Episode 33: Gophers men’s basketball drops sixth straight, looks to Rutgers

In this week’s episode of the “Weekly Rundown,” our staff discusses the Gophers’ last three losses, the team’s tournament hopes and whether John Beilein will be the next head coach of Minnesota.

Nolan O'Hara and AJ Condon

INTRO MUSIC PLAYS

NOLAN O’HARA: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the “Weekly Rundown,” presented by the Minnesota Daily. I’m your host Nolan O’Hara. There’s been a lot of news this week with the men’s basketball team, including a few games we need to catch up on, so I’m here with our basketball beat reporter AJ Condon. AJ, how’s it going?

AJ CONDON: Well, it’s good to be back on the podcast. But if you’re a basketball fan, you realize that it has not been the best past few games. So I say we dive into this and get it off.

O’HARA: All right, for sure. I mean, yeah, for Gophers’ fans, they haven’t been too pleased over this last trio of games, all losses against Northwestern, Nebraska and Penn State. And, you know, if you’ve been keeping up on Big Ten basketball, you know, it’s, you know, arguably the best conference in the country. This is kind of a down year for the ACC, the Big Ten is really tough. But it’s not because of these three teams the Gophers just lost to, that’s for sure. And now that’s six in a row for Minnesota. There’s 13-13 on the season. I know, you know, we’ve been talking a little bit about texting back and forth during these last couple of games, but we’ve seen some of the same problems. But for you, what stood out most over these last three games where the Gophers just haven’t been able to get a win?

CONDON: Yeah, something I’ve noticed and something that coach Pitino talks a lot about it. It’s the injuries that the Gopher team has that they have had happened to them over the past week and a half. And obviously, it’s not an excuse that anyone can use. But when you look into the problems, it’s pretty hard for this team to kind of come back from that. So starting off Gabe Kalscheur. last play of practice, he jammed his finger and ultimately broke his hand. And last night after the game, Pitino kind of noted that Gabe probably won’t be returning the season. Moving on from that Liam Robbins has been dealing with an ankle injury that he was trying to play through. And it was clear to fans watching the game that he just wasn’t his normal self. And he’s missed the past three games because of that. So right there. That’s two starters that have been out of the lineup.

And then Brandon Johnson was dealing with a finger injury. He finally gets healthy from that and then re-aggravates his ankle that has pretty much been what he’s been doing with his whole career. So he’s pretty much our third starter that’s been out. And then Both Gach coming off the bench, probably their best guard coming off the bench with Tre’ and Jamal in the lineup. Now, he’s been bothered too by foot injury. So, the injuries are just all around. Pitino is hoping that the guys can get healthy before this final game and the Big Ten tournament.

But besides the point of something they can’t always control, there are things that they can control. That’s been the three-pointers that I know we love to text about. And we can’t wait to talk about it on the podcast because that has been a serious problem. And it has been all season. So that’s entirely different. These injuries have also not helped the rebounding issues. Gabe is the best perimeter defender, he’s not there to box out not having a seven-footer in the paint to grab rebounds. So they’ve been getting killed on the glass. And then with three stars out, there’s not much scoring besides Carr. I mean, he had 41 that game and they still can’t even beat Nebraska. So it’s been tough, it’s been a tough stretch for sure.

O’HARA: Yeah, the Liam Robbins injury was especially evident last night, you know, they were just getting killed on the glass by Penn State. And it just seems like yeah, it seemed like nobody else was really making the effort to close out to grab boards. Like we said, we love to talk about the three-point shooting. You know, they pulled up the stat on the broadcast last night.

CONDON: Right at the beginning of the game.

O’HARA: Right at the beginning of the game. They didn’t even wait for him to shoot at three. It was 330th in the league in percentage, and they shoot 20th most in the league. So yeah, like you said, those have been some of the problems and they still are not getting sorted out here. And there’s only one game left in the regular season before the Big Ten tournament. I’m looking at where the teams now uh, you know, six-game losing streak. We know what they did in the beginning of the season. I mean, what are your expectations for the Big Ten tournament? And what are we what are we looking at here the rest of the way?

CONDON: Yeah, so one game left against Rutgers. It’s hard for me to think that the Gophers can kind of turn things around and beat them. They’ve already lost to Rutgers wanting those at home, which we’ve talked about before. They’re a different team at home. Not as of late but they lost the Rutgers, and I don’t really see much changing in that game on the road. Then we move into the Big Ten tournament. And I saw us a graphic about the Big Ten tournament and I don’t know how much has changed from it but it looks like we’re going to be playing Nebraska in kind of like a play-in round.

And then I believe we have to play Wisconsin and then Iowa, which I mean if we can even get past Nebraska playing against Wisconsin who handled us pretty well, earlier in the season would be a very tough stretch. So it’s not looking great. It, it does look like the seasons coming to a quick end. It just sad to see because of how they played so well at the beginning of the season, we thought we’re going to have a little March Madness fun. And over these past six games, it’s just the hope has just been going down. So it’s kind of sad to see. But Tre’, Tre’ Williams last night in the postgame conference said that their team is good enough team to win the Big Ten tournament. So that is some hope there. I don’t know for sure if that’s going to happen. But there’s some hope left in this team.

O’HARA: That’s quite the take there by Tre’ Williams, I’m looking at it. I mean, they certainly haven’t played good enough to win the Big Ten tournament these last six, and they’d need to step up a lot before then. And I mean, speaking of that, too, you know, I mean, the NCAA tournament, I mean, their hopes are pretty much entirely gone at this point. Even if they beat Rutgers and win the Big Ten tournament. I mean, it’s unrealistic, but is that what it would take, and would that even be enough? I mean, they got a couple who have some top wins. I mean, if they won the Big Ten tournament, they’d have some more top-five wins. Is there any chance at all they could come out and somehow make the tournament?

CONDON: So the only thought I have is if you win, if you wouldn’t, one of the conference tournaments, you usually are already in the tournament, because the best teams in the conference, or even not even the best, but the teams that win their conference tournaments are ones that already in the tournament, I would be very surprised if Minnesota first off won it. I mean, I think we’d both be blown away pretty shocked for sure. But I feel like they’d have to be put into the tournament just because they have a conference tournament win.

I just don’t know what would happen the first round of the tournament, I don’t even know where they would be ranked. I can’t imagine they’d be higher than a 10 seed, just from what we’ve seen these past six games. I mean, they lost it to the worst teams in the Big Ten. And they’re slowly becoming one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. But winning the conference tournament, I feel like has to be an automatic entry point. So as unlikely that it is to happen, I think that would get them the ticket level journey.

O’HARA: That would be kind of the perfect way to cap this season. Right like they start out then you know, up and down and then they beat Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, and then they completely fall apart and then come around and win the Big Ten tournament that would be the perfect way to describe this, like that would just be so fitting for this team.

CONDON: Especially since all the games would be played away from the Barn, where they have yet to pick up a win away from the Barn. And to win four or five games in a row against some really good teams. I mean, like you said one of the best conferences if not the best, the Big 12 has been given a little bit of a push back they have some pretty solid teams there too. But yeah, that would be insane. I know we’d love to see it that would make me so happy, but then I know we’re going to get into this; is Pitino staying then? And I know we’re about to get into that but if Pitino can somehow wiggle his way into the tournament does, he just stay on with his contract would that would be such an interesting look?

O’HARA: That would be interesting to look at and yeah like you said we’re going to get into that as well because there’s been a lot of rumors about Richard Pitino lately. We’ve seen you know articles in the Star Tribune, we saw tweets from Henry Lake with sources telling both of them that Pitino is most likely on his way out after the season. Pitino recently spoke to that, said he has a good relationship with Mark Coyle, doesn’t seem super concerned about it. Although the Nebraska game was that with one where it was a little bit longer than usual to get on the phone?

CONDON: I remember texting you and I’m like I don’t really know what’s going on. It usually takes like 10 minutes I’d say for the interviews to start. And yeah, it took about 20-25 minutes and I was texting you I go I don’t really know what’s going on in the interviews right now. Yeah, Pitino finally came on. He had a long talk with his team in the locker room, which he didn’t get into any detail with really, he said that. But yeah, that definitely rose some flags. And then Henry Lake tweeted out his tweet was a little misleading.

I was talking to a friend about this, and we were a little confused on what it meant. We thought that he probably should have double read what he tweeted out first with something that’s that big of news and him being the first one but to our understanding. Pitino is going to finish out the season but when [he] returns to Minnesota the following year. And then obviously, Marcus Fuller I think had an article the next day. But yeah, a lot of info started just trickling out after that tweet by Henry Lake.

O’HARA: Yeah, for sure. And kind of yeah, I kind of was all sparked by that. I mean, aside from the Gophers just losing by that speech he gave the team at the end of the game, delayed media availability there. Um, but what do you think? Do you think he’s gone after this season? I mean, like you said he came out and he said he had a good relationship with Mark Coyle said that he understands expectations, but he doesn’t say also setting to understand there’s going to be tough decisions to be made. And then the kind of the other question is the buyout. I think it’s a million and a half that, that he would have to be paid if they chose to fire him on top of whatever salary they end up paying a new coach. I mean, looking kind of at all those circumstances do you see him being fired after the season? Assuming it ends pretty quick here yet?

 

CONDON: I mean, there’s a lot of factors to look at, especially in the year we just had with the pandemic and the athletic department and other issues they had having to let go some sports so there’s obviously a financial part that you have to look into this with the buyout and a new salary. But I think he is most likely out. I mean, he’s been on the hot seat for a few years. I mean, mostly just with the fans, but people have been asking for Pitino to be gone for a while now. And he is a season and he’s done well, it’s hard to complain about making the tournament, but I just don’t think that he’s proven enough that he’s a consistent coach to win a game. And I think that was most evident this year when like, we were a top-15 team before like Jan. 15. It was that game against Michigan. And we were just they were just a completely different team coming off that week break when the Nebraska game was canceled and I think Pitino was kind of just on his last straw and so then you look at this buyout being yeah, I think I heard it was also $1.5 million and it’s really going to come down financials; is buying out Pitino and signing a new guy is that going to be too detrimental to the athletic department and their and their expenses compared to the revenue but will it also will the revenue be increased because the buyout and the guy they bring in improving this team? So there’s a lot of factors that’s going to go into it and it’s definitely going to be a tough decision just because of what Pitino has done for this team. So all said and done I do think he will not be the coach next season.

 

O’HARA: Yeah, see, I’m leaning towards that too. But I think it was a couple weeks ago I can’t remember who wrote it but somebody wrote a column for the Star Tribune and that was like, you know fire Pitino and then rehire him and just call it like rebranding because you know, he’s still the youngest coach in the Big Ten even though he’s been here eight seasons, and I’ve kind of been wondering too, like, does it make a difference if they fire him and bring somebody else in like what difference does it make? Is Pitino really the problem? I almost think I saw I saw a tweet that I was kind of glad I saw because it was something I thought too. Was this team just like overachieving in the beginning of the season, when they beat Iowa when they beat you know, Michigan? Were they ever that good? Or was it just kind of a fluke, and then they started out well? And this is kind of the bad half of it. But I don’t think they’re this bad as they have been the last six games. But I don’t think they were ever really good enough to beat Iowa or Michigan.

CONDON: Yeah. I also don’t think it’s Pitino’s full problem either. I mean, the players, the ones that are on the court. And they’re the ones not making open threes. I mean, putting as much practice as Pitino puts them through there. So when I’m making these open shots, they’re not boxing out. So, yeah, I mean, he’s obviously not the full problem. And I also do look back because this team is looking just so different in that Michigan and Iowa game, and I kind of look at the Big Ten and like I look at other teams, though other bad teams that are beating these ranked teams, and it’s just like it’s consistent throughout the Big Ten that unranked teams at home can upset teams can upset ring team. So and you clearly saw what happened when they were on the road against Michigan and Iowa. It was just not a fun game to watch one bit. I mean, it was even tough to watch at some points. So I definitely do think that they were overachieving this year at the beginning of the season.

O’HARA: And it’s kind of funny to look at the Big Ten, Maryland’s the exact opposite of the Gophers. They started off terrible, and now they look great. They’ve won five in a row while the Gophers have lost a lot last six… although I think Maryland did lose last night against Northwestern.

CONDON: They did yeah. So exactly, a team like Northwestern was able to be at home and they yeah, they beat Maryland who is out in a hot streak. So it’s just a weird conference. The Big Ten is, I really don’t think anyone understands it. Because I don’t even think the teams understand it.

O’HARA: Yeah, yeah, it is. The Big Ten’s tough it seems like anybody can beat anybody at any given moment and you know, looking at this too, you know, if the Gophers do move on from Pitino, I guess you know, who what are some names you think could be in the running and, you know, like I said, well, you know, whoever they bring in won’t make any difference? You know, what can they do to try to turn this around if this season ends kind of as poorly as it’s going right now?

CONDON: Yeah, I have a few names that I’ve obviously seen been floated around. And three out of the four I’m going to talk about all ties in Minnesota which make them better candidates just because I feel like Minnesota likes staying in state and drama and trying to keep the tides going. So Brian Dutcher is the SDSU coach. He’s been performing very well there. He’s made that program into a serious contender year after year, and he has ties to the U of M. His father coached his team for 10 years.

Moving into Niko Medved. He’s the coach of Colorado State right now. He was born in Minneapolis, and he was even the assistant coach for the team in 2006. Seven seasons. His name has been floating around Ryan Saunders, who we all know very familiar with the Timberwolves, he’s in contention for obvious reasons. I mean, he has NBA experience and an NBA experience with a Minnesota team. Obviously, a stint in Minnesota didn’t go the best. But by bringing a guy in like that he could have a lot better luck getting Minnesota recruits to actually stay in the state, unlike what Pitino has been able to do.

And then the last one is John Beilein. It would probably be a really good hire just because of what Beilein was able to do with MSU. And then he also has been an NBA too, he was with the Cavs. And now he’s in the booth right now. But if he has a decision to come back to basketball and college basketball, Minnesota is a very intriguing place. And that could definitely be a place that he wants to kind of try and forge into another dominant team like he was able to MSU, I don’t entirely think that he would get close to it. But there’s a lot of young talent on this team and be likely to come in and really change things around.

O’HARA: Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of tweets about Beilein, I mean, you know you’re getting Gophers’ fans hopes up here. There’s not gonna that’s…

CONDON: Minnesota, it’s always like it was talking about the Twins signing a big free agent, obviously they had Donaldson. But there’s always talk about Minnesota making these big moves Devin Booker in the NBA, and it just never happens. But man, do Minnesota fans love to cling on to it. So people are just going to keep doing it. Because they get clicks on the stories. They get people to listen, they get people excited. And that’s definitely what’s going on with John Beilein right now.

O’HARA: For sure. We got to get people to listen to this podcast.

CONDON: Yeah, exactly. Title this ‘John Beilein coming to Minnesota.’

O’HARA: Yeah, that’ll be the title of this article: Beilein to the Gophers. But yeah, I mean, assuming it’s anyone who’s you know not John Beilein, um, what are the odds, like people, it seems like people’s biggest problem with Pitino isn’t even so much his coaching or you know, what he’s doing on the court, what he’s doing in practice, it’s that he can’t keep recruits in Minnesota. You know, Hurt didn’t stay here. You know you didn’t have Jalen Suggs. I mean, I’m going to assume Chet Holmgren is not staying home. You know, it’s just like they can ever keep these top recruits in Minnesota, which no other coach of the state really can’t you know what I mean? Like if the best recruit in the country is from Michigan, they don’t usually go to Michigan, they usually go to Duke, they usually go to North Carolina, they usually go to Kansas, Kentucky. I mean, I don’t understand I guess that seems to be the biggest problem with Pitino it’d be, but it’s not going to change if they bring somebody else in.

CONDON: Yeah, I think the biggest hope is with those other three guys that I named is that they just have Minnesota ties, whether it’s growing up here go into the school, dad was the coach. I think they’re hoping that they’ll be able to relate to these high schools who are growing up in Minnesota and honestly have in one of the best states for high school basketball that Minnesota has, they produce pros like very consistently that it’s a really good state and I think what they go from Gophers go for fans, at least are hoping that one of these new guys are able to connect with these guys better. And I’m not saying Chet Holmgren just because that’d be a little too soon he’s probably going to have his decision by the time Pitino is fired, but hopefully in the future that they’re able to get these in state players today because all you need is one and the domino effect will just keep on rolling. So I think that’s the biggest hope that this new coach besides winning can also try to keep in-state talent here.

O’HARA: Yeah, we’ll see what happens. I mean, you know, we’ll always be it always be fun to see if you had like a Jalen Suggs or you know, somebody like that playing here. It’s almost though it’s like, you almost feel like this program just destined to be mediocre watching them over the years.

CONDON: Or the pro teams the Timberwolves, who now have the worst franchise record across all major sports. Kind of rubs off on the Gophers, too.

O’HARA: Yeah. Who is it? I think I saw somebody else tweet too last night. I was like, this is like one of the worst basketball years I’ve ever seen between the two teams.

CONDON: Yeah, it’s definitely been tough. I feel bad for all those basketball fans out of Minnesota. I mean, honestly switch to high school right now. There’s a lot of talent there. And you aren’t getting much from the pros and from the college right now.

O’HARA: There are some good high school teams out there for sure. So, that might be the route to go. Can they got them all streamed now with COVID. So, you know, that might be the way to go instead of trying to keep up with these two teams that are causing really nothing but misery.

CONDON: Yep, exactly.

O’HARA: But, you know, the Gophers have one game left this Saturday, I’ll be there for that one. You know, they need a win if they want to have any kind of any remote, remote chance. I don’t think there is a chance at this point. But if they still believe there is a chance to make the tournament that needs to start on Saturday with a win. You know, what do you think you saw? What did you see in that last Rutgers’ game that, you know, you think might stand out? What might be some keys for the Gophers to come up with a win? Yeah, I guess overall, kind of what have you seen from Rutgers this year?

CONDON: Yeah, I mean, one of the biggest questions I do have is about the Minnesota team. It’s their health, it’s going to be very important to see who’s going. If Liam’s back, if Brandon, if Both, if they’re back from their injuries, that’s my biggest question. But then I look at these guards that Rutgers have Geo Baker, who just won Big Ten player of the week this past week. And around the board with Ron Harper and Jacob Young, they have had against the Gopher guards. And that’s been something that’s been troubling them. I mean, you have Tre’ Williams, Jamal Mashburn and Marcus Carr. Those are three pretty short guys. So Rutgers is definitely going to have height on our starting guards.

And then Myles Johnson at the center position. He’s second the Big Ten just be out and Liam Robbins out with blocks per game. I think he’s at 2.6, Robbins at 2.7 I believe. So having Robbins would be very important just to have a presence in the paint to kind of match Myles Johnson both on the offensive and defensive side. The Gophers have definitely missed the rebounding, but also just as shot presence. When guards are able to get past these defenders, do you have a seven-footer that’s sitting in the paint? Who averages 2.7 blocks a game? And recently has been getting four to five a game. So I mean…

O’HARA: Even in that Illinois game when he was hobbling around, he had four blocks in the first half.

CONDON: Yeah. And they were early too. So yeah, I really hope that Robbins isn’t coming back still injured because when he was you could tell he just wasn’t 100%.

O’HARA: He looked rough against Illinois.

CONDON: And then even Brandon Johnson this past game. Richard Pitino pulled him out early and ran and wanted to keep going. I mean, he’s a competitor, and Pitino just wasn’t able to pull the trigger with him because he just wasn’t looking like himself. He wasn’t able to close down on his defenders as well. So if the Gophers are able to get a little more healthy before this game on Saturday would be very important. Because without these starters, it’s going to be very hard for a team to beat anyone but let it let alone Rutgers, who are around the middle of the pack in the Big Ten.

O’HARA: For sure, yeah. Yeah, it’ll be, it’ll be a tough game. Obviously, for the Gophers. I don’t think there are any games coming too easy at this point.

CONDON: No, not at all.

O’HARA: We’ve seen the last six games. And this is the last one of the regular year. So this is our last chance to do some predictions as to assuming we don’t get one in here before the Big Ten’s. But so do you have any predictions for this game? And what do you think the final score is going to be?

CONDON: Yeah, so I think my last prediction, I actually got right with that Purdue game.

O’HARA: You did.

CONDON: One possession game coming down to the last possession. I’m not even close to as confident this one, mostly because I don’t know what Gopher team we’re going to see. But if I’m going to go off the past and the trends that have been seen, if the Gophers are going to lose, it’s going to be by double digits. And what’s going to happen is they’re going to have a good first half and they honestly might even be waiting after that. They’re not going to be able to close out the game, because that’s what I’ve been seeing. I’ve been seeing them be they can put together good stretches. That’s not a question at all. But the problem that Pitino has consistently said is they can’t play a full 40 minutes. I think we’ve talked about on top of the three-pointers on every podcast. I think we’ve also talked about that out every podcast because that’s just what this team is, has been doing. So for the final score, I’m going to go 78-67 with Rutgers on top.

O’HARA: For sure. I don’t know, I’m going to throw out — I’m going to be an optimist. 73-71 Gophers.

CONDON: Wow, close. I mean, if they win, it is definitely going to be a close game.

O’HARA: Yeah, I think so too. Um, I don’t know if I really believe that. I still think I’m going to go into that thinking Rutgers is going to win. But we’re going to throw that out there for this podcast

CONDON: I like it, optimism.

O’HARA: You know, got to try to give, get some optimism out there. But yeah, we’ll see what happens. I mean last game of the year, and then we’ll have the Big Ten’s coming up, that’ll solidify seeding. Once those last couple games get rounded up, and we’ll have this is going to be a fun tournament to watch.

CONDON: I mean, I’ll definitely have a preview of wherever the Gophers end up playing that first round. But I’m very excited to watch this because I have zero idea who’s going to come out on top. I mean, there are even some teams lower in the rank. It’s like a team like Purdue like they can get hot. My problem is Michigan is one of the best teams in the country now. But that game against Illinois, they didn’t even have Ayo Dosunmu and they beat Michigan by 20 points. So this tournament could go in any which way, and I’m so ready for it. Because it sets up March Madness, which is going to be even better. So there are some exciting ones.

O’HARA: I mean, you think about like, if you see like an Illinois or Iowa or Michigan, Iowa or Michigan, Illinois, like those are all going to be really tough games. And I mean, those should be a lot of fun to watch.

CONDON: I mean, even Michigan State starting to get a little hot, they took down Ohio State, right? About a week ago. So yeah, this is going to be a fun tournament. And I really can’t wait, because I don’t know how long the Gophers will be in it. But I will definitely be invested the whole time. Yeah, yeah, who knows how long it’ll be, but worried about my schoolwork that week. And the rest of the month.

O’HARA: It’s going to just make it easier. I was already I already used to just watch basketball while I’d be in class, you know, just have it on my phone, or just have it on my laptop. Yeah. And now it’s going to be even so much easier that it’s all over zoom.

CONDON: And it’s all day too.

O’HARA: It’s all day.

CONDON: I mean, I remember back in high school, we’d have three computers laid out three different games. March Madness is the best time and I’m so sad. We lost on it last year. And that’s why I think this year’s going to be so much better because these players lost out on the best tournament, and they’re going to be, they’re going to be excited to get back on that court.

O’HARA: I remember in high school, I’d either go to the computer lab or I’d sit in the bathroom on my phone and watching games. So I’m definitely looking forward to not having to do any of that and just have it going while I’m watching class at the same time. I can watch a basketball game in class. So I’m looking forward to that. And it’ll be a good month for sure.

CONDON: Yes, for sure.

O’HARA: Well, thank you so much for joining us. It was fun to have you here. It was good to get another podcast in and yeah, best of best of luck watching the rest of these Gophers games this year.

CONDON: Yeah. Thanks for having me. And I got to throw that back, that luck right back at you for this Rutger’s game because you’re covered for me. So I appreciate that.

O’HARA: For sure. Well, thank you. And yeah, have a good one.

OUTRO MUSIC PLAYS

In other news: the Gophers volleyball team postponed its series against No. 19 Ohio State on March 5-6 due to health and safety concerns within the Minnesota program. It’s the second straight series Minnesota has been forced to postpone after last weekend’s series against Michigan was postponed as well due to health and safety concerns within the Michigan program.

The Gophers women’s hockey team is prepping for the WCHA Final Faceoff and play Wisconsin on Saturday. If they win, they will advance to play the winner of Minnesota-Duluth and Ohio State on Sunday.

That’s all for this week. Be sure to check our website mndaily.com for more coverage and tune in again next week to get the “Weekly Rundown” on all things Gopher sports.