Minnesota's outlook for the Big Ten Tournament is less than bleak. It's just a fact that with a young, and now depleted roster, any chance of winning even a single game in the tournament is probably gone. Just two short weeks ago, after beating Maryland and dominating Rutgers, the Gophers looked as if they'd turned a corner. Even before the short two game winning streak, Minnesota had been competitive against the upper half of the league.
However, Richard Pitino dismissed guard Carlos Morris from the team for a violation of an undisclosed team rule. And then, almost a week ago, Pitino suspended Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer and Kevin Dorsey for the remainder of the season. (The trio were purportedly connected to an illicit video posted on social media. The University wouldn't confirm whether that led to the suspension.)
Those four dismissed are among the top eight in minutes played and since the incident Minnesota has been blown out by Illinois, Wisconsin and Rutgers. Coincidentally, Minnesota is the number 13 seed in the tournament and will play Illinois on March 9th. More than likely, Minnesota won't advance beyond Wednesday. Here are a few factors to consider.
There's so much going against Minnesota at this point. They've lost three in a row and by an average of more than 16 points. Most recently, the Gophers were blown out by 23 points at Rutgers, a team that had lost 32 straight Big Ten games. Rutgers beating Minnesota also guarantees there won't be a winless team in conference this season.
Momentum is a real thing, and Minnesota's roster is just too depleted to overcome. This season has been a complete uphill battle and the Gophers eventually turned a corner, but the recent setbacks appear to be too much.
Defending Nunn and Hill
Minnesota has struggled to defend the talented, experienced Illinois backcourt. Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill combined for 41 and 47 points in the Illini's two victories during the regular season. Nunn and Hill are the two experienced playmakers missing from Minnesota's roster.
Nunn and Hill average a combined 33 points already, but they've feasted against the Gophers. With four key backcourt contributors off the roster, they'll have plenty of opportunities to rise to the occasion on Wednesday.
Minnesota is missing roughly 36 points per game from its roster, which amounts to about half of its offensive production. It's a huge void to fill and those tasked with filling it have performed admirably, but they just don't have the firepower.
Jordan Murphy, who was already starring in his freshman season, has increased his workload significantly. Murphy's taken 54 shots in three games. He along with Charles Buggs and Joey King are the stability left on the roster, or at least those who've played the most thus far. Minnesota will go as far as those three will take them offensively.
The season is lost, but I have no doubt Pitino and the University of Minnesota did the right thing in suspending Mason, McBrayer and Dorsey, if in fact the accusations are true. However, suspending such important contributors this late in the season has killed their opportunity to advance in this tournament. Even with those three it'd be a long shot, but at least there'd be a chance.
Not all is lost for this season. Pitino knows a great deal about the roster and if Mason, McBrayer and Dorsey pay the punishment and are allowed to return, they'll return with a great recruiting class and a couple of talented transfers.
The season seemed to have turned a little bit after the Maryland and Rutgers wins, but despite the negative off the court incidents, Minnesota fans shouldn't forget some of this season's progress. Unfortunately, the progress won't turn in to any Big Ten Tournament wins this season.