I want to believe that the Gopher basketball team will beat UCLA on Friday. I really do. But I just can’t get myself to buy it. What is strange is that there is a growing group of basketball fans who have no problem believing this. This group, which includes national experts, has one thing in common: they are not true Gopher fans.
When these outsiders see that Las Vegas has the 11th-seeded Gophers favored to beat the 6th-seeded Bruins, they think, “Here is the first round upset we were looking for.” Real Gopher fans, who have watched their team lose repeatedly to underdogs, think, “Great, now the Gophers will be overconfident and unfocused. ”
When these outsiders see that UCLA’s top player, Jordan Adams, is out with a broken foot, they think, “UCLA will be nowhere near as good as they were in the regular season, Minnesota will take this.” When a Gopher fan hears of the injury, they think, “Great, now Adams’ replacement will shoot the lights out and pass the ball like Magic Johnson.”
When the outsiders see that the Gophers are a great rebounding team and the Bruins are not, they will think, “Hello mismatch! I’m taking the maroon and gold!” When Gopher fans see this rebound discrepancy, they think, “So what? The Gophers already out-rebound every team they play and they still look awful most of the time.”
These optimistic outsiders see that the Gophers have the nation’s 4th toughest schedule and they think, “Hey, these guys have been tested all year long, they can handle a mediocre Pac-12 team with ease.” Gopher fans think, “Yeah, we had a tough schedule, but we finished the season on a 5-11 slide and finished 9th in the Big Ten. We lost to Northwestern for God’s sake!”
It is easy to chalk up Gopher fans’ lack of belief to typical Minnesota sports pessimism, but this just isn’t the case. We have watched Tubby’s team lose to underdogs repeatedly. And not just underdogs—terrible teams. And not just losing—getting crushed.
For most teams, having a huge advantage such as rebounding or having the other team’s best player get hurt is a good thing. Not for the Gophers. The more they are expected to win, the worse they seem to do. If the Gophers can go into a game and have next to no one believe in them, such as the Indiana win, they will play with energy, heart, and passion. If the Gophers are favored, however, they will usually come out flat, uninspired, and unable to even make layups.
As a true Gopher fan, I know they could own the glass, force turnovers, and get easy fast break points. I know Trevor Mbakwe can be an unstoppable force on both ends of the court and that Andre Hollings can pile up the points. But as a true Gopher fan, I also know that the Gophers might have 20 turnovers of their own, shoot 20%, and be unable to guard anyone on the perimeter. I also know that Mbakwe might take himself out of the game with early fouls and that Hollins can go as cold as ice for an entire half.
How can we expect the best when we’ve seen so much of the worst?
I can’t really blame these outsiders for believing in the Gophers because, on the whole, the U’s season has been like a bad cake. It has a thin layer of sweet frosting (the wins over Indiana, Michigan St., and Memphis) covering up a thick chunk of spongy, flavorless crap (the losses to Northwestern, Iowa, Purdue, Illinois, Wisconsin, etc.). In other words, it might look good from the outside, but reality hits once you take a bite.
I would love to see a Gopher win on Thursday and have it be the beginning of a magical tourney run, even if it meant that Tubby Smith would return as coach next season. I want it to happen, but I just don’t think that it will. And why is that? Because I am a true Gopher fan.