They don’t have a true point guard to run the offense, and they rank near the bottom in three-point shooting. Their best post player is 6-6, maybe. And their bench is thinner than a Q-tip.
The Gophers might be the most unorthodox team in the 68-team NCAA tournament field.
“We’ve just been weird,” coach Richard Pitino said this past weekend.
That’s a good description. Inconsistent works, too. But definitely weird.
Their template for success — and hopes for advancement — is straightforward. They need Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey to carry them offensively, their defense must be airtight and their effort level pushed to full throttle. That’s their identity when they are at their best.
There have been a few outlier scripts to victory this season, but their limitations prevent them from having Plans B, C and D.
“We haven’t gone on these huge runs of wins,” Pitino said. “We kind of have gone on some losing streaks, then snuck back, had a big win.”
They have been a tough team to figure out because of those dips and rises. At times you think they are capable of more, and then other times you wonder how they won 21 games.
Just when you think they are undermanned in personnel, they go and defeat Purdue twice in a span of 10 days. Trying to predict them with any certainty is darn near impossible.
“I just think they’ve got a quiet confidence about them [and] they’ve got a quiet toughness about them,” Pitino said. “They’re not a beat-your-chest type of team. But they’ve got a lot of fight and a lot of grit.”
That part is true. The Gophers manage to mitigate their warts with effort and toughness and following Murphy’s inspired play and leadership. Coffey’s ability to take over a game gives them a different dimension too, when he does so.
Not having a natural point guard makes everything infinitely more challenging. Using wing players as primary ball handlers and initiators is like running with shoes on the wrong feet. It’s clunky.
Combine that with streaky perimeter shooting and that puts even more pressure on the undersized Murphy to play Superman inside against taller defenders. He doesn’t back down from any challenge, but it requires supreme efficiency.
Watching the Gophers this season has been alternately enjoyable and frustrating, which helps explain why Pitino mentioned at the Big Ten tournament that his team barely receives any national attention. Outsiders probably don’t know what to say, except that Murphy is a terrific player.
“I said to them before our Penn State game: ‘I’m sick and tired of turning on the TV and nobody is giving us a shot. Everyone picks us to lose all the time,’ ” Pitino said. “And I said to Dupree [McBrayer] as we were walking out, ‘Doesn’t that bother you?’ He said, ‘I don’t really notice it.’ I don’t think they pay attention to it.”
People pay attention to the NCAA tournament, so this is a big opportunity for the current team and Pitino’s program overall.
March Madness doesn’t require one prescribed formula to advance, though solid guard play and outside shooting usually gives teams the best chance. Pitino doesn’t have the luxury of a deep bench, so his starters can’t disappear or have performances below their usual standard.
The Gophers need Murphy to do his usual thing and Coffey to start the game in attack mode and stay on that setting. They are a different team when he is a scoring threat.
A strong finish enabled the Gophers to kick up their feet and relax on Selection Sunday. They knew they had done enough to secure an at-large bid. But are they good enough to avoid being one-and-done again?
Yes, if they bring their best version, knowing they don’t have a wide margin for error. Whether that happens is anyone’s guess.