The Minnesota Golden Gophers had something of a disappointing season in 2014-15. They finished with a record of 17-14 overall, and 6-12 in conference. Coming into the season as the defending NIT champions and only having lost a couple of key pieces from the previous season, Minnesota had their sights squarely set on the NCAA Tournament.
Heading into conference play at 11-2 this year, the Gophers were well on their way to earning a bid to the big dance, but a five game losing streak to open up the Big Ten season quickly put the kibosh on those ideas. To Minnesota's credit, they battled back to win five of seven during the middle of conference play but then ran out of gas at the end of the year and lost five of their last six, including an inexplicable home loss to Northwestern.
For the Gophers to reach their goal of playing in the NCAA Tournament, they'll have to make like the Cleveland Indians in the Big Ten Tournament and "win the whole [REDACTED] thing." Winning five games in five days is nigh on impossible, but that is the task the No. 11 seed Gophers have at hand. Their first step comes on Wednesday night at 7 pm ET/6 pm CT against the No. 14 seed Rutgers Scarlet Knights at the United Center in Chicago.
Minnesota played Rutgers once already this year, beating them 89-80 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis in the middle of January. Andre Hollins went off in that game, draining seven of his ten three point attempts and totaling 31 points on the evening. Mo Walker had 16 points, nine boards, and four steals in the game as well. As a team, the Gophers forced Rutgers into 19 turnovers, which is something Minnesota did to a number of teams. Freshman guard picked the pocket of five Scarlet Knights to go along with nine points and five assists. The Gophers will have to try and slow down the super duo of big man Kadeem Jack and point guard Myles Mack for Rutgers. Mack had 26 points, six boards, eight assists, and seven turnovers, while Jack had 19 points and five rebounds.
For the Gophers to make a miraculous run through the conference tourney, they are going to have to continue to turn other teams over. Minnesota was fifth in the nation (!!!) in steal percentage according to KenPom and averaged an absurd 9.58 steals per game, clearly tops in the Big Ten. The Gophers are favored to beat Rutgers, and if they continue their ball-hawking ways it probably won't be close.
If the Gophers beat Rutgers, they'll do battle with No. 6 seed Ohio State on Thursday night at 9 pm ET/8 pm CT and if they win that they'll go on to meet No. 3 seed Michigan State on Friday night at the same time. This Gophers team has talent, and many of the guys were on the team last year that won the NIT so they know how to make a run in the postseason, but a lot will have to break right for Minnesota to see their season continue in the big dance. Another NIT bid would be a disappointment for the Gophers, but the chance to continue playing will be seen as a positive for the four seniors on the roster.