Men’s basketball moves on in Iowa

Sarah Mitchell

The rest of the season is a character test for the Gophers men’s basketball team, a time to see if the problems of recent weeks can be overcome.
But with just three regular season games remaining, Minnesota (12-12, 4-9 Big Ten) is playing with a slim margin of error.
“We’ve got to play our best basketball game of the year and we’ve got to make people not play very well,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said. “I’m really happy and excited with the attitude of the 10 men that we have in our program right now.”
The Gophers head to Iowa (11-14, 4-9) on Sunday, playing their second game of a three-game road trip.
The wake of a troublesome February has left Minnesota a team without an identity. Player positioning, leadership roles, and defensive and offensive execution have left the team scrambling.
Monson said the fragile team still has the effort.
“I don’t sense them not caring. I don’t sense the fact that they’re quitting by any means,” Monson said. “That’s why I think it’s very vital that we start games in a positive fashion and not get our heads down and our confidence down early in games.”
In search of a solid start, Monson began experimenting with Minnesota’s chemistry in practice this week. Monson said he is looking for “more spark off the bench, more settled down (play) and more spark to start the game.”
At Seton Hall on Wednesday, Monson started regulars Dusty Rychart, Shane Schilling and Terrance Simmons while throwing in the twist of freshman center Ryan Wildenborg and junior guard Mitch Ohnstad.
Monson may have hit on something. The Pirates barely beat Minnesota 64-61. The same lineup is probable for Sunday’s game.
So, how does Minnesota match up with Iowa?
Like the Gophers, the Hawkeyes have also lost a step since last season. A physical team, Iowa coach Steve Alford depends on the play of senior center Jacob Jaacks and junior guard Dean Oliver.
Minnesota defeated Iowa 85-82 earlier this season but was carried by departed Joel Przybilla (28 points, 18 rebounds, 5 assists). Still, Alford expects a challenge.
“It will be a very, very tough weekend game,” Alford said. “Our team is young and inexperienced, too.”
Despite some turmoil, Monson expects the same.
“You want to try to turn that within these next three weeks so that you end the season on a good note,” Monson said. “If anybody in the country deserves that, it’s these 10 men that are suiting up every game, giving it everything they have.”

Sarah Mitchell covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]