Tag Archives: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Tweetbag – Gophers v. Gators Recap (Let the Fire Tubby Chants Begin…)

Welcome to a special Sunday edition of the Tweetbag!! Everyone wants to know if the Madness will continue for your Minnesota Golden Gophers.

As always, we are using your tweets, as they happen, to tell the game recap. Y’all are far more interesting.

Giddyup…

Even this Florida hoops squad --- the first --- might have outwitted Tubby's overmatched Gophers' squad.

Even this Florida hoops squad — the first — might have outwitted Tubby’s overmatched Gophers’ squad.

15:34 – Gophers 7 Gators 10

@AmeliaRayno – “Interesting lineup here as the #Gophers go zone on Florida.”

Interesting is one word Amelia?! Why does Tubby think he can play zone defense against a team that loves, and I mean LUUUUUUUUUVS to rip it from outside. Very questionable coaching decision. Roasio immediately punishes the Gophers with 2 3PTs to extend the lead to 16 to 10.

13:02 – Gophers 12 Gators 19

@daddycoolguy – “3 straight 3 point possessions = no good, you guys. #Gophers #Gators.”

First off, love the handle. Second, could not agree more. No good indeed. The Gophers offense looks like the offense from their 5-15 stretch to end the season, not the 15-1 stretch that they had to start the season and flashed on Friday evening against the Bruins.

Gophers started the game by isolating the Gator guards on the low block and taking advantage of their size and strength. Worked great. Hollinsanity both got open looks. However, they missed a couple of those looks and completely abandoned that plan. Need to get back to it.

Ben Wallace's jumper was so bad, teams would encourage the Pistons to pass him the ball 10+ feet from the hoop - Oto is entering the Wallace Zone. Ick.

Ben Wallace’s jumper was so bad, teams would hope the Pistons would pass him the ball. Oto is entering the Wallace Zone. Ick.

10:15 – Gophers 14 Gators 24

@Gopherapolis – “Why are we going so deep to our bench so early?! This is what infuriates me the most about Tubby. Oto should never leave the bench. #Gophers.”

Trust me, @Gopherapolis, it is not just you that is infuriated. Oto’s mom is angry at the amount of minutes he is getting for this team. He has never developed into the solid SG that he was represented to be when Tubby recruited him. The main reason for that is because he cannot shoot. He should get single digit minutes if that, only enough to spell either of the Hollins cousins.

What is worse, opposing teams know that and basically leave Oto alone like he is the second coming of Ben Wallace. Just no respect for his jump shot. And remember, he is supposed to a shooting guard.

7:54 – Gophers 15 Gators 30

@dip4516 – Lady who screams right before every #Gophers free throw: shut the hell up.”

I am not sure when this started, but it seems like this year’s tournament is the year of the “screaming like a maniac during the opposing team’s free throw.” Frankly, this has got to stop. I am not pushing a golf-like restriction on crowd noise, but we, as fans, need to use the gray matter between their ears. Call it a a common sense test. If everyone WATCHING ON THEIR TV is annoyed with the screaming, that is probably too much.

Oh, and Oto just air-balled a 15 footer. Again, this guy is  a shooting guard?!

4:24 – Gophers 18 Gators 37

@DustyTrunks – “You laugh at Oto now, but next year when he is starting, you will laugh even harder. #Gophers”

Okay, last one. I just could not resist.

3:42 – Gophers 21 Gators 39

@kskrigbaum – “At the moment Billy Donovan looks bored. #gophers”

Never good when the opposing coach is checking out and we are not even through the 1st half. Serious problems. Evidently he was only playing though, he just drew up a defense to thwart the Gophers side-inbounds play. No joke, Gophers could not execute a side-inbounds play.

More than anything this season, the Gophers inability to inbound the basketball is direct reflection of Tubby. I know the players need to make plays, but seriously?! An inbounds play?! You run these when you first decide to pick up a basketball. It is embarrassing that the Gophers struggle with this as much as they do.

Not sure if the Gophers are so frustrated with Tubby that they miss Clem, but we are getting close.

Not sure if the Gophers are so frustrated with Tubby that they miss Clem, but we are getting close.

3:12 – Gophers 25 Gators 39

@krewmom – “I hope they can pass the “wake up juice” to the #Gophers!”

Whoa, whoa, whoa @krewmom. We already are celebrating a Final Four that did not happen, thanks Clem, not sure we want to have to take down our “Round of 32” banner from this year because of PEDs.

All kidding aside, a little energy from someone not named Hollins would be nice. Though, at this point, even Tubby looks to have checked out of this game. Body language on the Gophers’ sideline looks like someone died. What was that, this team murdered its fan base’s hope and expectations for this year and potentially years to come…aaaahhhh…that explains it.

Half – Gophers 27 Gators 48

@GophersSports – “Back to Back National Champs! RT to congratulate @MNWomensHockey on winning the NCAA title! #Gophers”

And that is where we are ending the Tweetbag. That is right, the Gophers women’s hockey team clutched up and ran its winning streak to 49 games. Won its second national championship. Evidently the sports gods could only allow the U to succeed in one sport on this particular Sunday in March.

Sure, Dre Hollins made a run in the 2nd half. He quite literally made a game of it all by his onesy. However, aside from him, the rest of the team was lethargic. And when Dre was not on the floor — he got a 4th foul and Tubby obviously took him out — the lead quickly ballooned to 15+. This move is a perfect example of Tubby not knowing what to do. This was a not a regular season Big 10 game. It is survive and advance. Dre was the ONLY Gopher putting points in the basket. Trust the kid to play with 4 fouls.

Instead, it is another lackadaisical performance from the Gophers. As a result, Tubby will yet again come under fire. There is a decent chance that he gets his walking papers. A lot of Gophers fans would not complain if that happened. The good news is that Shaka’s VCU Rams lost too, so maybe his buddy Norwood will convince Shaka to jump ship. Or perhaps Andy Enfield, coach of the darling of this year’s tourney – Florida Gulf Coast University – is interested in graduating to the Big 10.

Worst case scenario, if Tubby does stick around, next year’s squad (and perhaps the year after) is not going to be good. Sure, Hollinsanity is going to be around, but our inside presence will be nonexistent. And, Tubby has not locked up either of the stud Minnesota recruits — Tyus Jones or Rashad Vaughn.

I was one of the fans who initially loved the Tubby signing, but the romance is over. There have been to many coaching deficiencies. The U needs a change of leadership. Hopefully, this drubbing at the hands of the Gators is enough to convince the U’s brain trust to move forward with that change.

 

Tweetbag: Gophers v. UCLA Recap

Here we go!! The Madness is about to begin for your Minnesota Golden Gophers.

As always, we are using your tweets, as they happen, to tell the game recap. Y’all are more interesting than the standard recap anywhoo.

Giddyup…

16:27: Gophers 2 UCLA 0

@Christopher_Stewart – “#gophers will beat #ucla 79-68.” 
We got a ways to go to hit that number. Yikes. Gophers 2-run HR (i.e. Hollins’s FTs) the difference in this one early. No flow for either team. UCLA’s Drew travels a sloppy foul from super-senior Trevor Mbakwe. Gophers have shown that, in games where the offense clicks, Rodney and Mbakwe get going early. Both teams are a combined 0-18 to start. Not. Good. 
The zebras in tonight's game were not close to good. We probably would have done better with actual zebras refereeing the game.

The zebras in tonight’s game were not close to good. We probably would have done better with actual zebras refereeing the game.

14:20 – Gophers 4 UCLA 2

@VitrualMurph – “Ok officials in Austin, we get it. You’re on the court too. #gophers”
No joke. UCLA already in the bonus!?!? Check that, double bonus. Hold on, triple bonus. Oh man, these refs are out of control. If the refs are going to call this like a UCLA Alumni Choir pick-up game, this bruising Big 10 squad is in trouble. Plus, and maybe most importantly, Gophers cannot win a race at the charity stripe.
11:42 – Gophers 9 UCLA 9
@ammarden – “Whistle whistle whistle. Basketball or train station? #ncaa #Gophers”
Love the old school reference. Wish it was not true though. This game is so disjointed. Neither team can get into a flow with all the whistles. Both teams are already in the bonus. Again, race at the charity stripe is not a race the Gophers want to be involved in. Gophers shoot 68% from the stripe. UCLA clocks in at nearly 73%.
10:59 – Gophers 12 UCLA 9
@FromTheBarn – “MOmentum!”
Great run from the big fella, Mo Walker. His 4 points off the bench currently account for a 1/3 of the team’s total. What is so infuriating about big Mo is that, if he lost 15 to 20 lbs, he could be a dominant big. Instead, all he has are moments or flashes of good plays. It is never sustained.
8:32 – Gophers 14 UCLA 13
@vikingsrube – “Free throw shooting is going to be the factor #Gophers”
Okay, now I am worried…Mbakwe just air balled the front end of a 1 and 1. Really. Not. Good.
E Squared's relationship with Dre could prove a promising one for Gophers' fans. Particularly if E Squared improves on the defensive end.

E Squared’s relationship with Dre could prove a promising one for Gophers’ fans. Particularly if E Squared improves on the defensive end.

5:24 – Gophers 26 UCLA 19

@andrewlacy52 – “Elliott playing well so far with four point. #Gophers”
Make it six Andrew!! E Squared cans a 20 footer off an Mbakwe double team and then lays in a pretty shot off a strong cut to the rim. The guy has been instant energy all season. He does have his deficiencies on the defensive end, but on offense he is solid.
If he can continue to improve on the defensive end. He actually might be able to replace Mbakwe next year down low. He does not have Mbkawe’s grittiness in the post, but he can definitely be a contributor on that end of the floor.
4:25 – Gophers 33 UCLA 19
@AmeliaRayno – “As a #Gophers beat writer, you learn not to assume to much from a 33-19 lead.”
We have our first Amelia sighting!! Welcome back to the Tweetbag Amelia. Though, what is up with the negativity. I mean, sure, the Gophers are shooting their highest percentage of the year. But, that does not means they are going to start missi…nevermind. You are right. Preparing myself for the worst.
1:32 – Gophers 35 UCLA 22
@goldandgopher – “Here we go. Mbakwe hits a jumper. #Gophers up 35–22. Shabazz has had no impact.”
Mbakwe shows a little versatility with a 15 foot jumper. Then, in true Gophers form, he misses another front end of a 1 and 1. Normally a very solid shooter at the stripe, he has now left 4 points there in the first half. Gophers need to tighten up the way the officials are calling this game. Also, need to buck the trend and start earning their scholarship at the stripe.
Half – Gophers 35 UCLA 25
@redma032 – “Up 10 at half, how are they going to blow this one? #gophers”
Amelia?? Is that you?? Are you ghost tweeting as @redma032??
In true Gophers fan fashion, no one is comfortable. No one knows how to react. In fact, I think if the score were flipped, Gophers fans would feel far more comfortable.
It is not like you can blame us. We have watched the tale of two teams act all season. The one blessing from this game is that at least the good half came first. This means the Gophers have a better chance of hanging on down the stretch.
Gophers need to continue feeding the bigs. Mbakwe, Eliason, and Walker accounted for  19 of the Gophers 35 points. We clearly have an advantage there. Plus, considering UCLA’s foul trouble, every shot should go right at the rim.
18:13 – Gophers 39 UCLA 27
@timegan2 – “RODNEY WILLIAMS!!!”
I appreciate the EMPHASIS Tim. Rodney flexes the potential by hammering home an offensive rebound. Gophers are pounding the rim and are relentless on the glass on both ends. Need to keep that up.
For Gophers fans who wanted to see Coach Saunders leading the maroon and gold, this performance against the Bruins may have assured Tubby's continued reign.

For Gophers fans who wanted to see Coach Saunders leading the maroon and gold, this performance against the Bruins may have assured Tubby’s continued reign.

14:56 – Gophers 44 UCLA 34

@flip_saunders – “#gophers looking good. We are so much quicker and more energized. Next 5 minutes huge! Bury em. Luv changing defenses.”
Coach Saunders…errrrr…I mean, Flip!! Spot on analysis. Changing defenses are causing this young Bruins squad headaches. Though, Gophers need to be careful. UCLA still has not made a run. One is coming. Burying em would be very nice. And now is the time.
13:32 – Gophers 50 UCLA 41
@MINNESOTA_NICE – “I am extremely confused as to why Otto O. has played so many minutes. #Gophers.”
Ouch. Is that handle sarcastic? I mean, I agree with you, but ouch.
11:54 – Gophers 54 UCLA 42
@Border_Rivals – “Terrible call against Oto?!? Guy actally makes a positive play and the refs take it away from him. #ZebrasHaveToGo #LetThemPlay #Gophers
Okay, I could not resist. I feel a little bad piling on Oto, but it really was a great play. Slid in front of David Wear and took a charge. But, these tewible refs decided to call a block. I thought these refs were supposed to be elite.
7:04 – Gophers 69 UCLA 54
@GopherHole – “Wow, Andre Hollins is playing fantastic tonight!! #Gophers”
Fantastic might be an understatement. Dre just canned his 5th 3 PT of the night. He has 24 total and has abused all UCLA defenders who have tried to keep up with him.
His performance tonight is looking a little like the run he put together in the NIT last year. If he can get on that kind of run, this Gophers team can be very dangerous.
 3:28 – Gophers 79 UCLA 56
@kellerjustin – “Good show, #gophers. Equally fortuitous draw, lucky they didn’t face Florida Gulf Coast. UCLA is flat out turrrrrible.”
Love the Sir Charles reference. This one is over. Gophers are up by 20+ and continue to attack. Not even the Tubby-led Gophers could find a way to lose this one.
If Dre plays even in the ball park of how he played today, Florida is going to have its hands full on Sunday.
We will be running a Tweetbag for that game too. Enjoy the Madness.

Tweet Bag — Gophers v. Nebraska

Welch was really steady at the point for the Gophers. But, can he continue the solid play against Diet Wisconsin??

Welch was really steady at the point for the Gophers against Penn State. But, can he continue the solid play against Diet Wisconsin??

Well, the Gophers get a chance to continue their winning ways against a slow, unathletic Nebraska squad. Think of them as Diet Wisconsin. Nebraska will use 32 of the available 35 seconds on the shot clock. They will be lucky if they have one dunk all night. And yet, they still might find a way to stay in this thing. Hopefully not.

As always, these are actual tweets from during the game.

20:00: Gophers 0 Nebraska 0
@AmeliaRayno – And as expected, Ingram and Welch are both starting. I can’t really believe Andre Hollins is coming off the bench for this lineup. #Gophers

Amelia!! Good to have you back in the tweet bag.

I am not sure what I think about Tubby’s new line-up. I know they dominated Penn State. But, it was Penn State. I know they beat Michigan. Though, in all fairness, Big Blue was probably looking past the mighty Nitanny Lions to their border rival: Michigan State.

Supposedly, having Welch in the starting line-up allows Dre to play off the ball — definitely his more natural position — and supposedly feed Mbakwe in the post. We will see…

15:14 – Gophers 7 Nebraska 9

@apearson #gophers no longer dead to me. For heavens sake don’t blow it at Nebraska.

This is the sentiment of most fans. After the thrilling win against Indiana and the stomping of Penn State,

9:19 – Gophers 15 Nebraska 15

@tsquared2001 – Nebraska reminds me Englishmen playing basketball for the first time. Hack, hack and hack all the time #Gophers

I am not entirely sure what this means, but both teams look like Englishmen playing basketball. Very slow pace (even for a Big 10 game). We are on pace for just south of a 47 to 43 game. Not sure that style fits the Gophers game. They always do better when they are running and pushing the tempo.

7:52 – Gophers 17 Nebraska 17

@MarkWittig – @icedavis5 I did not know you let football players play basketball at Nebraska. #gophers

To provide a little insight to this comment, Nebraska has a…guy…Andre Almeida, who looks like he could eat Mbakwe (whole) playing center. No joke, this guy looks like he could be Honey Boo Boo’s older brother. Amazingly though, he has incredibly quick feet and soft hands. He is sort of the anti-Mo Walker. Or, because he is Brazillian — and let’s face it, Brazillians are smooth — he might just be the Brazillian Mo Walker.

3:53 – Gophers 19 Nebraska 20

@FromTheBarn – Defense by the #gophers is pretty pathetic tonight.

Why limit it to the defense Jonathan? The offense is not exactly lighting the world on fire. Currently 17 of the 19 points are from Mbakwe, Ingram, and E Squared. That does not paint a rosy picture for the second half. Also, our projected final score is decreasing by the minute.

The one bright spot (and I swear this is not a jinx): Julian Welch. He has actually looked pretty comfortable as the PG. He is making good decisions and forcing the ball down low. Literally seconds after I write this, he bricks two FTs. Never mind.

1:54: Gophers 19 Nebraska 23

@FromTheBarn – lazy basketball by the #gophers, with a side of stupid

I think you are getting warmer Jonathan. Yikes. Gophers look absolutely amateur on offense and defense. About the only thing keeping them in this game, Nebraska’s inability to hit WIDE OPEN jumpers. Cannot continue to rely on that.

0:43: Gophers 21 Nebraska 23

E Squared has been a strong presence in the post for the Gophers the last two games. Maybe losing Mbakwe next year won't cripple the squad...maybe...

E Squared has been a strong presence in the post for the Gophers the last two games. Maybe losing Mbakwe next year won’t cripple the squad…maybe…

@DailyintheBarn – Eliason, who averages 2 points per game, leads the #Gophers with 7. Minn. down 23-21 w/ 43 seconds before half.

If not for E Squared, who is playing well in his homecoming, the Gophers would be in BIG trouble. Eliason has hit open 15 footers and been a presence inside. He is on quite a run now and looks to be a promising player for next year’s squad, IF, and that was intentionally a big if, he can continue to get stronger. Perhaps next year’s team will not be a complete step backwards.
HALF: Gophers 21 Nebraska 23
The Gophers looked pretty lifeless in the first half. This was definitely not the team that beat the number one team in the country. This looks a lot more like the team that lost 8 of 10 going into that Indiana game.
If the tempo does not pick up, the energy does not get cranked to 11, then there is a good chance the Gophers squander away the capital they have added to their resume the last two games. They need to get back to what they do best: pound the ball inside, crash the offensive glass, and play solid man-to-man defense.
20:00 Gophers 21 Nebraska 26
@Border_Rivals – Most telling statistic: Gophers average 8.1 steals a game. In today’s tilt: 0. Yikes. #Gophers #ActiveHandsTimes??
Okay, I had to help out a bit. But seriously?!?! Zero steals??? Brutal. The bigs are playing well. Mbakwe, Ingram, and E Squared looking good. Need the Hollins Cousins to step up and play like they have all season. Right now, completely absent from this game.
16:30: Gophers 22 Nebraska 28
@gopherjon – Not going to win many games if you can’t make free throws…#gophers
Not that Tubby’s teams have ever been great at shooting FTs. Though, this particular Gophers squad loves to get themselves in trouble by regifting points at the charity stripe. Cannot win games like that. In tonight’s game, they are currently connecting on just under 29% of their FTs. #brutal
14:11: Gophers 24 Nebraska 33
@gopher33j – SET A SCREEN!!! #Gophers
Whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s slow down a bit Jon. Maybe we teach them what a screen is AND THEN we ask them to set one. The offense is beyond stagnant and stale, it is entering the rigomortis phase. Just not good. If it were not for the impromptu block party, the Gophers would be down 15+ right now.
11:45: Gophers 26 Nebraska 34
@Amelia Rayno – In his time of need, Tubby has gone back to his original starting five. But #Gophers playing under pressure now.
Amelia!! Don’t jinx them!?! It is bad enough the Gophers are having a hard time figure out how to go about getting the ball through the orange rim, let’s not add to the pressure.
Need to make a mini-run in the next 4 minutes. Something in the range of 8-0 or 12-2. Make it close with 6 to 8 minutes left. They should be able to escape with the win if they can do that.
11:36: Gophers 29 Nebraska 34
@goldengopher – *puts in Journey record* ‘Don’t stop…….believiiiiiiiiing’ #Gophers
I used to love that song. Gophers need two offensive rebounds off missed FTs to score 2 points. I am not belieeeeeeeving.
10:23: Gophers 32 Nebraska 36
@knategiesen – Take over the game Mbakwe! We need you to win this for us!
Could not agree more Knate. Mbakwe grabs ANOTHER offensive rebound off a missed FT and slams home the dunk. Hopefully he has another solid 10 plus minutes left in him tonight.
My fault for the long delay here. This 6 minute gap represented a period of basketball that was so horrendous, like Snooki in the club at 3:30 a.m. horrendous, that I thought it was wrong to capture it in writing. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming…
4:28: Gophers 37 Nebraska 41
@937JohnGaskins #Gophers 6-16 at FT line, down 4, 4:58 left. Couldn’t capitalize on 3-on-1 drive. Credit Gallegos forcing tear drop #Huskers
You know you are in trouble when the Husker fans are starting to believe. Or…excuse me…beliiiiiiiiieve.
Gophers in the double bonus the rest of the way. Normally, you would say get to the rim so you can get to the stripe. Something tells me John and his fellow Husker fans would be all for that strategy.
Trevor did all he could against the 300 pound behemoth. Unfortunately, his guards do not understand how to get him the ball. Not. Good.

Trevor did all he could against the 300 pound behemoth. Unfortunately, his guards do not understand how to get him the ball. Not. Good.

3:15: Gophers 41 Nebraska 43

@sullivanneal – Gophers need to find a way win thus one. #Gophers #BiG
Right on cue, Maverick snags an offensive board off a Hollins air ball and puts in the reverse. Then, after a slow rotation let’s the mini-Cody Zeller, Ubel, exact a little revenge, Dre goes into cold-blooded mode and cans an open 3.
2:20 Gophers 46 Nebraska 46
@goldengopher – Dre Hollins is fouled on the rebound. David Rivers…HE GONE! 2nd player to foul out. #Gophers on the line to tie.
The refs are really bailing out the Gophers. Unfortunately, the Corn Huskers daywalker uses a HUGE screen from Andre Boo Boo to create a three point play. Gophers still down with less than two minutes to go.
0:35: Gophers 46 Nebraska 49
@ratty918 – Can’t wait to see this play Tubby draws up
Have to love the confidence in the coach. Though, turns out to be very prophetic. Gophers end up with a forced shot from Dre (that nearly goes in), though it had nothing to do with Tubby’s play design. At least, I hope it didn’t considering the result.
Somehow, Nebraska gives the Gophers (and Tubby) another chance to scheme a play to tie. The Huskers turned the ball over on the in bounds. However, the iPad-less Tubby comes through again and the Gophers get a 25 footer from Maverick Ahanmisi with 6 seconds left in the game. Not that giving the ball to Hollins (our SG) would have been a better idea considering he had 0 points on the evening.
Overall, another frustrating loss for the Gophers. Even though their ticket to the tournament was stamped a week ago, this loss assures them of a low seed, probably something in the 8 to 11 range. And, if they lose this weekend against a game Purdue squad or in the first round of the Big 10 tournament, it could be much worse.
At this point, I want to beliiiiiiiiiieve, but I am not sure I have the patience.

Illinois v. Gophers — Realtime Recap — Like You Were There

The Gophers need a win tonight. After a decent showing against the Spartans, they need to hold serve at home. That starts with a game against the giant-slaying Fightin’ Illini, who took down #1 Indiana on Thursday in dramatic fashion.

The only twist to tonight’s match-up, Gophers forward Rodney Williams is not playing. He is nursing a sore shoulder and, even though he warmed-up, reports are that he is unlikely to play. Considering his solid play, of late, this is a big loss for the Gophers. He is probably their second or third best perimeter defender, so we will see how that affects the Gophers.

Here we go…

1st Half

19:46: So much for Joe Coleman repeating the outstanding performance he had against these very same Illini. He clangs an 18 footer to start the game. Not a good sign for the Gophers.

16:10: Wait — so Trevor Mbakwe is a horse?!?! You are kidding??? Gophers feed the beast for two buckets. When Mbakwe is engaged early and often, the Gophers are a tough team to beat. While they cannot continue to feed the post with Elliot Eliason, getting Mbakwe touches is definitely the recipe for success.

He positions himself so well on the block and he has great body control. The body control allows him to get to the rim in a variety of different angles. And his massive shoulders make it very difficult for shot blockers to come over the top without fouling him. Put me down for the obvious statement of 2013, as Mbakwe goes, so goes this team. When he is not involved, the offense is pretty stale.

Gophers fans are usually not thrilled to see Maverick racing up the floor. It usually means bad things are happening for the team.

Gophers fans are usually not thrilled to see Maverick racing up the floor. It usually means bad things are happening for the team.

12:32: Maverick Ahanmisi bails out the Gophers with a wild, bank shot as the shot clock expires. Tubby’s mass substitutions now have Maverick, Oto Osieniks, Mo “Cheeseburger” Walker, Andre Ingram, and Austin Hollins on the floor. Not a recipe for offensive success. Maverick has provided a jolt or two for the Gophers in the past, but he is definitely a liability. Hopefully, the starters can catch their breath and get back in after the media timeout.

8:08: Mbakwe continues to take the ball right at the Illini defenders. He definitely has the right attitude. His dominance and Austin Hollins’ shooting has propelled the Gophers to a 10 point lead.

6:34: Austin Hollins continues to carry the Gophers. He has really stepped up for Rodney Williams, who at this point, is definitely a scratch for this evening. If the Gophers could stop recent YouTube sensation Tyler Griffey, they would be up by 20+. Instead, Griffey’s 7 early points are keeping the Illini in the game.

3:14: Let’s assess the situation — the Gophers have spent the last three minutes running the offense through  Mo “Cheeseburger” Walker who, no joke, is a man amongst boys, but who is too big and slow to play college basketball at this level. Furthermore, on the defensive end, his slow rotations left D.J. Richardson open for two consecutive threes. All of sudden, a 12 point lead is down to 4. Oh, and the Cheeseburger just turned the ball over on an offensive charge where the Illini defender literally had enough time to set his feet, tweet the following message – “Man, when is that big boy going to get here?! #Cheeseburger,”  finish a term paper, and then draw the foul. Tubby needs to stop playing Mo until he drops another 15 pounds. Period. I do not care how much he looks like a fat Royce White.

1:16: The Illini continue to rip 3 pointers to stay in the game. Brandon Paul, who has some of the worst looking shots in the conference, drains a pretty 3. For a guy who consistently clangs jump shots, when he makes one, the stroke is outstanding. Osieniks then compounds the issue by getting lazy with the ball, gifting Paul a steal, and then fouling Paul immediately.

Tubby has had little to smile about in the last half dozen Big 10 games. This one is shaping up no differently...

Tubby has had little to smile about in the last half dozen Big 10 games. This one is shaping up no differently…

Half: Gophers close the half like a junior varsity high school team. Hold up, that is an insult to junior varsity high school teams everywhere. It was more like a pick-up squad at a local YMCA (and even they might have played it better).

The Gophers take three terrible shots with the shot clock below 20 seconds. Rather than reset the offense following a pair of offensive rebounds and take the last shot of the half, the Gophers jack up three terrible shots. The Illini finally grab the defensive rebound and rush down to the other end to drain ANOTHER 3 and take a 1 point lead into the half.

This lack of execution falls on Tubby. No excuses. These are EXACTLY the type of plays that have come back to haunt this team.

2nd Half

19:46: Evidently the “…guard that Griffey kid speech fell on deaf hears. He quickly cans a 3 and puts the Illini up 4. The Gophers are struggling to guard an entirely one-dimensional team. This again falls on Tubby. All the Illini can do is hit 3s. That is it.

17:42: The Illini are wisely doubling Mbakwe (turns out we are a bit one-dimensional too). I guess the Illini coach actually tailors his team’s defensive strategy to the other team’s strengths. Crazy bastard. Thankfully, Dre finds a way to split the double off the pick and hit a rolling Mbakwe. Unfortunately, Joe Coleman continues to struggle. More than any one player, his season is the perfect analogy of the team as a whole.

Coleman started off the season hot as a pistol. He really looked like he had taken a jump and was ready to become one of the top players in the conference. That is not an overstatement. After a few solid games in the Big 10 (including a huge game against these very Illini), he has just fallen off the face of the earth. His jump shot was last seen on a milk carton at Washburn Elementary in Minneapolis, MN. His defensive intensity has waned and he consistently fails to rotate on the perimeter. If he ever regains the form from earlier this season, the Gophers will be a tough team to beat. Right now, he is a liability. When Rodney comes back, Eliason needs to get more minutes and Williams needs to slide over and play the 3.

14:06: Speaking of Elliot, Eliason continues to bring a lot of energy and intensity to the squad. However, having him feed the post or cutters on the baseline is like trying to landscape with hand grenades. It might work a few times, but the end results are probably going to be ugly. Coleman cannot handle Elliot’s fastball as he cuts to the rim. Turnover. Gophers should go back to feeding Mbakwe.

10:58: News flash!! The Illini can hit the 3 pointer. No, seriously. That Griffey kid cans another one. Looks like he wants to play the role of hero for another night. Unless Tubby can figure out a way to tighten up that defense, this game is going to end poorly for the home squad.

8:21: We have a Julian Welch sighting! His desperation 3 as the shot clock expires puts the Gophers back up 1. In fact, a little 6-0 run fueled by two 3 pointers has the Illini getting a taste of their own medicine. The Gophers cannot rely on this formula though. Shooting 3s is not a strength. They need to get back to pounding the ball inside and getting to the line. That is what this team does best.

6:49: Why is Andre Ingram getting minutes?!? He mishandles a great pass from Dre and the Gophers turn the ball over again. Still down 1.

The Gophers have been unable to find Hoosier-killer Tyler Griffey. He is looking to add Gophers to his hit list!!

The Gophers have been unable to find Hoosier-killer Tyler Griffey. He is looking to add Gophers to his hit list!!

5:08: Thursday’s hero likes the cape-look. Clearly. Griffey, who was 0-22 prior to the game against the Hoosiers, just canned his 4th 3 pointer of the evening. Evidently, Tubby’s game plan has been that the Gophers will refrain from guarding Griffey and see if he can beat them. Right now, he is annihilating them.

2:38: Austin Hollins, who has played a great game, commits the ultimate hoops no-no: fouling a shooter behind the line. D.J. Richardson hits two out of three and puts the Illini up 3. This is the EXACT kind of play that has killed the Gophers chances of being something more than a one-and-done tournament team.

1:12: The Gophers finally catch a break as a loose rebound bounces off of the Illini. Tubby has to draw up a good play here. Only down 1, the Gophers need to take the lead and put the pressure back on the Illini. Hopefully, something for one of the Hollins cousins.

Instead, Mbakwe panics when the double team comes and throws it into the 4th row. He has not handled the double team well this half. While he is normally a strong passer, the double team has really thrown him for a loop. Tubby should have recognized this and kept the ball in the Hollins’ cousins’ hands.

You just have a sense that the Gophers do not have the moxy to win this game. And just like that, Abrams promptly cans a 3 in Elliot Eliason’s grill. Play is eerily reminiscent of Austin Rivers’ 3 in Tyler Zeller’s face in a match-up between Duke and UNC. And right now, the Gophers are (shockingly) about as good as the struggling Tar Heels.

Final: Illini 57 Gophers 53

Couple of other quick things. Tubby’s offensive strategy, from game-to-game is brutal. As a head coach, the whole blaming the players schtik only lasts so long. The Gophers had a distinct advantage in the post and only rarely were running plays to capitalize on that advantage. Instead, the Gophers tried to kick and slash our way to the rim against a fairly athletic Illini squad. And I get that Rodney was a scratch, but still. Even in the game in Champagne, the Gophers carried the day by dominating in the paint. There was no such prolonged dominance in this game.

On the defensive end, it was the same old story. Poor rotation on the perimeter resulted in numerous opportunities from deep for the Illini. It was no suprise to anyone that the Illini were going to try and shoot the 3. I knew it. The fans knew it. The people watching the red carpet coverage at the Grammy’s even knew it. And yet, the Illini were 11 for 23 from deep. Nearly 50%. That is pitiful.

Until the Gophers coaching staff can figure out how to take advantage of their advantages on the offensive end and utilize their athleticism on the defensive end, this team will be, at best, nothing more than a one-and-done tournament team. At worst, we might as well book our tickets for the NIT right now to try and save on the flights.

Capitalizing On Irrational Confidence

The Minnesota Golden Gophers square off tonight with the Michigan Wolverines in what is sure to be a classic Big 10 hoops game. Both teams enter the match-up ranked in the Top 10. Both have signature wins against ranked opponents. Neither squad will shy away from the challenge that the other presents.

For Michigan, the hype for this squad was present from Day One. This team was stocked with blue-chip recruits and returning sophomores/juniors, some of whom have an NBA-pedigree (seeing Robinson and Hardaway in Michigan jerseys is definitely a treat). Super sophomore Trey Burke was a half a bucket away from preserving the Wolverines unblemished season. Nobody in the media’s pre-season poll picked this Michigan squad to finish any lower than 3rd in the conference.

Coleman's aggressive and attacking style has been a major reason for the Gophers early season success.

Coleman’s aggressive and attacking style has been a major reason for the Gophers early season success.

For the Gophers, there was only a little local hype regarding this squad. Everyone knew that Mbakwe coming back from his 96th knee surgery (approx.) would improve the squad. I think most fans (present company included) wanted to believe that last year’s run in the NIT was a precursor to something bigger. Hollins Squared had the look of a solid back court. Rodney Williams and Joe Coleman had a nice mix of athleticism and toughness. But Gophers fans have had a tough run the last 12 years. So it was guarded optimism at best.

None of the Gophers teams in the last 10 to 12 years ever looked like squads that could beat any team in the country on any given night. Tournament worthy? Sure. Though, none of those teams were good to the point where you would have included them in the conversation nationally. And frankly, I am not sure this team is that talented either. But do not tell them that.

This Gophers team has used its nonconference success – only one loss to a tough Duke team – as a catalyst for a strong start to the Big 10 season: 3-1 with two wins over ranked teams. However, solid wins aside, it may be the Gophers’ lone loss in Big 10 play that has been most telling.

In last Saturday’s game against the Hoosiers, the Gophers got down big in the first half. They played their game and Indiana basically shot the lights out and went up by 23. 23 you say? Well, the Gophers promptly came out and dominated for the entire 2nd half; coming within an Mbakwe defensive rebound of taking the last shot to tie the game. Throughout the entire game, and particularly in the 2nd half, you just had this feeling like the team never thought they were out of it. That kind of confidence, irrational or not, is a powerful thing.

They just do not make movie posters like this anymore. Classic Van Damme.

They just do not make movie posters like this anymore. Classic Van Damme.

To more fully understand the power of that kind of irrational confidence, I give you the classic 1989 flick: Kickboxer. This is Jean Claude Van Damme at his finest. Here is a brief recap in case you forgot the plot: Van Damme’s character is the corner man for his brother, an American kickboxing champion. His brother is paralyzed by the Thai kickboxing champion/overall bad dude, Tong. Van Damme swears to avenge in brother’s defeat. After a kidnapping, training montage, and a rape and rescue, Van Damme finally gets his chance.

Van Damme is told that he will be fighting Tong in the old style, which evidently means the fighters dip their gloves in broken glass first. Tong, in the ultimate bad ass move, gives his gloves a lick after the glass is affixed to them (skip ahead to the 10:00 mark for the madness). It is at that point where most people are like, nope, that is enough of that, I am out of here. Have fun everyone. Try the shrimp and scallops. This fool is crazy with a capital C! But not Jean Van Damme!! He was born irrationally confident.

You can guess the rest. Despite taking a massive beating (think Manti Te’o in the press right now), Van Damme overcomes the glass-licking psychopath and avenges his brother’s injury.

This Gophers team has that same irrational confidence that Van Damme has in Kickboxer. They play with a swagger that they can ball with anyone. In fact, the way this team rebounds, Tubby might actually have this squad eating glass as part of their university-approved diet. The mindset that you can hang with anyone and come back in any game is sometimes the difference between a nice little squad that makes the tournament and one that intends to make some noise when they get there. Tonight’s game will give us a good idea as to what kind of squad this Gophers team is. Personally, I think Michigan should consider getting out while they still can.

Do not forget, if you want tickets to tonight’s big game, head on over to Ticket King. The Barn is sure to be rocking and these local guys have the tickets for any seat in the house!!

Quarterback Controversies? What Quarterback Controversies?

The 2012 edition of the tilt for Paul Bunyan’s Axe contains one exciting subplot after another. Can the Gophers bounce back from subpar performances against Iowa and Northwestern? Will the Badgers be able to maintain their momentum fresh off their most complete victory of the season? Is Coach Kill’s seizure issue becoming a distraction for the squad?

But all those issues are secondary to the indecision that has surrounded both programs at the most critical of positions: quarterback.

The Gophers have run out two different starters during the first six games of the season: Marqueis “Maybe I Should Be Playing WR” Gray and Max “Stop Comparing Me To Andy Dalton” Shortell. The Badgers have deployed the tandem of: Danny “Seriously, I Am Not Russell Wilson” O’Brien and Joel “Freshman This!” Stave.

Coach Kill has flip-flopped worse than Obama…I mean…Romney…I mean, blast, cannot make a political joke without alienating half the readers.

Most recently, the Gophers have seen both Gray and Shortell fail behind the helm. This has only fueled the speculation over who should start. And while starting Gray at wide receiver and letting Shortell grow into the QB position might be the best approach for the team’s success now and in the future, Gray produces just enough magic when behind the center to continue justify giving him another shot.

The game against Northwestern is a classic example. There were a half dozen plays where Gray used his athleticism to escape Wildcat pressure and make a positive play. Most times those plays were with his legs, but occasionally he would find an open receiver. Unfortunately, he does not do this consistently enough to solidify his claim to the starting role. Furthermore, putting Gray at wide receiver still ensures his athleticism is on the field while, at the same time, improving the Gophers at a position of need. Unfortunately, the Gophers seem reluctant to name Shortell the starter.

Interestingly enough, Coach Kill has had success with two starting QBs (see Chand Harnish and Jordan Lynch), but I am not sure that same strategy will work with Gray and Shortell. Further, if Gray has any hope of getting a real paycheck to play football…er….I mean….to play for real money….I mean…..to play on Sundays, he had better get used to the idea of catching the football. What better way than to start showcasing his talents now. Accept the Hines Ward conversion and hope you can even have half the career he did in the National Football League. Plus, making a decision will probably give Shortell a shot in the arm and we can find out what we have with him.

Now, the Badgers have dealt with their QB controversy a little more affirmatively (and it may be the reason they are printing these same t-shirts next year too).

O’Brien started the year. Struggled. Bielema went to freshman Joel Stave, despite little pressure to do so, and Stave has returned a mixed bag. What seemed like a desperation move has seemed to spark the offense to a certain extent. Stave’s numbers are not overly impressive, as he has completed a tick more than 58% of his passes (significantly less than Danny Boy). But he has had made more big plays, completing one pass for 50+ yard in 3 of his 4 starts (O’Brien only had 1 in his 3 starts). It is this type of stat that has many clamoring for Bielema to let Stave off the leash and let him sling it.

Tolzein was certainly not the flashiest of QBs, but he completed nearly 75% of his passes in 2010 and had only 6 INTs all season. Game. Manager.

But, this type of football is the norm for the Badgers. If any major football program is known for producing game mangers, it is Wisconsin. From Jim Sorgi to Scott Tolzein, the Badgers have consistently had guys that thrived at not making mistakes and systematically marching the squad down the field. The play-calling has limited Stave to the game manager mode. But, he has demonstrated (in limited opportunities) that he has the skill set to be something more. Once the play-calling expands, the offense could really take off.

All of that being said, it might be Bielema’s decision to make a decision and name Stave the starter that separates the Badgers from the Gophers (and maybe gives them an edge — which means more of these shirts too). The Gophers lack an identity because their coaches seem unwilling to pick a horse and go with it. Stave, for all his differences from the Wisconsin mold, is the starter. The team knows it. The fans know it. But, maybe most importantly, he knows it.

Ultimately, it is Stave’s self-confidence that just might be the difference in this Saturday’s rivalry game at Camp Randall. While the Gophers QBs struggle to assert themselves, Stave can march out there knowing he is the guy. Misguided or not, that kind of confidence can be the difference between making a play when it matters and doing something that hurts the team. Controversy? What controversy!

Seeing The Forest For The QBs

The Minnesota Golden Gophers are 3-0. That is right, undefeated. Zero losses. And, for this program, that represents a major step forward.

If not for the Wildcats winning season, Gophers opponents would have one win between them.

Last year’s squad was 3 and 9. So, for any Badger fans reading this, that is right, this year’s team has already equaled the win total from last year. That, in and of itself, is impressive. It does not matter that the three teams the Gophers have beaten have 3 wins between them — thank you New Hampshire. It was not too long ago when one Coach Brew was getting embarrassed by cupcakes on an annual basis (see here and here — for just a couple examples). It seems like fans are just about to the point where they feel comfortable sporting Gophers gear in public again.

Unfortunately, last week’s win was not without a few blemishes. For one, the win was not the walk in the park that Wildcats of New Hampshire were the week before. Perhaps most importantly, the game saw senior QB, MarQueis Gray, who was struggling to move the Gophers offense in the first half, go down to what appeared to be a serious leg injury. Insert the Max “Golden Armed Gopher” Shortell.

Shortell immediately lived up to his Twitter handle, firing up the Gophers offense, and connecting with A.J. Barker (twice) for TDs. He then put the Gophers up for good in the second half with a pretty throw to tight end Drew Goodger.

Under Shortell’s direction, the Gophers were able to move the ball through the air in a way that they rarely have all season. Shortell’s performance against WMU was eerily similar to his effort in the game against the Cardinal-allergic USC Trojans last season. Like in that game, Shortell seemed to get less effective as the game wore on. This might have to do with the fact that the less-than-fearsome WMU defense prepared all week for the dual threat that is MarQueis Gray. Not the more traditional, likely not going anywhere, Golden Armed Shortell. But, as the game wore on, WMU got acclimated to the switch and was able to turn the Gophers away.

Ultimately, Golden Arm’s 2012 relief appearance ended a lot more pleasantly than it did in 2011. The Gophers won. Did I mention they are 3-0? However, that victory has triggered an intense discussion regarding whether it should be him, versus Gray, who captains the Gophers offense moving forward.

Gophers fans cannot lose sight of the big picture. Regardless of who starts at QB, the squad is undefeated and on a bit of a roll.

I could go on for the next 5,000 words telling you why the Gophers should name Gray or Shortell the starter. Gray provides the Gophers a dual threat who can keep defenses honest with his scrambling. Shortell has a cannon where most folks have a right shoulder and with the new talent infusion at WR, he could really turn the Gophers offense into a force moving forward. But I think that debate is a bit short-sighted.

After all, we already have exactly as many wins as we did all of last season. Jerry Kill and his staff are the individuals who deserve the lion’s share of the credit for that turn around. Call me Gary Busey, but I trust the coaching staff that has engineered the beginning to this maroon and gold revival. Coaches Kill and Limegrover are qualified to decide which QB, Gray or Shortell, is most likely to lead the Gophers to their first successful season in five years. We as Gophers fans should just be happy with the current results — again, a 3-0 record — and excited about the rest of the season.

#KeepTheFaith

Going into yesterday’s series with the Seattle Mariners, your Minnesota Twins were 6 – 18. Not only are they sporting the worst record in baseball, but they are also fresh off an absolute drubbing at the hands of the ABC Angels of California (and maybe Nevada if the money was right), capped off by Jared Weaver’s masterpiece no-hitter.

On Thursday, Twins President Dave St. Peter tweeted that Twins fans should just #KeepTheFaith. Keep the faith. Oh David. Dictionary.com’s primary definition of faith is confidence or trust in a person or thing. Let’s break that down.

Perhaps David should lay off the email machine for a while. Or, maybe get a twittering lesson from his 13 year old.

If Mr. St. Peter is suggesting that we are supposed to have confidence in or trust in Twins management, then I would politely ask him to provide even a morsel of evidence supporting the fact that greener pastures are .on the way. He might be looking for awhile. The Twins starting pitching staff currently boasts an ERA just north of 7.00. Its offense, on the other hand, is scoring only a tick or two higher than 3.5 runs a game. And, unlike last year’s squad, which was decimated by injuries, this year’s team has been relatively healthy (minus Morneau’s recent wrist scare). There is no evidence to suggest that this particular squad is going to bounce back or return to respectability. The “Hunt for 100” (losses) seems like a very attainable goal at this point.

Now, some big league ball clubs have uber-prospects in their minor league system that can ride to a club’s rescue – think – Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, etc. Unfortunately, the closest thing the Twins have to an uber-prospect is on a strict regiment of rubber ball squeezing in his attempt to return from Tommy John surgery. Kyle, we do wish you the best. Your return cannot come fast enough.

Apologies to Joe Benson’s family, but, I am not sure he is equipped to handle the role of savior. The mop does not inspire confidence.

So, with Joe “Dirt” Benson being the best the Twinks have to offer (see a description here), pardon us for being skeptical about our prospects for this year. We have no proof to believe otherwise.

But hang on, the secondary definition of faith is belief that is not based on proof. Well, perhaps David was on to something. At 6 – 18 and with a starting staff that might have a hard time challenging the current Gophers line-up, faith might be exactly what we need to have. But, with no uber-prospects less than three years away (sorry Miguel, you seem great, but you are still only 18), it is hard to believe a turnaround is on the way. So, keep the faith? I for one, am passing on that Kool-Aid. I am going to keep my fan card and weather the storm with the rest of Twins country. But, I am not happy about it. #TrustButVerify #DoubtIsFaith’sWiserOlderBrother.

Your Final Four Preview: NIT Style

If you had said two weeks ago that the Minnesota Golden Gophers men’s basketball team would be in the Final Four, any Final Four, NIT or MSHL, there is  a decent chance you would have been fitted for a Houdini extra long.  That is right.  In the home that Dolan has nearly destroyed, historic Madison Square Garden, the Minnesota Golden Gophers will face off against the Washington Huskies.

Against all odds (not really), Tubby’s boys came together and have brought the show on the road like they rarely did all season.  Prior to the Big 10 tournament, the Gophers lone signature road win came against the eventually Sweet 16 bound, Indiana Hoosiers.  In that game, the Gophers displayed a toughness (particularly on the defensive end) that was only seen sporadically throughout the season.

The Big 10 tournament seemed to mark a turning point for this relatively young team.  An “injury” to Captain Fadeaway, Ralph the 3rd, meant significantly increased minutes for improving freshman E2, Elliot Eliason.  Eliason has shown a bit of a mean streak for a down home country boy from Nebraska.  He goes after rebounds like he AND his family AND his priest AND some local orphans have been infected with malaria and those loose basketballs contain the antidote.  He also has displayed a decent array of post moves on the offensive end.  Tomorrow night, he is definitely going to have his hands full with 7′ Junior C, Aziz N’Diaye.  N’Biaye leads the 5th best rebounding attack in the country. The Huskies get after it. E2’s ability to clean the glass is going to be a critical component to any Gophers victory.

Fellow freshman PG, Dre Hollins, has also stepped up his game lately.  He has finally started looking like the answer to the question that has plagued the Gophers since the Bobby Jackson era: who is going to run the offense? When Dre is on the floor, everything runs more smoothly.  That is truly the mark of a good PG.  The spacing is strategic, the timing is more precise, and the overall results are just plain better.  If he continues to dictate the pace, like he did in the three games leading up to this semifinal, Washington’s Abdul Gaddy is going to have HIS hands full.

If E2 and Dre are the youth movement in this recent string of successes, Rodney Williams has been the veteran who may finally be taking THE LEAP.  He has scored 20+ points in every tournament game.  But, even more importantly than that. There have been times when it has actually looked like he might justify the label of being a potential NBA prospect.  It was that label, one he obtained before the season started from local sportswriters, that seemed to have Rod thinking he might be a little better than he was.  There seemed to be an aura of entitlement surrounding him earlier in the season. But, Entitlement Rod appears to have gone the way of the Dodo and VHS tapes. The current version looks hungry.  Like Tibetan UN protestor hungry. If he can continue to produce at the level he has thus far, there is no one in this tournament who can slow him down.

Unlike this example of Darwinian consequence, Rodney Williams has returned from the brink with a vengeance.

With all of that in mind, ultimately, the Gophers success against the Huskies may fall on the elder Hollins. You see, the Huskies best player, SG Terrance Ross, is likely a lottery pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.  Side note, he would actually be a great fit for the Pups, so, here is hoping Utah gets the 8th spot in the playoffs (if the Pups cannot get it), thus giving the Pups the 2012 draft pick they would need to get Ross. If Hollins D’s Ross up and makes it difficult for him to score, this is a Huskie offense that can (and will) stall out.  In all of Washington’s losses, Ross has scored less than 20 points and it is only volume (Kobe-like) shooting that has gotten him into double digits in those games.  That is the kind of game Hollins needs to force Ross into.  Make him uncomfortable.

Based on their performance thus far, this Gophers team seems primed for a little longer run.  Tubby may have finally earned that extension that the administration has been rumored to be working on. The “dream” run has a 5th and final act:

                           Gophers 76  Washington 63

The Gloves Are Coming Off This Weekend!

Gloves will be sure to come off this weekend!

This weekend, Mariucci Arena will play host to the end-of-year Border Battle between the Badgers and Gophers mens hockey squads (yes, that means this is a hockey post. Don’t worry, I consulted with Denis Lemieux to learn the finer points of hockey.) In a complete 180 from recent years, the Gophers are the team to beat while the Badgers are the struggling bottom-of-the-standings squad. Yet, games between these two are always hard-fought – and sometimes literally.

The Gophers enter this game on top of the WCHA Standings. And because they swept the UMD Bulldogs back in October, the Goph are in the driver’s seat to claim the MacNaughton Cup. Two points guarantees a share of the title, while three points guarantees they will be skating away with the MacNaughton Cup. Regular season titles do not earn them a place in the Big Dance. Still, the regular season title will mean a lot to this group and should have the Goph fired up this weekend.

There are still some concerns for the Gophers, though. After starting the season by winning 10 of their first 11, the Gophers have barely been over a .500 team since. They’ve won their last four games, but those came against two squads they should sweep. There are some injury concerns too with Nick Bjugstad, the stud center on the top line, suffering an undisclosed injury in last Saturday’s game. Bjugstad has missed some practice time this week, but is expected to play. Meanwhile, Nick Larson and Ben Marshall could return to the lineup. Larson has been out for nearly two months with a wrist injury, and Marshall was out last weekend with his own undisclosed injury (did The Don go to the Bill Belichick school of preparing injury reports?).

Another interesting aspect of the weekend is that it is Senior night on Saturday. If Larson is healthy enough to go, The Don will have a tough decision to make between which two to start between Seth Ambroz (the enforcer – which will particularly come in handy at the end of the weekend when things get chippy), Nico Sacchetti, and Larson – the latter two are Seniors. You would guess part of his decision-making will hinge on whether the MacNaughton Cup is wrapped up or still left to be won.

Badgers look to prevent the Goph from skating away with the MacNaughton Cup

As for the Badgers, although they have been one of the better teams year-in and year-out recently, this years downfall was not unexpected. They lost three key players from last years squad. Still remaining is a player many argue has no business being in the college ranks still – Junior defenseman Justin Schultz. Schultz has 42 points in their 32 games. Outside of Schultz, the Badgers go as their top line goes. Scoring from their second line and down is rare.

This is undoubtedly a rebuilding year for the Badgers, who are loaded with some top, young talent and hardly any veteran presence (only one senior on the roster). Both goalies are freshmen, including one from the US Developmental League. Meanwhile, there will be two native ‘Sota freshmen donning the Red and White this weekend and making their first trips back to Mariucci – Joe LaBate and Patrick Daly – two products of private schools in the Twin Cities. Of those two, LaBate is the only one making a difference on the squad, currently sitting fifth in points on the team with 20.

Despite their inexperience, the Badgers will look to prevent their Border Rivals (see what I did there?) from celebrating the regular season title at their expense. Remember, this same Sconnie squad split the series back at the Kohl Center. Since their last meeting, Sconnie is a .500 team and currently on a 3-game winning streak. Expect the pesky Sconnie’s to give the Goph all they can handle. Assuming it gets chippy, as is bound to happen between these bitter rivals, the Goph have the clear edge on special teams: Goph are ranked second in the conference in both power play and penalty kill percentages, while the Badg are 11th in both categories.

The Goph OOOOOOWNS, OOOOOOWNS the series over the long haul. But that is of little difference to this weekends games because the Border Rivals do not like each other. Gloves should hit the ice. The players better put the foil on!