After being ‘bullied’ by Illinois, Gophers prep for Penn State, 0-7 in Big Ten
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino admitted Wednesday’s 95-68 loss at Illinois felt bad in real time. Then he watched the game film.
“It felt worse,” Pitino said of a defeat to an Illini team which was 0-5 in Big Ten play before administering a 27-point beatdown of the Gophers in Champaign, Ill.
Early Friday morning, Jan. 18, Pitino replayed the carnage once more. “It felt worse again, so I probably need to just stop watching it,” he said.
Minnesota’s worst loss of the season stained the Gophers’ record and strained their prospects of making the NCAA tournament. But Pitino tried to remind himself the sky isn’t falling when he watched Michigan State’s 70-64 victory over Nebraska on Thursday.
“They had a graphic that popped up on the TV with the (Big Ten) standings and I took a deep breath, and said, ‘Maybe things aren’t that bad,’ ” Pitino said.
The Gophers (13-4, 3-3 Big Ten) will look to rehab their resume -- albeit only slightly -- when they play another struggling team in Penn State (7-11, 0-7) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Williams Arena.
Damage has been done. The Gophers’ loss to Illinois spiraled their NET ranking -- the new metric used to help determine the tournament’s 68-team field -- from 48th to 63rd.
But the U remains in some projected fields for March Madness. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi pegged the U as an 11 seed in a “First Four” matchup against another projected No. 11, Arizona. On Tuesday before the Illinois loss, Lunardi had the Gophers in a safer spot as a No. 10 seed. The Gophers were a No. 10 seed in Andy Katz’s projection on NCAA.com on Friday.
Minnesota has slipped because of its defense.
In their four losses, with three coming on the road, the Gophers have allowed opponents to shoot 51 percent from the field, up from the 42.8 percent season average. From 3-point range, teams that have beaten the U average 40 percent, while all foes have a shooting combined 34.4 percent.
“Its been the way we have lost that’s been demoralizing, and I think it comes down to when the ball doesn’t go in the basket (for us), it’s affecting our energy on the other side,” Pitino said. “That’s probably the most consistent thing we’ve got to get better at. We’ve got to get tougher.”
Senior guard Dupree McBrayer said the Gophers were “bullied” by the Illini.
“I would really put the loss on me,” McBrayer said. “I try to keep the guys together, and as a leader, I don’t think I did a good job of getting everybody going before the game.”
The Gophers’ tournament resume can ill-afford another defeat to a previously winless team in Big Ten play, and McBrayer didn’t opine on what needs to happen next.
“I would just say respond; that’s it,” he said. “That’s all I got for you.”