What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of a blogger for an opposing team; he answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Next up: Chris from The Daily Gopher, SB Nation's Floyd-free blog for all things Gopher.
1) So... that four-game losing streak? Wha' happened? Losing to Michigan and Indiana is one thing, but Northwestern?! Has the ship been righted after that 19-point win over Nebraska?
What four game losing streak? What loss to Northwestern? My mental media guide is curated by Tim Brewster and the last game I have on record is @ ILOLnois (if only this were actually true). Northwestern. What to say? Well, the biggest issue is that most middle school teams could have broken down the 1-3-1 better than the Gophers did. That game was bad...big time internet meme bad (insert Picard or bear facepalm jpgs here). The fact that the Gophers were ice cold from the field didn't help, but even a basic level of competence against the only thing they had to prepare for (and they had 6 days to prepare) leading up to Evanston would have won them that game.
As for being back on track? Well, yes and no. The Gophers were still cold from the outside against Nebraska. But Rodney Williams got back on track in a big way and the Gophers cut down on stupid turnovers while DEMOLISHING the Huskers on the glass. All good things. I think it's too early to say they are back on track, but it was nice to see them win a game against an inferior opponent in a fashion representative of their talent. That W certainly isn't going to hurt them any.
2) Trevor Mbakwe's scoring has dipped quite a bit (about 5 ppg) from the past two seasons. It looks like he's still shooting the ball about as well as he was in those seasons - he's just taking fewer attempts (and getting to the free throw line less often). His rebounding has also dipped slightly. Is he still rounding back into from after that injury last season? Is Minnesota using him less? Does he need to be more of a dominant force for the Gophers?
I don't think Trevor has any more rounding into form to do. He's back at this point. One of my biggest complaints recently has been the Gophers' inability to leverage Trevor more. For instance, @ Northwestern he was 6 of 7 from the floor while the rest of the team shot 12/47 (25.5%). Instead of breaking the zone to get it to Trevor they settled for 3's and turnovers at the top of the zone (I'm not still bitter though). Something frustrating about this team (and several previous Tubby teams) is that when things get hard offensively his teams have a tendency to settle for jump shots instead of utilizing their athletic advantage inside to get guys like Trevor more shots. Obviously this hurts his numbers.
His step back in production isn't all negative though. It's also a testament to the depth of offensive strength in the starting 5. This season we've seen the team have dominant scoring performances from both Andre and Austin Hollins, Joe Coleman, and Rodney Williams. When any of your starters has the ability to lead the team in scoring and when you aren't the primary guy to put the team on his shoulders (that's Andre Hollins) you're going to see a dip in your numbers.
While I don't think he needs to be a more dominant offensive force most nights, I would like to see the team improve the utilization of his size and strength so that they can fall back on it better on those nights where it is needed.
3) Where does Iowa rank in your basketball hate index? Did Iowa's season sweep of the Gophers last year rekindle some of that rivalry?
Sadly lower than it should be. Last year's sweep didn't do much to raise the heat level for me because those losses came in what was already a horribly disappointing season. I can't speak for all Gopher basketball fans, but my hate ranking in B1G basketball goes:
(1) Wisconsin: Bo Ryan is a whiny and his sideline antics are juvenile. Plus his teams set the standard for boring, boring basketball but typically win anyhow.
(2) Michigan State: This is one part hating a winner, one part hate for Izzo and his version of Bo's antics, and one part hate for being the Gophers kryptonite in too many games.
(3) Indiana: In my experience, Indiana basketball fans are almost always Notre Dame football fans. I'm surprised IU hasn't taken to talk of "waking the echos" in Assembly Hall.
(4) Iowa: Football carryover hate.
(5) Ohio State: This is a recent move upward, as I simply can't stand their stupid GET LOUD scorer's table LED board messages when I see their home games on TV. Makes me want to gouge my eyeballs out with a spork.
(6) Everyone else, with Illinois and Purdue typically being near the top for reasons I can't quite explain. Michigan doesn't draw my ire in basketball.
If Iowa continues to improve in basketball and notches a few more wins they'll start fighting with Indiana and MSU for a higher ranking
4) Who's the most critical player for Minnesota -- the guy that has to be playing well for the Gophers to win? Mbakwe? Andre Hollins? Austin Hollins? Rodney Williams? Someone else entirely?
Andre Hollins. The Gophers need him playing strong every game because he's their best offensive player, but also because he's their point guard and they need him ready to play tough defense as well. He's also the most likely candidate to carry the team and win a game singlehandedly so having him hot on a regular basis is the best defense against a lot of ills. I'd love to say Trevor, as any game where he can dominate the paint (and hit his FT's...he's been struggling there recently) opens up the court for everyone else but I need to be realistic about how the Gophers struggle to include him.
5) The Tubbystache: yay or nay? I know he cut it off during the losing streak as some of follicular tribute to the basketball gods... did you like it? Should he bring it back?
I was all about the Tubbystache, but a losing streak was in process and a scapegoat had to be identified (#BlameTheStache). It was a glorious liptickler, but it's time had come. Time for Tubby to harness the power of #NakedUpperLip and make a big run all they way to The Dance.
6) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
I'm still slightly fearful of the return trip to Iowa City, however that concern doesn't carry over to this game. Iowa is improving under Fran, of that there is no doubt. But this is a game where the Gophers have the advantage in terms of skill and athleticism, the benefit of a home crowd, and the knowledge that Iowa isn't going to break out an odd zone that turns the Gophers into pumpkins. I predict that the turnover plague reinfects the Gophers and that helps keep the game closer. Call it an 11 point victory, 76-65.
Thanks for being a good sport, Chris. You can check out Chris and the rest of the TDG crew at The Daily Gopher. You can also follow Chris on Twitter at @GoAUpher and TDG at @TheDailyGopher. The Iowa-Minnesota game is on Sunday, February 3 at 12:00 pm CT, with television coverage from BTN.