What started out as a magical season for a team that wasn't good enough to be labeled as mediocre last season has quickly been labeled locally as average results from an average squad. Still, average is an upgrade over adjectives used to describe the Gophers in recent seasons.
Last season, Minnesota longed for media attention. They got plenty of it once Tubby Smith arrived on campus.
But now, the hype train that started out in Minneapolis earlier this season when the Gophers got off to a 10-1 start screeched to a halt when the team lost three out of its first five games in January.
Smith's frustration has been vocalized recently. The normally composed coach picked up his first technical foul of the year against Ohio State. But prior to that, he'd openly stated that his top player, senior forward Dan Coleman, might not have a lot of fight in him. And in one-on-one meetings, he questioned why some of his players hadn't achieved their goals set in the preseason and had squandered key opportunities.
These days, the Gophers are perplexed.
The Gophers, 9-22 last season, had a taste of success before falling back to earth with a tough start in the Big Ten in 2008. Every game it becomes clearer: these Gophers are better than last season's troubling bunch, but they're just not in the upper tier of the Big Ten.
The Gophers have a chance to prove that theory wrong with Wisconsin and a gaggle of middle-of-the-road Big Ten foes coming up.
Smith's greatest challenge might be convincing the Gophers they belong on the same floor with the league's elite. Confidence, rising to near-peak levels in nonconference play, waned significantly. If the Gophers get it back, they have a chance to make a push.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters — F Dan Coleman, F Jamal Abu-Shamala, C Spencer Tollackson, G Lawrence Westbrook, G Lawrence McKenzie. Key Subs — G Al Nolen; F Blake Hoffarber; F Damian Johnson.
IN FOCUS: Wisconsin has the talent and poise to beat a lot of teams. The Badgers use their speed (Trevon Hughes, Michael Flowers) and size (Marcus Landry, Brian Butch) effectively, while the Gophers will have to use their full-court press early in hopes of scoring an upset.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It probably did cost us ... that's the way it goes." — Tubby Smith on picking up his first technical foul against Ohio State Jan. 26.
Minnesota 60, Indiana 65
Minnesota 73, Michigan State 78
Minnesota 60, Ohio State 75
at Michigan, Thursday, Jan. 31
vs. Wisconsin, Sunday, Feb. 3.
at Northwestern, Wednesday, Feb. 6
vs. Iowa, Saturday, Feb. 9