Indiana's previous two road games, at Ohio State and at Michigan State, were the Hoosiers' best road wins of the past two decades. Last night, against a Minnesota team that had looked awful in recent weeks, IU fell, and fell back toward the Big Ten pack with three games remaining. This loss managed to combine elements of all three of IU's prior losses. As in the Butler and Wisconsin games, the Hoosiers were pushed around inside. As in the Illinois and Butler games, the Hoosiers seemed to be on the verge of putting the game away in the second half, but didn't. As in the Illinois game, IU was facing a highly motivated opponent that could save its season with a win over the nation's top team. And so it went. This is why, as good as IU has looked for most of the season, it is foolhardy to guarantee that any team, no matter how good, will win the title. Anything can happen in a given game.
The Hoosiers lost this game, primarily, on the offensive boards. The Golden Gophers shot essentially the same as IU, around 42 percent, and was only 4-20 from three point range compared to 9-23 for IU (and it wasn't for lack of good looks, unfortunately). IU held a slight edge in made free throws, 20-19. The turnover numbers were okay: 11 (17.3 percent) for IU and 10 for Minnesota. The difference in the game is that the Gophers made five more field goals than IU and attempted 11 more than IU. The reason the Gophers had so many more opportunities was because they dominated on the boards, controlling 53.5 percent of their own missed shots. Yes, that means the Gophers rebounded more of their own misses than IU did. Those are the worst numbers for IU since 2010, when they posted worse numbers against Kentucky and Iowa. It's comfortably IU's worst total of the season, with only 48.5 percent against Butler coming anywhere close. This is far from an original thought, as it was pointed out by Dan Dakich during that game and others, but the turning point came when IU pushed the lead to a game-high 8 with 15:42 remaining. IU forced a turnover and Will Sheehey missed a jumper. From that point forward, the ball was at the Gophers' end of the court for the next 1:14, and after three offensive rebounds and an IU foul, the Gophers made a three pointer that put them back in the game. From that point forward, it was a game, and obviously it worked out well for the Gophers. Trevor Mbakwe was a beast on the boards and everywhere else.
This game doesn't really change anything in terms of IU's opportunities for the season. IU still stands alone atop the Big Ten standings and can clinch at least a share of the Big Ten title by winning the next two home games, against Iowa and Ohio State. Still, the nice thing about the OSU and MSU wins were that they gave IU the opportunity to clinch the Big Ten outright before the trip to Ann Arbor. That still can happen, but not without help. At the very least, either MSU or Michigan will add a fifth loss on Sunday. Wisconsin should lose at Michigan State. Could Purdue do IU a favor and upset Michigan at home? Any number of things could happen, and IU remains the favorite, but the Hoosiers have given away their breathing room.
All that said, even given high expectations, before the season any of us would have taken 24-4, 12-3, and a one-game Big Ten lead at this point. Losing to Minnesota, now virtually an NCAA lock is a setback, but not a disaster.
Individual performances of note:
- Victor Oladipo was everywhere, and scored 16 points on 10 shots, but I jinxed him: his 1-5 three point shooting was his worst of the Big Ten season.
- Jordan Hulls led the way with 17 points, and his 5-7 three point shooting kept IU in the game.
- Christian Watford was invisible for most of the game, but did make 2 three pointers in the final minute that kept IU in the game.
- Cody Zeller was quite ineffective, finishing with 8 points on 2-9 from the field.
Iowa is next, on Saturday night in Bloomington.