Gophers Basketball: Minnesota Rises from the Grave, NCAA Tourney Likely
After an embarrassing loss at Michigan on March 2, the Minnesota Golden Gophers' "Bubble" burst with a loud pop. Two dominant efforts (against rival Iowa and cellar dweller Penn State) later, the Gophers were under the impression a trip to the "Big Dance" would only happen if they won the Big Ten Tournament.
They have a chance to accomplish that today against Ohio State in the last championship game of the day. You can guarantee that just about every other bubble-team in the country will be rooting for Ohio State to blow Minnesota out of the gym. Could it? Yes. Will it? Maybe.
The Gophers got destroyed in Columbus earlier in the conference season. They were playing their worst basketball at the time, and it is evident with their last two victories that Tubby Smith has this team's mind-set right where he wants it: Desperate, scratching and crawling for every point.
The Gophers are known for blowing huge leads this season, or it wouldn't even be a question if they were worthy this afternoon. They blew home leads to Purdue and Michigan State after leading by double-digits with less than 10 minutes remaining in both games.
Big Ten doubters, if you look a little deeper into Minnesota's numbers, you will notice five quality victories. (No. 10 Butler, neutral court; Ohio State, home; Wisconsin, home; Michigan State, Big Ten Tourney; Purdue, Big Ten Tourney) You could include in that a road win at Illinois, as the Illini could be the team the committee would chose instead of the Gophers.
The record of the opponents the Gophers have beaten is 340-296 (Win Pct: 63.43). That number is higher than Illinois, Seton Hall, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Rhode Island, and every other bubble-team. That alone should be enough for the committee to give Minnesota a surprising berth after a stellar weekend of play.
Tubby Smith has been getting blasted in the media in the Twin Cities for the lack of chemistry on his team. It has come to the point where rumors have started to swirl around him leaving for Oregon or Virginia. Some are calling it a retirement job after the 9-9 record his squad posted in the Big Ten.
This was supposed to be "The Season" for the Gophers. They had a nice crew of seniors, a great crew of juniors, and an up-and-coming group of sophomores. Surprisingly enough, the sophomores might be the reason the Gophers have earned a berth in the Big Ten Championship today. Sharp shooting from Blake Hoffarber propelled the Gophers to No. 16 in the country at one point this season, while shutdown defense from the currently suspended Al Nolen, and some timely shots by seniors Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson, had the Gophers thinking Big Ten Championship.
But losses to Indiana, Michigan twice, Northwestern, Portland, and Miami (Fla) had all but derailed the "Tubby-train" in the Twin Cities. Now, though, I'm back on board. You know you have a great coach when you win in March, and that's what Tubby has done to get the Gophers where they want to be. There should be no NIT to worry about this year.
I apologize to Smith and his team for writing them off as underachievers and overrated coaches. Even if the committee pulls one over on the Big Ten this afternoon, I applaud the resiliency of Minnesota through all of the off-the-court issues it has gone through this season. It has been very noticeable on the court that the legal issues of most of their incoming recruits, the suspension of their starting point-guard, and the lack of chemistry between coaches and players have not negatively effected the team's performance.
Ski-U-mah Minnesota, and hail whomever need be this afternoon. You could secure yourself a tourney bid with a victory over Ohio State, and speculation will turn into reality in the blink of an eye.
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