Last night’s numbers against Minnesota are about as ugly as Hoosier fans have seen all season. A rebound deficit of 44-30, including 23-10 on the offensive glass. Cody Zeller and Christian Watford each scoring in single digits. Watford playing just 18 minutes. Zeller and Yogi Ferrell combining to go 4-19 from the floor.
Add it all up, and Indiana suffered their third loss of the Big Ten season, ending whatever doubt remained about Minnesota’s post-season status. It was just the fourth win in the last 12 Big Ten outings for the Gophers, who had fallen from a top ten status to seventh place in the league.
Then again, seventh place in the Big Ten this season means you’re still a very good basketball team, and Minnesota and Trevor Mbakwe looked the part from the very beginning of the game. Mbakwe would finish with 21 points and 12 boards, despite being limited to 25 minutes in dealing with foul troubles.
The Gophers won despite shooting just 4-20 from three-point range. Then again, when you miss 44 shots in total (36 field goals, eight free throws), and you get the rebound over half the time, shooting percentages seem a little less important.
The only Hoosier that brought his best on Tuesday was Jordan Hulls. He’d finish with a Hoosier game-high 17 points, but only one basket came in the second half. Victor Oladipo would add 16 points, but would shoot an uncharacteristic one of five from three-point range, with two assists and no steals. That’s a sub-par night by his own tremendously high standards.
The Hoosiers hadn’t played in a week, and looked the part from a rust factor. It’s a debate this time of year, whether a team is better off having the rest of getting a late bye or staying with the rhythm of playing every three or four days. I thought the rest would help, especially after as emotional and physical of a win in East Lansing. It appears I was wrong about that.
While our perspective is to ask what went wrong with the Hoosiers, this game was just as much about what went right for Minnesota. And it also hold true one of the easiest explanations in sports: the more desperate teams usually wins.
It was a chance for a team that has underachieved in league play to right the ship. It wasn’t a must-win game for the Gophers, but it was certainly a change the season type of game for Minnesota. Think of the level of physicality they played with against the top-ranked team in the country. That’s a style that translates easily into postseason play.
And at the end of the day, the Hoosiers are still the top team in the Big Ten. Yes they have to play at Michigan to finish the season. Michigan plays host to Michigan State this Sunday. That’s no guaranteed sweep.
Wisconsin does hold the tiebreaker with Indiana. But they’ve got to travel to Michigan State next Thursday. So, one four-loss team will become a five-loss team in league play. And the Hoosiers hold the tiebreaker with MSU by way of their season sweep.
I’ve written it more than once, and will do so again now: win the Big Ten, and earn the number one seed in the Midwest. That path hasn’t changed based on what happened last night.
And do I expect to see Christian Watford, Cody Zeller, and Yogi Ferrell all have bad nights offensively at the same time this season? No. Do I think the Hoosiers will get outrebounded by 14 boards again this season? Not close.
So take last night for what it is, a momentary bump in the road. The Hoosiers are now 6-2 on the road in the best league in the country. The Hoosiers still stand atop the best league in the country. They still control their own destiny in terms of playing postseason games a grand total of 215 miles from campus in the first two weeks of the tournament.
So take a deep breath, Hoosier Nation. Now, if they lose again…