Recently, Dan Weisse has noticed a trend.
The overarching theme is this: Minnesota Crookston men’s basketball has played 10 games in 2020. Just two of them have been decided by single digits.
Of primary interest to the Golden Eagles’ coach: why?
“It's interesting that when we're scoring points, our defense picks up,” Weisse said Wednesday. “We're winning a game by 20 points, we get a lot and we hold them to a little. We haven't won many close games.”
UMC (9-13 overall, 5-11 NSIC) outscores its opponents by 13.8 points, on average, in wins. In losses, its average losing margin is 17.
The numbers, to some extent, back up what Weisse and his team have been saying all year long: the Golden Eagles have the talent to beat anyone in the conference. A lights-out shooting night propelled them to a 94-69 win at Sioux Falls on Nov. 26 — the same Sioux Falls that leads the NSIC South — and they have a sweep of third-place Minnesota State Moorhead to hang their hat on.
But when things aren’t going great for Minnesota Crookston, there hasn’t been much gray area: everything’s gone bad all at once.
“Part of it is, if we’re not getting stops on defense, it affects our offense, and vice versa,” Weisse said. “ … It’s not an easy thing, it’s not always a basketball thing, sometimes it’s a mental or psychological thing.”
The Golden Eagles’ losses have been marked by droughts as much as their wins have involved hot streaks. On Jan. 25, Minot State went on an 18-3 run midway through the second half on the way to a 91-68 win. Last Friday, Southwest Minnesota State scored 21 straight points at almost the exact same point in the game to turn a close game into a 77-63 rout.
After the loss to the Beavers, Weisse offered “feeling sorry for ourselves” as a possible explanation. A week later, he expressed the same idea in different words: “we got into a little bit of a shell.”
“We have enough talent to make a run here,” Weisse said. “I think our team is aware that we've let some things get away from us where maybe we should have won a game. It's a tough league — you see how crazy this league is, anybody can beat any given team on any night. But with that said, we feel like we've left some stuff out there and that's on us.
“ … We can’t be a ‘feel-good’ team — that is, when things are going well, we’re really good. Things aren’t always gonna go well, and when they’re not going well we also gotta be tough.”
In practical terms: there are no “bad” teams in the NSIC, and as such, winning conference games requires 40-minute concentration and effort. Even the slightest bump in the road can give a team an opportunity to get back in it.
Essentially, Minnesota Crookston’s inability to mentally stay the course is most responsible for the runs it gives up, according to Weisse. One bump leads to another bump on top of it, and all of a sudden, the Golden Eagles are faced with a hill too steep to climb all the way back up.
UMC has been streaky this season, but streaks are an inseparable part of basketball. Shots sometimes fall, and shots sometimes don’t fall. Momentum swings from one team to another. The real problem for the Golden Eagles has been how they react to the latter.
“We gotta have a tougher mindset and a more consistent mindset,” Weisse said. “We talk about it, preach it, but we gotta live it. We're not living what we're talking about.”
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