Gophers trying to figure things out

The seniors held a players only meeting this week as they prepared for Michigan.

by Zach Eisendrath

Earlier this week, members of the Minnesota men’s basketball team gathered for a players-only meeting.

The meeting, led by the Gophers’ three seniors, Spencer Tollackson, Dan Coleman and Lawrence McKenzie, was arranged, in part, to clear the air after Minnesota suffered a pair of hard-to-swallow losses last week at home against Illinois and at Wisconsin.

“I think certain things had to be said and people had to be called out and people had to be held more accountable by their teammates,” Tollackson said. “I think that is a very effective way to get people to do what they are supposed to do.”

How effective that method is may be seen tonight when the Gophers host an improving Michigan team at Williams Arena.

First-year coach John Beilein’s Wolverines look different than the team that allowed coach Tubby Smith to pick up his 400th career victory when the Gophers (15-9 overall, 5-7 Big Ten) won 77-65 in Ann Arbor on Jan. 31.

“We watched some of their highlights and they are a better team than last time, so we have to go out and play twice as hard as we did against them,” freshman guard Blake Hoffarber said.

Michigan, led by freshman Manny Harris, is finally starting to buy into Beilein’s offense, and is on a three-game winning streak after beating Ohio State on Saturday in Ann Arbor.

Smith, who was unaware that his team held a players-only meeting, said Minnesota will have to play better than it has on its current two-game winning streak to beat the Wolverines (8-17, 4-9) – and just talking about doing so won’t get the job done.

“Talk is cheap. You have to do it on the court,” Smith said. “All the talk and all the psychology (means) nothing. You just have to do it between the lines.”

One player who has been doing it between the lines has been Harris. Michigan’s freshman guard, who was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday, averages a team-high 16.3 points per game.

In defeat, Harris scored a game-high 19 points when the two teams met last month. That performance, and his consistent play all conference season, had Smith giving praise to Harris’ game.

“Manny Harris is one of the best players in the league, if not the best Ö as a freshman.”

Now or never

Now two games under .500 in the Big Ten, the Gophers understand how important the final few weeks will be in determining if the team can qualify for one of three NCAA postseason tournaments.

Smith said he hopes his team feels a sense of urgency now, as far as postseason goals, but said he thinks his team has had it all year.

“There is always a sense of urgency. If you’re not playing with a sense of urgency, you aren’t very good – you aren’t competing,” Smith said.

Tollackson said he spoke with fellow seniors Coleman and McKenzie earlier this week and they came to the conclusion that there is still time to accomplish their goals.

“Basically our thing right now is to win out; win every game that we can,” he said. “There are still a lot of games left, and a lot of games left to be won.”