With Selection Sunday only a few weeks away, I thought I’d delve into the Golden Gophers. I’ll get to my prediction, but first, I want to talk about the team.
The Gophers do have several strengths that could possibly make them a threat in the Dance. First, they play very solid defense. Although they are young, their big men do a great job at blocking or altering shots, and have steadily improved all season at rebounding.
Damian Johnson can guard just about anyone on the floor, regardless of their position, which is an amazing asset. Al Nolen, meanwhile, is one of the best on-the-ball defenders at the guard position in college basketball.
Also, the one constant in the entire Gopher rotation is their defense.
Secondly, they are a deep team. Tubby Smith has finally decided to go 10-deep on the bench, which means Minnesota can keep their pressure defense going for 40 minutes.
However, there are several major weaknesses.
First and foremost, the Gophers really don’t have great guard play. Looking at decent teams that make deep runs, such as Texas and Davidson last season, they have amazing play from their point guards on both ends. Our guards can defend, but they are not very good at running the offense.
That leads me to my second point. The Gophers can struggle on offense for entire halves, and in the NCAA tourney against someone like Pitt, UConn or even Davidson, that’s just not going to work.
They haven’t previously, nor do they now have a go-to scorer that is willing to take the big shots and carry the team when the shots aren’t falling. If they did, the Gophers might be 23-4 and would have beaten Penn State last week.
Now, the final three games are at Illinois and at home versus Wisconsin and Michigan.
I do think the Gophers will win two of three, probably the two home games, and they will win at least one in the Big Ten tourney.
That would make the Gophers a 23-9 or 24-9 team. That will be good enough to get them in. They might win one game, but I can’t see them getting past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The Gophers need to play teams that like to slow it down and play offense.
If a team gets out and runs like North Carolina can, the Gophers have absolutely no chance because they can’t match the athleticism or scoring ability.
If the Gophers get a draw with teams that slow the pace down, they could compete, and even beat a team much better than they are, like Louisville.