Our friends over at The Daily Gopher are launching a Round-table Q&A on the Big 10, and are gathering opinions and thoughts from the various Gopher writers, bloggers, and other sites from around the Twin Cities and the Internet. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to give the GopherHole responses for the Q&A, so here we go!
1 - The Gophers endured probably the most difficult start to the Big Ten season that one could imagine. On the road against three of the league's best all resulted in a loss, though two of those games were one possessions games with under a minute to go. Now Purdue is the only road game left against an upper-tier Big Ten team, but what about the other road games? What road game against a mid or lower tier team concerns you the most and why?
Penn State has recently vaulted itself from the bottom-feeders of the league, to a team that's causing a lot of issues for the upper tier of the Big 10. Talor Battle seems hell bent on getting to the tournament in his senior season. What is particularly concerning is it's Penn State's last home game of the year. It'll be senior night, the Nittany Lions may still be on the bubble looking for another resume-building win. With Michigan State next on the schedule for the Gophers, everyone may be overlooking the trip to University Park, and it could be a let down game as the Gophers are coming down the last stretch in Big 10 season.
2 - The short bench and minutes played by starters has been a hot topic lately. To me there are two angles to this topic. First of all this means we are forced to rely on a few true freshmen in the backcourt for the rest of the Big Ten season. By the time we get to the Big Ten tournament which of the freshmen will step up (if any) and be a consistent factor off the bench. Secondly, can the current starters (plus Iverson) continue to play the extended minutes they are playing for the remaining schedule? Will they be able to apply pressure defense and play transition offense without wearing down?
Some may argue that it's coincidental, but the Gophers have noticeably picked things up since the departure of Devoe Joseph, and the injury to Mo Walker. The freshman have all put in solid minutes, and played without the jitters and turnovers you usually see from freshman. Provided we get solid play from the two freshman guards (Chip and Maverick), the short bench should work nicely. Tubby has put a lot of trust in this year's freshman class (out of necessity more than anything), and so far they've contributed well.
3 - The Gophers haven’t won a Big Ten title, officially, since 1982. Even if you include the vacated Big Ten title in 1997, this program has finished top three in the Big Ten two times since the 1980-81 season. “What will it take for this program to make the strides necessary to compete for Big Ten titles in basketball?”
If I had the magic solution that would solve the Gopher's competitive issues within the Big 10, I'd be asking for a nice salary for a consultant position within the Athletic Department. I'm a firm believer that a program is only as successful as the Athletic Department wants it to be. There are many people who commend Joel Maturi for his work turning around the fractured Athletic Department when he got here. At the time, he was certainly the right man for the job. But it's very clear that he puts more of an emphasis on total program success as opposed to the success of the Big 3--Football, Basketball, and Hockey. It's a philosophical issue that many people (President Bruininks, mainly) agree with, but that might not sit well with the season ticket-holders for Basketball, Hockey, and Football who are seeing the wrestling, swimming, and Directors Cup results touted rather than a commitment to winning for the Big 3.
4 - Let's move on to some Big Ten talk. We've all been participating in the power poll and Ohio State has been the near unanimous #1 all season. It would be hard to argue that anyone else will win the league but when all is said and done who will be the second best team in the conference and why?
Illinois. Their loss to Penn State doesn't look nearly as bad in retrospect (Penn State beat Michigan State earlier in the week, and came VERY close to upsetting Ohio State IN Columbus), and with consecutive losses to Minnesota and West Virginia, Purdue is no longer the consensus number 2 team they were in previous weeks. Michigan State has not picked up the way everyone thought they would after a less than stellar start to the year. Wisconsin has yet to pick up a signature win anywhere outside of the Kohl Center. Illinois might not be the consensus number 2, but given how most of the Big 10 (other than Ohio State) hasn't stepped up to seize it, they've gotta be the answer at this point.
5 - The Barn...stand up or sit down? Here is your opportunity to rant... Stand up. Better atmosphere. For GopherHole, it's an old argument that we don't have to delve back into. The standers are never going to agree with the sitters, and that's that.