Give & Go: Time to believe in Tubby's Gophers? Think so
RUFF:Well, my wide-shouldered friend, which Gophers men's basketball team should we count on from here on out? Is it the one that looked dismal in the first half at Indiana, or the one that looked like world-beaters in the second half?
I'm thinking it's the latter. You don't get to be 15-2 and ranked ninth in the country if you don't have a lot going for you. Right?
BOESE:You know I'm not a huge fan of Tubby Smith, but it's getting harder and harder to justify staying off the bandwagon. What's not to like? They defend like crazy, rebound like a bunch of rabid dogs and have been almost as impressive as the P-B sports staff. I mean, have you seen Phersy and Feldy lately? Chipotle stock must be through the roof.
The only real thing that gives me pause — besides my hesitation to trust Tubby's oft-stagnant offense — is the bench, which has been atrocious of late. The Gophers' non-starters have totaled just eight points in the last two games, including a big goose egg in the otherwise impressive road victory at No. 12 Illinois.
Are the bench struggles a mirage or a harbinger of an early March Madness exit?
RUFF:My biggest fear with this crew is that one of their starting five sustains an injury that keeps them out for any length. There's not a single bench player that is even close to as talented as any of those five starters. And if point guard Andre Hollins should go down, forget it. This team will be done being anywhere close to elite.
That said, I think it is incumbent on Tubby to get his bench guys more playing time, to build their confidence and their games, and have them ready in case an injury happens (please make it not be Andre Hollins), or they run into foul trouble. It's odd to be saying this, because I've forever thought Tubby turned too much to his bench. But not this season, when he may be taking it too far the other direction.
BOESE:Honestly, I'm not sure I blame Tubby. I hold my breath every time a non-starter touches the ball, waiting for something bad to happen. All too often, it does. I'd love to criticize the recruiting, but some of those guys were rated highly coming out of high school. Heck, sophomore center Mo Walker is a walking turnover after being rated on the same level as Hollins and Joe Coleman by Rivals.com.
Michigan, the Gophers' prime-time opponent on Thursday, is almost the exact opposite. It's not unusual for the fifth-ranked Wolverines to have five freshmen on the floor, including Glenn Robinson III — son of Purdue's Big Dog. Trey Burke and Hollins may be the two premier point guards in the country. I know you don't splurge on cable, but will you at least grab a seat at Buffalo Wild Wings for this one?
RUFF:I'll actually be AT this one, bringing back blow-by-blow coverage for our P-B readers. This game looms as one of the bigger ones in recent Gophers memory, and I'm fully expecting not to be able to hear myself think, the Barn should be so rocking.
I remember what it was like back in 1997, when Bobby Jackson, John Thomas, Sam Jacobson and Quincy Lewis were leading it to the Big Ten title and later to the Final Four. The Barn was an absolute din, fans were so into it. The talent level isn't quite as high this time around, and the team's depth isn't close. Still, starved Gophers fans feel like something special is happening this season and they're ready to respond like it's 1997 all over again. What has to happen for our rodents to beat an extremely talented Michigan club?
BOESE:Whoa, crazy crazy! There's so much wrong with your response that I don't know where to start. First, I can't believe you're passing up the chance to cover the best Big Nine showdown in years between Austin (12-0) and John Marshall (11-2). Second, have you checked on the street value of your press pass? I bet it's worth, like, a lot of wings.
I haven't seen Michigan play yet, but John Beilein loves small-ball offense that relies on treys. The Gophs need to own the boards and do a passable job defending the arc to be successful. I think they defend home court and win 82-78, further cementing their spot on the national stage.
RUFF:Yes, JM-Austin has showdown written on it. But no worries, we're covered there, with my esteemed colleague Guy Limbeck riding into his former town (Austin) to provide our readers details from that doozy. As for that final Gophers outcome, I'm with you. I smell a win, and renewed faith in Tubby time.