It's just a question of when. 2011? Or could they seriously go 0-16?
I don't think that will happen. There have been some close calls. But just like the good teams win the close ones, so too the bad teams lose the close ones. Last night the Gophers led Penn State 35-24 at 16:39 of the 2nd half when the mighty doldrums hit. On their next 20 possessions, they scored on 4, missed on 10 and turned it over on 6. By the time they stopped the bleeding, they were behind 51-44, though there were still 6 minutes left. From there they scored on 4 possessions, missed on 4 and turned it over twice. 40 percent might be good enough to win, sometimes, but not when you're trying to come back in the last 2 minutes.
For the game, the Gophers shot 37.5 percent and just 39 percent on 2-pointers. That's bad enough to lose a lot of games. But the real point is that during the doldrums, they shot 27 percent for 10 minutes and watched helplessly as their lead evaporated and turned into a difficult deficit. They don't have a go-to scorer or a specific play or any other programmed response when these sorts of things occur, and so these types of doldrums seem to recur almost every game, turning a lead or a close game into a lost cause.
Penn State, for instance, out-scored the Gophers 27-9 from 16:39 to about 6:00 of the 2nd half. The Gophers non-freshmen shot 1-for-10 with 4 turnovers. Freshmen Kiana Kellogg shot 2-for-2 and Sari Noga 1-for-3. Six different players turned it over--Kellogg and Noga, plus Antoine, Buford, Cotton and Loberg--once each.
So when are the Gophers, now 0-5 and a full game-and-a-half into last place in the Big Ten--which is where they finished last year, by the way, in case you've forgotten--when are they going to win again? What's the prognosis?
Well, short term, they've already lost on the road to one of the Big Ten's worst, Illinois, by 14 points no less. So the only remaining road game that looks like a possible win is at Indiana, but on the other hand, we've already lost to Indiana at home. So that's not going to happen. That leaves the home schedule but, again, wins over Michigan State and Ohio State aren't going to happen. That leaves Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan and Purdue of which, I'd say, they seem likely to win 2. That means a Big Ten record of 2-14 and an overall record of 10-19 going into the Big Ten tournament. A first round loss is an even 20 losses.
Medium term, if you're going to lose 20 games, you try to do something you can build on next year. Maybe that's already occurring. Last night Kellogg and Noga, the most promising of the freshmen, played more minutes Leah Cotton or Brianna Mastey or Jackie Voigt. But if Cotton and Mastey and Voigt aren't contributors, then maybe it's not good news that they're all due back next year, too.
The real enigma, of course, is Kiara Buford. If you want to say, as goes Kiara Buford, so go the Minnesota Gophers, go right ahead. This is or should be her team. She's the leading scorer at 15 points per game and her shooting percentage is a respectable 44 percent. Last year the numbers were 13 and 40. But in trying to do more, she's sometimes done less, as in almost 4 turnovers a night versus just barely a year ago. Last night during the key phase during which the game was lost, she shot 0-for-3 with a turnover.
So, my friends, 20 losses is the most likely scenario and so the question must be asked. I mean, you can't do much worse than 2-14 in the conference. Is 2-14 bad enough for another search to begin for a new coach? How about 1-15? Or 0-16? What would it take?
Longer term, one has to wonder if a 2-14 or 1-15 or 0-16 Big Ten record might not result in a couple of Gophers transferring out. And whether Rachel Banham and Kayla Hirt don't start having second thoughts about their verbal commitments. They haven't signed anything yet. And thinking longer term, a change of coaches anytime after March 2011 would probably render the new Gopher coach impotent to recruit any of the Minnesota high school class of 2013, widely regarded as the best since 2007. Now, there's a doomsday scenario.
Is there an upside? Sure, we could start by beating Wisconsin here next Thursday. Minnesota kids like Alyssa Karel and Tara Steinbauer often get some butterflies when visiting Williams Arena. And maybe Ohio State is as bad as they've looked the past couple of weeks. And, voila, the Gophers win 6 of 11 in the Big Ten to finish 6-10 and 14-15 overall. Two wins in the Big Ten tournament get us into the NIT. The current roster plus Banham and Hirt are here next year, and Rebekah Dahlman after that. An NCAA title follows.
OK, time to wake up and get to work.