Minnesota knew they were right on the bubble when they lost to Wisconsin last Friday, so the Gophers were disappointed when they found out they'd be left out of the NCAA tournament. As somewhat of a consolation, Minnesota drew a 1 seed in the National Invitational Tournament.
Minnesota's last appearance in the NIT was a fairly successful one. In 2012, the Gophers won four straight to get all the way to NIT championship, doing so as a just a 6 seed. However, they were crushed 75-51 by Stanford in the title game.
The road to the NIT championship should be a little easier this time for the Gophers. They play High Point in the first round at home in Williams Arena. High Point had a dismal non-conference season, going 4-10. The Panthers turned it around in conference play, winning the Big South regular season title with a 12-4 record.
High Point lost 62-60 in their first game of the Big South tournament. The regular season conference title guaranteed them an NIT bid though, and they drew an 8 seed. The Panthers rely heavily on sophomore forward John Brown, who averages 19.5 points per game.
Minnesota should get by High Point with a fair amount of ease. The second round could provide more of a challenge in a potential matchup with either St. Mary's or Utah. St. Mary's finished well above .500 at 22-11, and Utah had a strong season going 21-11 overall and 9-9 in the Pac-12. The Utes beat four RPI top-50 teams, including UCLA and Colorado.
Missouri and Southern Miss would be Minnesota's most likely draws in the "Elite 8" of the NIT. Both teams match up rarely well with the Gophers. As a 1 seed, it would be no surprise to see Minnesota make it to the NIT's final four, but it won't be easy.
Minnesota beat Florida State, another 1 seed in the NIT, earlier this season, so they can hang with anyone in the tournament. The Gophers are a bit streaky, particularly shooters Andre Hollins and Malik Smith. If Minnesota get hot at the right time, they could take home the trophy this time around.
No matter what happens in the NIT, Minnesota can consider this season a success. In his first season as head coach, Rich Pitino stepped in and implemented an entirely new scheme and style of play. The up-tempo style was much more fitting for the small and agile Gopher squad.
Minnesota finished seventh in the Big Ten, the best conference in the country, and got to 20 wins. They found a new leader in Deandre Mathieu and Mo Walker and Joey King became solid role players. The Gophers played above expectations this year and are set up well for the future. Performing well in the NIT and sending off senior Austin Hollins with some victories would just be icing on the cake.