conference schedule.

Minnesota played an impressive first half, going into the break up 28-22, the low-scoring, defensive minded style of play favoring the Gophers throughout the first 20. 

But a stretch of 9:57 out of the break in which the Spartans outscored Minnesota 23-5 killed any chance Minnesota had at getting their first Big Ten win, and once again showed the Gophers find it hard to put together a complete game.

The game was not as close as the 71-62 score indicated, and the Spartans controlled the tempo in the second half, scoring a whopping 49 points, something the Gophers offense could not keep up with.

While it is extremely early in the conference season and both Wisconsin and Michigan State are both very good teams, specifically at home, the warning signs of the Gophers being nothing more than a middle of the pack Big Ten team are there.

Minnesota struggled to put together complete games last year, culminating in a porous effort in the NCAA tournament against Xavier, a 67-54 loss in which the Gophers were outscored by 11 in the last 13 minutes of the game. 

jordan crawford

Their offense looks painfully similar to the 2010 conference version, in which for long periods of time they would be unable to score the basketball for one reason or another.

Their nine assists in 24 field goals made against Michigan State showed one reason, a lack of ball movement, team play, and playmakers to get shooters the open looks would be just a few reasons, leaving the Gophers shooting only 41% on the game.

Their 39% mark against Wisconsin gave no consolation for their poor offensive output against Michigan State, and no help is on the way. 

In fact, early Tuesday morning, we found out it’s the exact opposite.

Devoe Joseph, the Gophers spark plug off the bench, their most dangerous scorer, and a man averaging 11 points per contest, was suspended for tonight’s game against Indiana for missing “a few practices” according to Tubby Smith, something that may have raised a few red flags considering Joseph was already suspended once this year. 

More flags went up at exactly 3:49 A.M. Tuesday morning, when Joseph’s mother sent an e-mail to Star Tribune Gophers beat writer Myron Medcalf stating that Joseph was transferring and that he was not suspended, rather he had been thinking about playing basketball somewhere else and had decided to make the ruling final.  She also stated she was going with her son Tuesday to obtain release papers from the university.

 Joseph’s drama eerily resembles the two player situations the Gophers faced last year around this same time.

While Royce White was suspended in the 2009-10 season he announced his decision to leave the University of Minnesota in early February. 

Al Nolen’s ineligibility, a decision that came down in mid-January 2010, was what ultimately led Joseph to get an opportunity to start for Minnesota, a role which he thrived in. 

al nolen

Smith would not specify any other issue except the missed practices when asked for comment Tuesday, only that it “could be long-term,” according to Medcalf.

The losses to Wisconsin and Michigan State hurt in the short term, but are ones that, should the Gophers tweak a few things, they should’ve been able to recover from.

But the long term loss of Joseph could hurt the Gophers ability to recover from those losses and kills their frontcourt depth.  Unproven freshman guard Chip Armelin will need to step up to fill Joseph’s rather large role of backup combo guard, something he may be capable of with a few more minutes (10 per game at the moment), and scoring opportunities (nine shots combined in last four games).

Rodney Williams is undoubtedly another player who will have to shoulder more of the scoring load in Joseph’s absence and rid himself of the “athlete-not-basketball-player” tag. 

Williams ability has far-outweighed his production once again this season, as he is averaging six points per contest in 21 minutes per game this season, but is only 4-13 with nine points in conference and has shown no ability to create shots on his own.

Joseph is yet another in the growing list of promising Tubby recruits to leave the program in a tough spot, but Tubby would be the first to tell you that there are no excuses and the program needs to move on.

While weeks don’t get much worse than that, the Gophers have a nice bounce back game against Indiana tonight, a sure bottom-three team in the conference this year, and an easy chance to move on quickly from a bad seven days.

-Mike Gallagher

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