Minnesota came into the season with high hopes, but things gradually fell apart for the team and now the Gophers are headed to no postseason. We take a look at how things went and what fans should make of it this offseason.
Coming off last year's NIT Title, Minnesota had high expectations coming into the season. During the preseason, Big Ten Network's preseason poll predicted Minnesota to finish 9th in the Big Ten, just beneath Maryland. However, this average ranking did not tell the entire story. Some writers had Richard Pitino's team finishing as high as 3rd in the Big Ten. Being 3rd in the Big Ten would roughly equate to a decent seed in the NCAA tournament. However, despite the lofty expectations that some had for Minnesota, they disappointed even their harshest critics with their performance this season.
Minnesota started the season with a 81-68 loss against Louisville, one of the best teams in the nation. After the loss, they won 11 of their next 12 games, with their only other loss against St. John's, who is a 9-seed in the NCAA tournament. One of their signature victories was a 66-62 victory over the Georgia Bulldogs, who are a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament.
Coming into the conference schedule, Minnesota had a reason to be optimistic. They had performed well, mostly due to their offense, which finished as the 33rd most prolific offense in the nation, which is quite the accomplishment since Minnesota plays in one of the strongest conferences in the nation. Minnesota started the Big Ten season with five straight losses. Four of those five losses were by five points or less.
While their start was certainly awful, due to the close nature of the vast majority of their losses, there was still hope that Minnesota would start to win some of their close games. Minnesota split their next four games, with all of the games being decided by within 10 points. Since they were facing an easier part of their schedule (vs. Rutgers, Illinois, Nebraska, Penn State), it was a great opportunity for Minnesota to climb their way to respectability amongst the Big Ten. However, since they lost two of the four games, their opportunity was lost, and they fell to 2-7 in the Big Ten.
Minnesota won their next three games against Nebraska, Purdue and Iowa. They were led by guard Andre Hollins and forward Maurice Walker. These three performances were a sign of hope for the Golden Gophers. They moved up to 5-7 in the Big Ten, and had a great chance down the stretch to solidify their resume to possibly make it to the NCAA tournament, and at least have the chance to defend their NIT title.
Minnesota blew their chance in their final six Big Ten games, losing five of the final six. They lost to Indiana, Wisconsin twice, Penn State and Northwestern. While they were not expected to beat Wisconsin or Indiana in any of those games, they should have been able to defeat Penn State and Northwestern. Minnesota finished the season 6-12 in the Big Ten, a huge disappointment for what had been expected coming into the season. Minnesota was defeated 79-73 by Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament after their first round win against Rutgers.
Postseason Outlook (Lack Thereof)
Minnesota, after their disappointing season, had no expectations of making the NCAA tournament after failing to win the Big Ten tournament. However, Minnesota was projected to make the NIT, and blogs such as Anchor of Gold projected the Golden Gophers to be a 3-seed in the NIT. Minnesota's absence from the tournament, despite the fact that they were last year's NIT champions, added further disappointment to Minnesota's tough season. It has been a tough year for Golden Gophers supporters, and hopefully next year will be more successful.