Bickerstaff’s absence leaves hole in lineup

Mark Heller

Thanks to John-Blair Bickerstaff’s season-ending knee injury, the day after was a little more somber than the night before.
Monson told his players of Bickerstaff’s fate after Wednesday night’s 77-75 upset of 10th-ranked Indiana at Williams Arena.
The Gophers had a lighter practice than usual on Thursday. They will have a shoot-around today, then take Saturday and Sunday off before getting ready for Illinois on Thursday.
“The emotions right now are pretty mixed,” Monson said. “The loss of J.B. hurt the players a lot, but eight days away (from playing) is very good. We need some time to regroup emotionally.”
While the regrouping may be necessary for Minnesota following the loss of its emotional leader and spark plug, the time off comes on the heels of a struggling team pulling off a big upset.
That can translate into a loss of momentum.
Time will tell if a bye week now will be of further help.
“If we win Thursday I’ll think it was great,” Monson said. “If we lose, I’ll think it was the worst.”
If anything, it might give Monson time to ponder over who will take over Bickerstaff’s small forward position in the starting lineup.
Freshman Shane Schilling appears to be the leading candidate, especially in wake of his career-high 13 points against the Hoosiers.
However, depending on the team the Gophers face, they might want to go big, in which case it might be Nick Sinville or Kyle Sanden. Or Kevin Burleson might alternate between small forward and his regular spot at shooting guard.
As to whether Schilling is the front-runner for the job, Monson said, “I think so. Dusty and Nick will have to learn some if we go big.
“Since he’s on the wing, I think it would be easier for a guy like Burleson to learn it than Dusty or Nick.”

Gym closings
Even on off days, it is conceivable for players to spend time in the gym working out or working on their game.
But on Thursday, Monson made it clear he might hang anyone that gets within a whiff of Williams Arena.
“I don’t want them in here,” he said. “They need to get away. One of the most important things is to bring the kind of enthusiasm coming back.”

Off the dribble
ù Explain this: Rarely do three ranked teams in the Big Ten take a dive in the same week, but No. 8 Michigan State was drowned by Purdue Tuesday night. On Wednesday Iowa beat fifth-ranked Ohio State, and the Gophers knocked off the 11th ranked Hoosiers.
“I don’t know,” Monson said. “I think the time of the year might be one reason. Teams are getting used to things. A month ago, Iowa on the road would not have won that game. A month ago we wouldn’t have won either.
ù Monson was not happy at the Star Tribune after the headline for Bickerstaff’s drinking citation read: “Bickerstaff Arrested Saturday.”
Bickerstaff was cited for minor consumption and drinking in public Saturday night after the Wisconsin loss. Bickerstaff is fighting the ticket.
Upon greeting reporters from the three local papers during practice Thursday, Monson said, “We have the Daily, the Pioneer Press and the Enquirer.”

Mark Heller covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]