Men’s hoops team falls to 0-3 in Big Ten

A loss at Ohio State is the latest for Minnesota, which is alone at the bottom of the Big Ten conference standings.

by Adam Fink

Minnesota men’s basketball coach Dan Monson recently told his players the past three weeks has been one of his most difficult stretches as a coach.

The Gophers fifth-year coach said this probably also holds true for each player.

Three losses to open the Big Ten schedule against teams not predicted to finish in the conference’s upper half have put the Gophers (8-7, 0-3 Big Ten) alone in the cellar of the standings.

The schedule makers did not offer the Gophers any favors; Minnesota plays at defensively oriented Purdue (12-4, 2-1) on Wednesday night.

Throughout the losses, one word keeps referring to the team’s struggles: confidence.

“We want to have this season, not only be a success but not an embarrassment,” senior Michael Bauer said. “I don’t think our confidence will break. We need wins, though.”

In conference losses at Penn State, Ohio State and at home against Iowa, Minnesota has gone extended stretches without a field goal, its defense has struggled to shut down opponents and the Gophers’ offense has been unable to break a zone defense with consistency.

Specifically, opponents have used zones primarily to contain freshman Kris Humphries. With Humphries facing double or triple team coverage, the Gophers perimeter players have failed to capitalize on their open three-point looks. This season, the team is shooting 30.9 percent from beyond the arc.

Also, the starting lineup, which was the same for the team’s first 11 games, has changed each game since beating Wofford on Jan. 4. Since the win, Monson has experimented with different combinations.

“I am not down on one of our players,” Monson said. “I think their effort and willingness is there.”

For Bauer, the biggest disappointment in the losses has been the team’s inability to stop an opponent’s run.

In Big Ten play, the Gophers have played relatively even except for an offensive run or two. And this has been the difference in the games.

“It’s very frustrating,” Bauer said. “It’s not only resulting in losses, but also players are second-guessing themselves.

“We are trying to figure out what is missing.”

Monson, who has been a head coach since 1997, said it is important to keep the team passionate about the game.

Losing, said Monson, can take the fun of out practice.

“We have to be a team who enjoys coming to practice and getting better,” Monson said. “We need to leave here enjoying the game.”

While playing a solid all-around game can be a silver lining to a loss, the Gophers said they are desperate for a win.

The team hasn’t won since beating Princeton on Jan. 10 and is 2-5 since Dec. 29.

“The confidence is there,” guard Moe Hargrow said. “You don’t lose 19, 20 years of confidence in a matter of weeks. The confidence is there, it’s a matter of when it is going to reveal itself again.”

Three months ago, Minnesota talked about this season with high expectations from a more talented squad than in recent memory.

Despite the slow start, the team hasn’t adjusted its preseason goal of making the NCAA tournament.

Instead, the Gophers are focusing on one game at a time.

“If you lose faith in (postseason play), you might as well hang up your jersey,” Hargrow said. “We are going to survive. It’s not out of reach.

“We need a win badly.”