When it comes to offense, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team usually has little to worry about.
For the past two years, the Gophers have finished in first or second place in overall Big Ten offense and have continually boasted three players with a scoring average per game near or above double-digits.
But in the midst of a 0-4 conference start – the team’s worst since 1988 – offense isn’t as strong as it was.
While the Big Ten’s overall statistics show the offense hasn’t been as efficient recently, Gophers point guard Adam Boone admits the Gophers have been struggling on offense.
“There is no doubt about it,” Boone said. “We have been out of sync. I think we are starting to come out of it.”
And starting with Saturday’s game against Indiana, Minnesota (8-8, 0-4 Big Ten) hopes to use an improved offense to earn its first Big Ten win of the season.
There have been many concerns on the offensive end since the Gophers lost their Big Ten opener Jan. 7 at Penn State.
En route to averaging only 67.3 points per game (fifth most in the conference), the Gophers have struggled shooting the ball, had extended stretches without scoring and, at times, have tended to play one-on-one basketball as opposed to a team-oriented style of play.
Opposing teams have thrown zone defenses at the Gophers in hopes of shutting down freshman forward Kris Humphries.
With more room to maneuver from long-range, Minnesota has shot the ball poorly from beyond the arc. Its 29.9 percentage in the conference ranks ninth out of 11 schools.
Individually, Boone (31.9 percent) and senior Michael Bauer (29.9 percent) have struggled, leaving the Gophers without a consistent threat.
“We shot 39 percent (Wednesday night at Purdue) and I thought we were on fire,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said. “I am serious. It felt good.”
Against the Boilermakers, Humphries took an elbow to his left eye. The swelling has gone down and the forward will not be limited in practice, but it highlights the attention he receives in the post.
“I am obviously the focal point of everyone’s defense,” Humphries said. “I am going to get more contact and take more hits than anyone on the team. I just got to continue to play through it.”
Against the Boilermakers, the team took away Minnesota’s passing lanes, forcing the Gophers to play more of a one-on-one style.
And while the Gophers got back into the game in the second half, Boone, for one, believes the Gophers succeed better as a team.
“There is a time and a place for an individual play,” Boone said. “I think we are better in a team game. There are only so many times you can go one-on-one. We balance it very well and it’s something we have to take into the future.”
For an example of how an improved offense can turn losses into wins, the Gophers should look to the Hoosiers.
Indiana (9-6, 3-1) struggled earlier in the year but has won its last three Big Ten games thanks to more scoring.
“We are making shots now,” Hoosiers coach Mike Davis said. “When you are shooting 29 or 30 percent and some of your key guys are not scoring at all, it is tough to win games.”
Since the Big Ten season began, Minnesota has adjusted its starting lineup and attempted at not taking as many three-point shots.
And the game against Purdue indicates the Gophers’ patience on offense is improving.
“It is contagious,” Boone said. “But it works both ways. It shouldn’t happen like that but when guys aren’t shooting, no one seems to be able to score. We go into a shell and are passive, but I think we are starting to come out of it.”
In early January, the Gophers still have confidence in each others ability to make open – and contested – shots.
Against Purdue, Boone made three of his five three-point shots and Minnesota turned a 15-point halftime deficit into a tie game late in the second half.
The Gophers also believe it is only a matter of time before they start making their shots.
And that could be the best solution of all.