Jim Souhan
See more of the story

This year's edition of Gophers men's basketball is one of Richard Pitino's most intriguing teams.

They were thrown together during a pandemic, without much practice and with a handful of newcomers, and have risen into the top 20.

They possess size and one of the conference's best point guards in Marcus Carr.

They have already beaten three ranked teams while playing in the country's best basketball conference, and have lost four times on the road by double digits.

Sunday, they lost to No. 5 Iowa in Iowa City, cutting a large deficit to five points in the waning minutes before the Hawkeyes pulled away for an 86-71 victory.

The Gophers split the season series with Iowa. There's nothing wrong with that, or with losing on the road to top teams.

But if this team is going to finish anywhere near the top of the conference, it's going to have to shoot better. And that will mean the Gophers getting more out of their best pure shooter, Gabe Kalscheur.

This Gophers team is not particularly athletic. To beat good teams, they require excellent ball movement, defense and three-point shooting.

On Sunday, Kalscheur hit one of his six three-point attempts. As a freshman, he made 41% of his threes. Last year, he made 34.1%. This year he is making 22.7%.

The primary benefit of making three-pointers — and sometimes the overanalysis of college basketball by TV folks ignores this simple fact — is getting three points on a possession. Usually without the risk of a turnover.

Making three-pointers also stresses the defense, creating driving lanes and improving the chance of offensive rebounds.

Sunday, the Gophers made 10 of their 34 three-point shots, and it is noteworthy that Carr made just three of his 11 attempts.

Carr is a dynamic player but has to work hard for his points. Because he is the focus of opposing defenses, he shoots contested three-pointers and pinballs through the lane, trying to finish while creating or taking contact. It's a hard way to play, especially in a long season against quality and physical competition.

Because he has to work so hard, Carr isn't always efficient. That's where Kalscheur can help, both by scoring more points and keeping defenses honest.

"I thought we were getting good looks; we weren't hitting them," Pitino said, although he wasn't talking specifically about Kalscheur. "We did a good job adjusting and getting into the middle of the lane. It's hard to turn down open shots and they're going to dare you to make them."

The Gophers lack depth as well as dynamic athletes. They have to be efficient offensively. They have no one else who can do what Kalscheur does when he's at his best — make treys, be productive without dominating the ball, and play outstanding perimeter defense.

Watching Kalscheur struggle this season evoked memories of Blake Hoffarber's career. Hoffarber, like Kalscheur, was a gifted shooter whose primary value was delivered from the three-point line.

Hoffarber's three-point shooting percentage at Minnesota, starting with his freshman season: 42.7, .34.1, 46.7 and 38.9.

He went through slumps, but nothing like what Kal­scheur is enduring this season.

There are aspects of sports that prove confounding — the champion golfer who develops the yips, the All-Star second baseman who loses the ability to throw the ball to first base, and the pure shooter who suddenly finds the rim looking like a champagne glass.

Kalscheur not only proved himself an excellent shooter as a freshman, but it was his shooting that helped the Gophers beat Louisville in the first round of the NCAA tournament, giving Pitino his only tourney victory.

Which is an indication that external pressure has nothing to do with Kalscheur's shooting slump. He looked completely comfortable against an elite program in the tournament as a freshman.

There is no solution to the problem other than hoping Kalscheur clears his mind and shoots in games the way he probably shoots every day in practice.

If he does, this Gophers season could prove to be special.

• The Star Tribune did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews after the game.