Gophers look to synergize offense at Michigan State

Minnesota had just 12 assists and 32 baskets in its past two games – both losses.

Bob Wothe

It seems like a long time ago that Minnesota’s men’s basketball team had 22 assists in its Big Ten opener against Penn State.

That game, an 83-62 trouncing of the league’s worst team, was a high water mark in the Big Ten season for the Gophers offense.

Minnesota would probably be happy to just have half as many assists tonight against No. 12 Michigan State (17-4, 8-2 Big Ten) after notching just 12 assists in its last two games combined.

“We’ve had guys get out of their role a little bit and try to do things they can’t do,” coach Dan Monson said. “We’ve got to get back to everybody understanding what they have to do to help us win games.”

When Minnesota (16-8, 6-5) takes the floor in East Lansing, Mich., high on its list of priorities will be the good ball movement and strong all-around offensive effort that keyed a 6-3 Big Ten start and a win over Wisconsin.

Since that victory over the Badgers, the Gophers have been more than a little ugly on the offensive end of the court.

In its last two games against Northwestern and Indiana, Minnesota has had just 32 field goals combined to go along with its 12 assists.

Even more telling are the 38 turnovers the team has committed in those games.

As the young Gophers have found out, it’s hard to win basketball games with a 1-to-3 assist-to-turnover ratio and even harder when they give the ball to the other team more often than they make baskets.

Senior Aaron Robinson said it’s important they get back

to the way they had been playing before their two-game slide.

“Guys depend too much on other guys to make too many plays,” Robinson said. “We depend too much on both Vince (Grier) and Jeff (Hagen). Once they get the ball, we need to screen away and move, not just stand around and watch.”

In times of offensive impotence, teams usually turn to their leading scorers to bail them out. The Gophers have obviously done just that.

But that might be the bulk of the problem. Grier had 85 points in the last three games but exactly 0 assists in the same timeframe.

His last assist came against Michigan on Feb. 2 – 56 shots ago.

Grier received national media attention after the Gophers beat the Wolverines that night and the Badgers later that week. He won the Big Ten player of the week award and thrust the Gophers into the spotlight.

But those accolades might have been the worst possible development for Grier and the rest of Minnesota.

For a team that got off to such a strong start thanks to team play and unselfishness, it’s debatable whether the same sort of “star” complex that plagued it last year with Kris Humphries (one assist per 49.5 minutes played) has hurt it the last two games.

Players insist it’s not.

“Vince (Grier) is an aggressive scorer, and he’s going to draw two guys,” Robinson said. “We’re not getting open so he can find us, and we’ve got to hit the shots when he does.”

Grier said the Gophers played how they needed to for most of their first 22 games and the last two are more of an aberration than a complete shift.

And because Grier was held to just six points in the first meeting between the Gophers and the Spartans, he said he’d like some revenge.

“It’s all business, but we’ve got to make sure we’re having fun,” Grier said. “If we do that, I see no reason why we can’t bounce back and win some games.”