Despite losing four straight games, the Gophers are still ranked No . 1 at something: the strength of their schedule.
With the lineup in disarray and confidence lacking at multiple positions, only the schedule can be the gleaming light on a road to a dismal end to January.
Luckily, the Gophers are heading back to the friendly confines of Williams Arena, looking to notch victories Tuesday night against Nebraska and on Sunday versus the Hawkeyes.
There is one other positive from all of this. For the first time all season on Saturday, Minnesota is adapting its game plan by adjusting its lineup.
With immense criticism surrounding the head coach, Tubby Smith tweaked parts of his lineup during Saturday’s loss at Wisconsin. It saw Andre Hollins playing a few minutes at shooting guard while senior Rodney Williams was slotted back down to his original position of small forward. The Badgers still got the one-point victory, but the adjustments within the roster is a first for the coaching staff this season.
It seems that losing has forced Smith and the rest of the coaching staff to change its philosophy on the current lineup.
A few weeks ago, we analyzed the lack of production from the Minnesota bench. One of the main reasons for the lack of offense coming off of the bench was the substitution pattern that Smith had followed. For the most part, he subs for the entire lineup on the floor. When doing so, it dampered instant productivity and flow.
It was a big criticism when the Gophers were winning. Now with the program on a four-game skid, it’s time to take notice to these changes.
For a season-high 20 minutes on Saturday, senior Andre Ingram patrolled the paint with a sense of vengeance. The senior did not score but was more than just a facilitator in the frontcourt. The addition of Ingram in the lineup pushed Williams back to his original position of almost three seasons. It allowed a mismatch for Minnesota.
If Williams had confidence, the Gophers would have been able to take advantage of the obvious mismatch. While the criticism remains for Ingram for his offensive inefficiency, his defensive percentages are the best on the squad, including a steal rate of 4.6 percent.
Ingram’s performance on Saturday may continue his drive for more minutes. Oto Osenieks and Maurice Walker continue to be sloppy and inefficient on the court.
Another adjustment that was made for a few minutes on Saturday was at the point guard position. For about five minutes in the first half, the Gophers went with a two point guard lineup with Maverick Ahanmisi running the offense. It allowed Hollins to readapt to shooting guard, his preferred position. During the change, Minnesota went on a 16-5 run.
Saturday’s loss also provided one final tweak in the lineup. With Williams moving to small forward for parts of the lost, it provided a frontcourt duo of Trevor Mbkawe and Elliott Eliason. Offensive production during the adjustment did not change, but it allowed for a higher percentage of defensive rebounds.
The tweaks in the lineup allowed for inefficiencies to subside.
All three lineup adjustments should be noted as Minnesota enters a part of its schedule with four of its next five games at home. The changes in the lineup will likely continue this week as the Gophers hope to end its four-game slide.